Entrepreneurship Psychologist Explains How To Save Your Relationship While Working From Home
With millions of people having to balance the day-to-day struggles that come with working from home, many are finding that both personal and professional relationships are suffering. This is the first time that the interconnectedness of work life and home life have come crashing together, and lots of people are finding that they have no boundaries in place to protect both personal and professional relationships.
But, as anyone who has left a traditional job to become an entrepreneur knows, transition to working from home is hard. Really hard. It takes more than perseverance. It requires a positive mindset about risk taking and transition, as well as setting up numerous new practices for managing time and space (mental and physical). And, that includes personal relationships inside the home.
According to the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation (NIHCM) and research on happiness and health, “happiness” includes factors such as socioeconomic status, marital status and family, stress exposure, social networks, education, time use and activities, personality, and genetics. Several of which are currently in flux due to the coronavirus. Thus, it’s vital in these difficult times that we change our behaviors to meet the demands of both our professional and personal environments, and do everything in our power to protect our relationships.
So, how do you redefine the work-relationship balance during COVID-19 lockdowns, and protect your relationship in the process? I asked an expert that exact question. Dr. Deborah Hecker, author of The Entrepreneur’s Shrink, among other books, is a therapist that works with a lot of entrepreneurs – many of whom have gone through difficult transitions, faced great personal and financial risks, and learned to work from home. I asked her about what she’s learned from decades of helping people go through transition, and for advice that anyone in a relationship can use to make this time less difficult.
Nicole Fisher (NF): Now that millions of Americans have been forced to work from home, they’re facing the harsh realities of personal and professional lives becoming interdependent – geographically, logistically, and mentally. Having worked with so many entrepreneurs that made the leap to going out on their own and work from home, what are some common difficulties people should know about that transition?
Dr. Deborah Hecker: I try to encourage all my clients to think of difficulties as opportunities. So, when my entrepreneurial clients are myopically immersed in building their businesses, but are simultaneously concerned about the impact they are having on their romantic relationships, I help them to consider some of the common problems and challenges that an entrepreneurial couple inevitably faces. Using my relationship model, Yours, Mine, Ours: Relationships Done Right, I teach entrepreneurs how to resolve their conflicts as well as to respect both parts of their lives, their businesses and their romantic partners, so they can successfully have the best of both worlds.
For the millions of American couples who are now telecommuting because of layoffs and temporarily closed offices due to the pandemic, I also teach them that in order to reach their full potential working at home, they must also cultivate their emotional self-awareness, which I define as the consciousness of their feelings, character and values.
Emotions and business used to be thought of as oil and water. Contemporary research confirms definitively that emotional awareness is the critical factor in business success. In other words, my advice to telecommuting couples always focuses on the crucial inseparable interrelationship between business issues and emotional awareness. I focus on the WHOLE person.
NF: It might surprise those who haven’t worked from home before that people who telework actually tend to work longer hours than they did when working in an office. Add in phones, laptops, and other electronics, and it feels like there is always work in-hand or nearby. How do you suggest people set “on” and “off” time for work and electronics now that the lines are so blurred?
Dr. Hecker: I can vividly remember when work and home were compartmentalized into two separate spheres. Work took place outside of the home. At the end of the workday, the stresses of work were essentially over, and home was a private retreat reserved for family.
Weeks into the COVID-19 telecommuting experiment your life can easily look like a nonstop workday if you allow it to. In fact, according to data from NordVPN, in the U.S. you are logging three hours more of work per day than before lockdown. But, at what price? Are you burned out and is your romantic relationship suffering?
The solution to creating a manageable work/life balance and being successful at both, which I talk about in my book Torn Between Two Loves: How Entrepreneurs Can Successfully Commit To Both Work And Significant Others is to formulate and reinforce an overall vision that creates thoughtful commitments to each. Your work and personal life are interdependent and continuously impacting one another. Both require serious dedication and creating.
By the way, a great relationship will increase your productivity and profitability.
NF: That’s a great reminder of the benefits of a good relationship. But, in contrast to partnership, alone time is vital for most people. And is therefore essential for a healthy partnership. How do you recommend people find independent space or get alone time to clear their heads? Are there specific boundaries you recommend setting?
Dr. Hecker: I often tell my clients that one of the hallmarks of a successful relationship is finding the sweet spot between separateness and togetherness. But what does this mean? All relationships are made up of three distinct entities: two individuals and the life they share between them. Ideally, each person has a unique identity apart from the relationship. What makes love possible are healthy boundaries, knowing what is yours, respecting what is not, and avoiding imposing your feelings, desires and viewpoints onto your partner.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, when you may be together with your partner 24/7, it is essential that each of you is clear about how your respective intimacy needs and needs for separateness align with or are different than your partner’s. These differences should not be seen as negatives, but rather as opportunities to communicate honestly and openly to one another about your needs. Good communication about your needs for space from one another should not be a debate where one person wins and the other loses. Instead, effective communication consists of tactful talking and receptive listening, which leads to successful outcomes.
NF: Speaking of communication, many couples and families are also facing significant financial fears and troubles because of lockdowns and economic shocks. How can people talk openly about their fears and more specifically, about financial troubles?
Dr. Hecker: Let’s face it, financial soul-baring can often be a sure way to dampen the mood, especially during the economic uncertainty of Coronavirus. Truth be told, we’re still reluctant to speak frankly about matters of money as a whole. But, communicating about our finances during this economic downturn can counterintuitively support the intimacy that we all want in our relationships.
Communication, communication, communication. What is good communication? Good communication involves the collaboration of two people as they share and examine their perceptions, ideas and thoughts to come to an accurate understanding. It is not a dispute where each person presents their version of reality with the purpose of blaming their partner.
Instead, effective communication consists of tactful talking and receptive listening.
The key to excellent communication about finances, or anything for that matter, relies on the ability to empathize, or the ability to understand your partner’s emotions. In essence, it’s a journey where you go back and forth between yourself and your partner, developing the ability to:
· Express your thoughts, feelings and values
· Be aware of your partner as separate and different from you.
· Listen, hear and respond effectively to your differences
· Create an environment that supports desired changes to the relationship.
NF: Finally, we could all use some additional joy in our lives right now. What are some tips for being kind and helping yourself and others feel less helpless during these difficult times?
Dr. Hecker: For most of us, the world of COVID-19 feels like a scary place. We hope for positive news, but more often than not we are left feeling scared and helpless.
Well, here’s some good news. You aren’t as helpless as you may think you are. Science tells us that the power of kindness is proven. Kindness has the power to boost your mood and reduce stress. Gestures of kindness will reduce your stress level, strengthen yourself, your loved ones and your community.
My neighbor, a 92-year-old widow, needed help ordering her groceries online. While she is perfectly capable of driving to the supermarket, and does during normal times, she didn’t know how to e-shop for food during the current crisis. She gave me her order by phone and I made all the arrangements. She was clearly touched that I made the effort to help her, and in return surprised me with home-baked cookies.
My neighbor benefited from my assistance and I felt so good about my ability to her. In other word, the power of kindness has a ripple effect.
I think it is critically important to keep the greater good in mind during the outbreak, and be altruistic. Research suggests that when we recognize our common humanity and show compassion, we are more likely to pull together and solve issues. We need to work together to make the world a safer place.
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