Working from home: How disrupting your partner's routine can be a source of conflict

·2-min read
Working from home alongside your spouse, as during the pandemic, can lead to negative emotional responses.

Many of us have experienced the joys of working from home with a partner or spouse during the covid-19 pandemic, with their meetings and urgent calls encroaching on our days -- and vice versa. This can, in fact, pose a real threat to household harmony. In fact, according to researchers in the US who have studied the issue, when one partner disrupts the other's day or prevents them from accomplishing their goals, then negative emotional responses can ensue.

While certain couples managed to avoid working side by side under lockdown, others had no choice but to find ways of sharing the space to work from home … with everything that entails. And finding a harmonious balance during this period of forced cohabitation wasn't necessarily easy -- especially when children weren't in school. From sharing tasks and managing work productivity to having daily routines disrupted, there were many potential sources of conflict during these periods of social distancing, sometimes leading partners to ask themselves: "what makes him/her think his/her job is more important than mine?"

A team of researchers at West Virginia University -- who were no strangers to the problem during the first lockdown -- studied the subject from the perspective of relational turbulence theory, which argues that transitions or periods of instability can create ripples within a relationship. They studied 165 married individuals between the ages of 18 and 74, focusing on how their partners interfered with their daily routines in April 2020. The authors notably sought to measure levels of agreement between partners and their feelings when their routines were disrupted.

Published in the journal, Communication Research Reports, their findings suggest that spouses who had their daily routine disrupted by their partners felt negative emotions toward them, and perceived the marriage to be turbulent. Sadness and anger were the main negative emotions participants reported as feeling towards their partners. All of this evidently made the relationship more chaotic than usual.

"When you are impeding your significant other from accomplishing their goals or are disrupting their daily routines, there will be emotional responses. Based on our findings, more interference from your spouse leads to sadness and anger, and that's independent from one another. This can lead to perceptions of a turbulent relationship," explains the study's lead author, Kevin Knoster.

The researcher goes on to explain that the situation can be turned around to create positive emotional responses. To do this, partners should support each other's goals, accommodate routines, respect the others' timings, take a step back to catch their breath during the day, and learn to work together. Advice to heed at a time when many countries worldwide are back under lockdown or heading that way.