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Beware: Working from home is magnifying your spouse’s worst faults

By LEI DIMARUCUT-SISON Published Oct 19, 2020 3:08 am

House chores, money and personal space are among the reasons Pinoy couples are getting on each other’s nerves while they’re working from home.

For close to eight months now, working from home has become an option for many in light of the COVID-19 situation. However, being cooped up at home for months can take its toll on one’s mental health and, consequently, on relationships for those living together.

The constant togetherness has magnified some often-ignored issues between couples.

Do you remember telling your then-future spouse, "I want to spend every single day of my life with you"? Well, wish granted—although, no thanks to the pandemic, couples are finding out it is not as romantic as they thought it would be.

When both man and woman are working from home, why is the woman still expected to do all the house work? 

These couples tell it like it is.

Personal/professional space

Imee and Jan were officemates for three years and worked on projects together before they eventually entered a romantic relationship, got married, and bore a daughter.

Five years into married life, and now employed in different companies, Imee and Jan are discovering that, unlike old times, they need space apart if they are to do their jobs well.

‘It’s unfair,’ Marie says. Although she has raised the matter of splitting house chores with her husband, ‘in the end ako pa rin ang gumagawa.’

In the first few months of the lockdown, Imee says Jan was "complaining that I'm too noisy especially when I'm passionate about the topic." Jan says he “prefers to be in a quiet room, free from distraction," so Imee gave way and left their shared work space at home, and now uses the living room as her work station.

Imee’s move was advantageous as it was necessary, since the mom of one can now spend her breaks playing with her daughter or step out into the garden for a change of scenery.

Money matters

Veronica is a learning experience designer at a software company; Mike is an I.T. officer. When they're not busy with their day jobs, they make up the Pinoy alternative pop band Veronica and I.

They are also parents to three kids aged 18, 9, and 4. In the last few months they have managed to work harmoniously together (and help their kids navigate online learning) from home.

Mike, 45, is an avid toy collector, too—a hobby he began as a kid. He calls his 300-piece collection an "investment," and rightly so. Among his new acquisitions this year is a Voltes V 40th anniversary action figure, which cost him no less than P25,000.

The pandemic has made households tighten their belt—and sell off a few things like collecticlbes.   

It took a long while for Veronica to have an appreciation for his hobby, says Mike. "Noong una tinatanong niya kung ano’ng gagawin ko sa mga toys," but she eventually just gave in, "as long as nauuna ‘yung priorities like bills and basic necessities," Mike says.

During the lockdown, however, the issue of Mike’s spending has resurfaced. Veronica notes that one of the things they have argued about in the last seven months was "Mike buying too many toys."

Family life specialist and psychologist Dr. Ichel S. Alignay says that surviving the pandemic with your relationship intact requires humility, awareness, and a mindset shift.

"She noticed that I have toys that remain inside their boxes na hindi naman naka-display, parang nakatambak lang." As a compromise, Mike decided to create an online store (Pitotoys on FB) in July so he could clear out some of his collectible toys and make money in the process.

House chores and repairs

Riel, 46, happily takes on the role of handyman at home, claiming she is better at it than her husband CJ, a film and stage director.

"He might end up hurting himself if he tried," she teases. The couple, who celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary recently, share all other chores equally when their house help is not around.

In the last seven months of the lockdown, Riel has managed to replace a missing door knob, repair the broken beams of their bed, re-upholster an ottoman chair, upgrade their kitchen exhaust system, install a vertical garden, and upcycle scrap wood into bathroom shelves, all while fulfilling her job as a senior manager at Save the Children.

"I think it was my way of coping with the situation," says the mom of three.

Many women are drowning in house chores—on top of working from home. 

Marie, on the other hand, could use an extra pair of hands at home. The 34-year-old I.T. support staff at a logistics company in Quezon City laments, "Since I’m the wife, lahat ng house chores ay sa akin." She wishes her life partner Jemar, who works as a driver for a delivery services company, would help out at home, even if it's just washing the dishes or looking after their four-year-old son when he is home.

"Since I started working from home seven months ago, I wake up daily at 6:30 a.m. I need to prepare lunch early so that I can work and take care of my child at the same time," she says.

Except for laundry, which is done by their labandera, most of the chores, from cleaning the house, ironing clothes, and washing the dishes, fall on her shoulders, on top of taking care of their child.

It’s not the chores that are the problem, but the inability to be flexible. Refusing to recognize egalitarian roles signifies a deeper concern.

"It’s unfair," Marie says of their setup. But since her husband grew up believing "ang babae ang 'ilaw ng tahanan' kaya siya dapat ‘yung gumagawa ng gawaing bahay," Marie has come to accept this as a fact even if she disagrees. Although she has raised the matter of shared chores with Jemar, "in the end ako pa rin ang gumagawa."

Strengthening relationships in the pandemic

Family life specialist and psychologist Ichel S. Alignay, Ph.D., RP, RGC, could not emphasize enough how challenging it can be to keep a strong relationship in these extraordinary times.

"Issues in the family can be magnified by the lockdown, but the seeds have been existing even before the pandemic. Dati nang nandyan pero hindi ina-address.

"Now with the current situation, they have no choice but to manage these issues. And this time, there is no escape."

The sharing of chores, for example, signifies "a deeper concern," says Dr. Ichel."It is not the chores that are the problem, but the inability to be flexible. Refusing to recognize egalitarian roles signifies a deeper concern."

"Issues in the family can be magnified by the lockdown, but the seeds have been existing even before the pandemic. Dati nang nandyan pero hindi ina-address.

Dr. Ichel says that surviving the pandemic with your relationship intact requires humility, awareness, and a mindset shift.

"In this new normal, couples or families must learn how to assess old ways and find new ways of doing things, even to the point of putting aside traditional mindsets that may not be helpful," she adds.

“Shift your mindset on how you look at family now: it’s about support, safety and sanity.

"Couples must see that giving each other support is not limited to the financial aspect, but in home management and the nitty gritty of their daily life as a family as well.”

Working out the kinks of relationships requires the openness, she adds.

“Ultimately, everything you do—whether that's giving each other space, being prudent about your finances, or picking up the broom to give your partner a breather—is all part of showing your love, commitment and support for the family.”