Welcome to the first instalment of our weekly Top Tips for Isolating With column. This week, we’re tackling the common ‘problem’ of existing in captivity with your significant other 24/7. Here is our advice on how best to isolate with your partner and navigate this – most bizarre – new normal:

How to Isolate with Your Partner

1. Set boundaries early on

We all have our own limits when it comes to both the quantity and quality of time spent with others, even if said ‘other’ is usually our favourite person. Sit down and discuss – frankly – what will work for both of you in terms of work-space (will you work in the same room or different rooms?), working hours (do you both have set work hours or are one or both of you somewhat flexible? Do your preferred hours of work match up, or will you need to make allowances for your differing schedules?) and how you will ‘transition’ from work time to home time. This last point may seem odd, but after a week in quarantine it’s becoming clear that commute time is vastly overlooked as the time of day where we re-set and shift into either work or home mode. We need to consciously carve out this time when WFH.

2. Create hard rules where necessary

Some people don’t mind being interrupted by memes or suggestions of a walk mid-workday, but for some people it’s super important to be left to work in peace. Again, communication is key. Make sure your S.O. knows your preference. If need be, you can hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door (or, as I have done, place a ‘Donut Disturb’ Krispy Kreme toy on my desk) to make it crystal clear. Make sure to respect whatever your partner needs to feel productive and don’t take it personally when they enforce their rules (good for them – remember, everyone needs space). This will keep waters running calm over the coming weeks and months, and will ensure that both of you feel secure in where you stand.

3. Carve out ‘us’ time

Whether it’s taking a morning walk together before you start your workday, agreeing to meet in the kitchen for lunch at midday, or sitting down for an evening debrief, it’s more important than ever – as the lines between home and work blur – to designate time to nurturing your relationship on a daily basis. Although you may feel that you’re spending 24 hours a day together, there is a risk that the quality of time you spend together could be seriously diminished during this period of staying home. You could even go on ‘dates’; order a takeaway or take it in turns to cook, set the table, light some candles, you the picture. It may feel contrived but, trust us, it’s fundamental that you do this. Which brings me to my next point…

4. Put your phones down

When fulfilling your plan to engage in ‘us’ time, do so tech-free (in fact, try to spend as much time as possible tech-free outside of work hours). The temptation to spend all. day. long. in front of a screen has never been greater and so it is paramount that you consciously engage in offline time each and every day. Your ‘us’ time will benefit hugely from this move, and will save the other person from feeling that they’re playing second-fiddle to the black mirror in your hand or whoever is at the other end of the phone – be it your boss, colleagues, or the pal that you’ve been bantering with all day instead of working. If you both stick to this rule, you’ll find that your interactions feel calmer, and are of better quality, and you’ll both end up feeling more satisfied with the time you carve out to hang as a duo.

5. Take the time to listen

Listening really matters. This is an anxious time for everyone. We are all adapting to the newness of staying indoors, working from home and dealing with the very real prospect that we, or someone we love, will get ill. It’s scary, and our emotions are bound to be somewhat up and down. If you’re at home with a partner, you are that person’s only source of comfort and company, so try to keep that in mind. If your partner is voicing concerns, wanting to hash something out, or simply seeking connection through conversation, try to remain alert to this. Engage, offer advice when solicited, nod along, offer hugs of reassurance, and, most import of all, endeavour to make sure your partner knows you are always game to listen (once the Krispy Kreme has been put away for the day, anyway).