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Stephen Liptrap is the president and chief executive officer at Morneau Shepell. He is the Leadership Lab columnist for November, 2020.

Living with a significant other can be challenging during the best of times. Add to that a global health pandemic, limited social interactions outside of your relationship and more confined workspaces for anyone working from home and it’s understandable if your relationship becomes strained.

We know from Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index that Canadians' mental health has declined drastically since before the pandemic. The people who are most affected include those with one or two children, those with a household income of less than $30,000 a year, and those who are still employed but with a reduced salary. Financial uncertainty and isolation from support systems further affect well-being and in turn, can create tension in a relationship.

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If you or your spouse have lost a job or are experiencing a pay reduction, it’s understandable that your stress has increased. It’s important, however, not to assume organizations aren’t currently hiring. For instance, many Canadian tech and consulting firms are seeking candidates, and job numbers continue to improve. This can also be a time to re-evaluate career options as there have been many online education, training and certification courses launched to help individuals seeking new careers.

No matter your situation – whether it’s two adults sharing the home as a workspace, one at home and one out at work, one or neither employed – there are steps that can be taken to maintain work productivity and protect the well-being of the relationship. With the winter months approaching and fewer opportunities to get outside for a break, it’s essential for couples to implement a strong foundation for their relationship. This can be done in a number of ways:

  1. Communicate – Be open with your partner about what is working well and what bothers you. Bottling up your feelings can only create more stress and does not help when one partner needs something to change. If this is something you struggle with, it might help to keep a journal and share specific entries with your partner when you feel comfortable. You could also set aside 30 minutes each Saturday morning to have a coffee and talk about the highs and lows of the previous week. We need to stay connected and be honest now more than ever. Also, remember that it’s as important to recognize and reinforce the highs as it is to discuss and problem-solve around the lows.
  2. Maintain friendships – Many people have felt a sense of loss regarding friendships that exist outside of a relationship to their partner. As the weather gets colder and restrictions continue to increase in various parts of the country, we will not have as many opportunities to meet with friends in outdoor settings. An easy solution is to set up weekly or monthly calls with friends – individually or in groups – to stay connected and maintain relationships outside of the one with your partner. Make a meal together over a video call, play virtual games or simply check in on each other.
  3. Be flexible – For those who are living in smaller spaces or are needing to share a workspace with a spouse, invest in good headphones and take advantage of audio calls to go for a walk. For those who need to negotiate workspace with their partner, create a virtual calendar that can be updated with important meetings each of you have for work and “book” the quiet space for yourself when needed.
  4. Seek support – It can be difficult to admit your living situation is taking a toll on your mental health, so it’s important to seek help if your relationship is negatively affected by the pandemic or anything else. The earlier you seek support, the better. Before it becomes too late, reach out for counselling support through your employee and family assistance program, make use of free government programs, or speak with a trusted friend or family member.

By taking a proactive role in maintaining a positive relationship with your partner, you will be better equipped to protect your mental and social well-being throughout the winter months of the pandemic. It’s essential to begin the work as soon as possible if you notice a strain on your relationships and to create a system that supports everyone in your life. By strengthening one or two pillars of your well-being – among mental, physical, social and financial – you are establishing a solid foundation to support all aspects of well-being in times of need.

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today or follow us at @Globe_Careers.

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