Remote work has created a new rift among couples: Jealousy when one gets to work from home and the other is back to the office

December 13, 2022, 2:27 PM UTC
Woman working in an office
When one person in the relationship works from home and the other schleps to the office, sometimes feelings of jealousy arise.
track5—Getty Images

Hillaire Long used to like the pace of her job and life. Sure, trying to do it all could be unrelenting at times, but everyone was in the rat race right along with her.

Then the pandemic showed her an alternative way to work—one that she didn’t get to participate in. And she felt jealous.

Long, 37, lives with her boyfriend, who works as a vice president at a Mississippi-based company that supplies lighting equipment. When the pandemic hit, he joined the millions of Americans who set up shop and began working from home. Long, a residential and commercial construction project manager, had to keep waking up at 5:30 a.m. to go to the office—and after a while, the jealousy started to creep in.

She recently posted in a private Facebook group asking if anyone else working nine-to-five, five days a week in an office finds themselves envious of their spouse, partner, or friends who work from home. More than 50 people responded.

“Insanely jealous of the amount of time they have to work out, travel, do housework—how much happier they seem to be in general,” she wrote. “Super petty. I’m happy for them, but it’s kind of starting a rift with my boyfriend.”

Recently, the underlying tensions were beginning to come to the surface, Long tells Fortune, and she and her boyfriend were beginning to fight about it. Long supervises remodels, as well as new construction projects—it’s not something she could do fully while working from home, she admits. Meanwhile, her boyfriend’s company found that its employees were more productive working from home. And her boyfriend’s new remote work schedule gave him a lot more free time to do what he wants.

“I’ll call him if I’m having a terrible day [at work], and he’s getting ready to play golf for like the third time,” she says. “It’s infuriating.”

There were days she’d get home, she says, and there would be so many chores that needed to be done—cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping—and no time to decompress.

“I’d be like, ‘You could have done that all day.’ It just kind of irritated me,” Long says.

Since she shared her story in the Facebook group, though, she says they’ve talked about the jealousy she felt about his WFH situation and the tensions that were growing between them. They also talked about their new dynamic: Since he was home, he could take on more domestic responsibilities.

He understood it,” she says, and he’s pitching in more. “And he still has time to play golf.”

The jealousy Long felt is pretty common, especially in this new work-from-home era, when more people than ever have the opportunity to do their jobs remotely. Though “envy” might be a better description of how Long is feeling, says Michelle Tangeman, a marriage and family therapist and board certified behavior analyst.

“Envy specifically can lead to resentment,” says Tangeman.

When it’s really boiled down, household chores and whatnot are nothing more than a stand-in for the perceived work-life balance that comes with being able to work from home. That’s really what Long is envious of.

The question to ask, says Tangeman, is whether you’re jealous of the work your partner does because it takes away from household responsibilities, or if you’re envious of the fact your partner gets to work from home and you perceive they have more ease and flexibility and work-life balance, Tangeman says.

“They just look happier and healthier,” says Long of people who work from home. “But maybe I have a different understanding of people who work from home. Maybe people are actually working harder because there’s the expectation that they can do it instantly because they’re just on their couch?”

These are questions to consider when managing any WFH envy. And if it feels like the person working from home is enjoying more downtime since they no longer have to commute, it’s a good opportunity to discuss redistribution of household responsibilities.

Emily Weir, 32, from Tampa, relates to Long’s envy for the freedom and flexibility of working from home. In her response to Long’s post she said she tries to remind herself of the benefits of going into the office: the chance to socialize with others, and a bit of separation so she and her partner aren’t spending every moment together.

“There’s definitely some envy just because I have to get dressed and put on business clothes, and [my husband] doesn’t even have to turn his camera on,” Weir, who works at a nonprofit, tells Fortune. “It’s definitely made me consider looking for another job. It’s hard not to see the benefits in his situation.”

More than having to be “put together” and “on” while at the office, there’s also the energy that all that takes and how tired Weir is at the end of the week. On Fridays, she says, she’s exhausted, while her web designer husband is ready to go out, get a drink, and have dinner with their friends—as soon as she gets home.

Hannah McCarthy, 26, who lives in Brooklyn, enjoyed the period during the pandemic when her public relations job was remote. But when she and her colleagues went hybrid—though still Zooming from their individual desks because of COVID restrictions—she says she was “so jealous” of her boyfriend’s work-from-home situation that she got a new job.

“If we took anything away from the pandemic, it’s that we need more flexibility,” she says. “I was worrying myself on Sunday planning for the week, putting out clothes, and he wakes up Monday at 8:30 a.m. and just goes in the other room and is able to ease into his week. I also just noticed it allowed him to show up better in other parts of his life.”

Coupled with her envy, though, was guilt, she says. Because he was working from home, a lot of those domestic duties fell to him because he had more time to do them. When McCarthy found a new job and started working from home, she and her boyfriend redefined their household tasks once again.

While Long doesn’t think working from home will ever be in the cards for her, she’s been contending with the idea of better work-life balance.

“I think everybody got an exposure to like, ‘Oh, it doesn’t have to be like this. I can do my job without crying. I don’t have to get so stressed out,’” Long says. “There’s a sort of cultural association that if you work hard then you get things you deserve…We feel like if we just keep working hard someone’s going to realize it, but no, not really. That’s not how we’re evaluated in our work performance anymore, so we’re starting to see that change.”

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