“Notice it and ask”: a Marriage Counselor on Work Stress

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that often demands people put more energy into their job than their relationships. Needless to say, this can spur issues when people who care deeply about their work and give much of themselves to it form a committed partnership, since relationships of this sort require their own energy, mental, emotional, and physical. How much effort does one person have left for relationship strengthening at the end of the day when they’re asked by their boss to pour everything they have into work?

Looking at the balance between work and relationship is a good idea for anyone in a relationship, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been together forever, and is especially relevant for those in demanding jobs. But what do you do when you’re at the receiving end of a highly stressed partner who doesn’t seem to have time to work on your relationship? How can you support your partner during stressful times while still getting what you need out of your partnership? I asked Dr. Dominique Samuels, marriage therapist at Emi Couple, for answers.

Q: It seems as if taking a look at how one’s own work effects the quality of a relationship is important to do before looking at how a partner’s work effects it. How can someone find personal balance between a high-stress job and a relationship?

A: The very first way to combat high stress life situations, such as a difficult job, is to notice it. That may seem obvious, but many people are unaware of how stress presents until they are fairly far down the stress road. For example, it may feel like your partner is more irritating or not doing the chores equally. But could it be that you are just really stressed at work and needing some extra help? It can take a lot of mindfulness to see the effects of our lives on our relationships. Once you actually notice the stress, try to slow it down even more — is there a feeling you get in your jaw? Maybe your shoulders get tight? Do you tend to find certain things more frustrating when stressed? Soon, you will have delineated your stress map. Once you know your own system, you can intervene earlier and earlier. These interventions may vary, but always involve self-care (work out, meditate, go for a dog walk, socialize with friends, etc).

Q: What are things to look out for when you may be unaware that stress from work may be affecting how you or your partner is in a relationship?

A: One big way to see if your relationship is being effected by work stress is ASK. Does your partner gauge how the evening will go depending on how much complaining you do about the day? Do you feel like you are ruminating on something your boss said?

Q: Are there certain tactics you suggest for the transition between work and home that will help partners communicate effectively when they come together at the end of the day?

A: A great tactic for transitioning back home from work is to make sure you don’t work right up until the moment you walk into the door. If you commute, make sure at least the last 15 minutes are just free to get in the mindset of home instead of work. From those precious moments, figure out what you may need when you get home. For example, sometimes we just need to feel the stress. We may need to tell our partner that we need a few moments/minutes/hours to go compose our feelings before entering into the relationship space. Stress is a part of life — but that doesn’t mean we need to put it onto our partners.

Q: How can one support their partner who’s highly stressed from work and wants to destress when they return home?

The best way to help a partner destress when they come home is allow them to have space. Ask them about their day, the good and the bad, and ask if they need anything from you, even if it’s for you not to talk to them or ask anything of them for a bit. It can be hard to give that space when you’ve had a hard day yourself, but know that you are modeling how to act, and on another day he or she will give it back to you when you need it most.