In my resilience workshops (more here), it’s common for about 75% of the people to say that work demands interfere with family or home responsibilities, and about 65% say that family or home responsibilities interfere with their work.
They say that they start work earlier and finish later to cope with increased work load. When they get home, they are often still stressed, finding it difficult to relax and engage with the family. In turn, they take their guilt of not being the loving partner or parent they would like to be, back to their work place.
Stress is contagious, and like a ping-pong ball, bounces back and forth between partners ratcheting up the tension. Stressed couples quarrel and fight, withdraw, feel disconnected which in turn leads to bigger problems. Unchecked, long-term stress can result in feelings of isolation and being trapped in an unloved relationship.
Fortunately the vicious cycle of work-home stress can become a virtuous cycle when loving partners help each other to cope. Your loving partner is almost always the person on whom you rely for support, and when their support is effective, it deepens your relationship. Here are seven ways loving partners can prevent the stress of work damaging their home life and deepen their relationship:
1. Recognise the symptoms
Stress shows up in behaviour such as overly venting about work, being short tempered, snappy, irritable, restless, withdrawn and moody. Your instinctive reaction to this kind of behaviour may be to push your partner away. Rather, you should understand that their stress coping capability is being exceeded.
What to do: On returning home, each of you could check-in by declaring your “stress temperature”. It’s simply rating of your feeling of stress on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “calm” and 10 being “stressed-out”
When your partner is displaying stress symptoms, even when they directed at you, don’t assume it’s all about you. Rather ask your partner if they had had a difficult day. Ask if they would like to talk about it. Be interested in what’s happening in your partner’s work life, which may impact at home. For example, are they going through performance evaluations, or is there a difficult co-worker, or is the client being particularly cranky?
2. Connect during work and home transitions
Transitions when changing roles from a parent and partner in the morning anticipating the new role of professional worker, and then reversing them as you return home in the evening, are almost always stressful.
What to do: Change the transition points from stress-generators to connection-points. Do this by pausing to acknowledge your partner by doing something simple, such as looking in their eyes, smiling, a touch or holding hands.
3. Allow space to cope differently
Often one partner copes with work stress by talking everything out as soon as they get home, whereas the other partner needs quiet me-time to decompress. As there is no “right” way of coping with work stress at home, it’s important to allow each other to de-stress in the ways that suits you best.
What to do: Negotiate and accept what’s best for both of you. This will probably involve some degree of compromise if you’re going to respect differences in your coping styles. For example, a partner who needs some downtime after work may need 30 minutes walking the dogs or on the treadmill, and then only engaging after the evening meal.
4. Choose the story you want to tell
Your time with your partner is precious. If you spend all your time at home venting, it is unlikely that you will feel connected with your loved one and be rejuvenated and energised. Through the stories that you tell other people, and interpret what is going on in your life, you actually create yourself — everyday.
What to do: Decide on the story you would like to tell about your life before you get home. Decide in advance how much you want to tell them and what is best left at work.
5. Comfort first and solve the problem second
Comforting and consoling at home is usually much more important than offering solutions to work problems. This is often the most difficult thing to do because our lives are so geared towards solving problems.
What to do: Ask questions. Explore the issue without judging or giving solutions. Identify how your partner feels. Handholding and gently touching your partner is immensely comforting. Before giving advice, ask what you can do to help. If they are not sure, make neutral suggestions such as doing chores for them, giving a neck massage or brainstorming solutions. Finally, before offering solutions, ask your partner if they would like to hear solutions you may have.
6. Get active
Physical activities together enable you both to lower your levels of stress and also reconnect. After about five minutes of moderate physical exercise, your body’s natural mood enhancing hormones should be kicking in while you also spend quality time together.
What to do: walk the dogs together in the neighbourhood, either early morning or late afternoon. Plan to get out on weekends to do active things together – such as walking, running or gardening.
7. Laugh together Too much stress can be really tough, but when couples laugh together, tease each other and use humour to confront what life throws at them, they manage stress better and their relationship is strengthened.
What to do: Take time out to do things that you both enjoy — particularly when you don’t feel like it and you feel you haven’t got the time. Try to hold yourself and your cares lightly. A good question to get perspective is to ask each other: “Will this really matter in three years’ time?”
The way you and your loving partner handle your work stress at home will either enhance or endanger your relationship. The challenge is to use these seven actions to see if they help you manage your work stress better and deepen your relationship.
Resilient Leadership Workshop
Leaders learn how to keep stress positive. They assess their Team Members strategy-fitness and learn three resilience coaching techniques. The outcome is the leaders are better able to deliver organisational strategy and coach their team members when their resilience lags (read more here).
Building Resilience Workshop
Team members and specialists learn how to bounce back from difficult organisation and life events, such as significant change, setbacks and hardship. The outcome is they are able to resist stressful experiences impacting on their job productivity and stay calm and healthy (read more here).
Mental Strength Training
Mental Strength training helps people keep task-focused and persistent. Mental Strength training teaches the process and tools to remain composed under pressure and less vulnerable to emotional slumps at work and at home (read more here).
Image courtesy of Photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net