We’ve all had days when our to-do list is a mile long or when our boss makes us want to pull our hair out. Maybe you have a week of working in the weeds on a special project or have a big presentation coming up that you’re prepping for. As much as I’d like to say that work shouldn’t be the entirety of your personality, it’s naive to assume your work stress won’t affect your life sometimes. But what happens when it’s so bad that even your partner notices?
It can be hard to know what to say when your significant other is stressed out of their mind with work, but if their constant complaining about work is also starting to drive you up a wall, there are ways to get their mind off of it, help them unwind, and make your connection even stronger.
Ask what they need
You can’t know how your partner is hoping to feel supported without asking them. While they might just want you to listen and rub their feet some days, other days, they might want advice. “So often we try to take our best guess, read our partner’s mind, or behave how we would want our partner to behave if we were having the frustrating moments,” said Jennifer Silvershein Teplin, LCSW, founder and clinical director of Manhattan Wellness. “While it’s nice to try our best in supporting our partner how we think they want to be supported, the simplest way to make sure we’re giving them what they need is to ask their preferences.”
Do acts of service
If you know your partner is having a rough time and they’re not too keen on talking about it (been there), focus on ways you can make their day a bit easier. “I think unspoken actions such as taking on more of the work at home or cooking your partner’s favorite meal are little things that can simply be done without much thought or discussion,” Teplin added. Even if acts of service aren’t your S.O.’s love language, the thoughtfulness of putting time into helping them out when they’re feeling overwhelmed will make them feel a little more at ease.
Create a new routine
Venting about work often becomes our routine in relationships. It’s generally how you spend most of your day, so it makes sense you’d want to debrief on it when possible. But if you want to get your partner’s mind (and your own) off work, change up the routine to focus more on relaxing at the end of the day. Teplin recommended making dinner together, watching your favorite show, or listening to a playlist you love—it doesn’t have to be complicated. “Shared routines and shared behaviors enable you to feel closer to your partner and increase relaxation,” she added.
If work is still permeating your conversations, Teplin suggested making a rule that you shut your computers and stop talking about work after 6 p.m.
We all know that the boring parts of life (sorry, boss) are made easier when there’s something to look forward to. Plan dates in advance, and put them on each of your calendars. To make it more relaxing for your partner, get their input on what would be the best way for them to unwind while also connecting with you. “Some couples love to relax at home and cook dinner together, while some enjoy nothing more than a clean kitchen and going out for dinner to relieve their stress,” Teplin said. “Movement and laughter are the best tools for relaxing and recharging while also feeling connected with your partner.”
If you’re noticing that your partner’s job is having a major impact on your relationship, love is not lost! Instead, try these tips to help them get out of this rut and, in turn, make your relationship stronger.
Try to change the conversation
If your partner is constantly venting about work, after enough time, it begins to take a toll on you too. But how can you show your support and validate them while also getting them to, respectfully, shut up? “How we respond influences where the dialogue goes, so next time your partner is complaining about work, reflect on how you can pivot the conversation by asking about something else or focus on their feelings rather than the actual experience at work,” Teplin suggested. “It’s common to focus on the logistics when we’re annoyed about something, and that’s not conversational within a partnership, but if we focus the attention onto how something makes us feel or how we’re currently feeling, this is often a more palatable dialogue for partners.”
If you notice pillowtalk starts to get taken over by work conversations, gently veer away by keeping your responses short to things you don’t want to discuss further. The conversation will likely naturally pivot. However, if they’re not taking the hint (common when someone has a lot on their mind), Teplin recommended being “playful” by reminding your partner that pillowtalk is reserved for personal chatter, not work. Then, ask your partner a question, like what they’re looking forward to this week or what would make tomorrow great. Changing the dialogue to something positive might even make them feel a little more upbeat first thing tomorrow morning!
Talk to them about it
First of all, Teplin noted you should make sure that you and your partner are both in a “good headspace” when you begin this conversation. This ensures that you’re both ready to talk rather than feeling annoyed or frustrated before you even get into anything. “You can do this by stating that you want to quickly chat about how you’ve been feeling and ask if this is a good time,” Teplin said. If they’re comfortable, go ahead, but if they say they’re not up for that right now, tell them to let you know when they’re ready.
Once you start talking, Teplin said to “focus on how the situation is making you feel rather than focusing on what they’re doing wrong to avoid your partner being attacked.” You’re not trying to call them out for constantly complaining about their job; you’re trying to make your relationship better. Teplin said to share how you’re feeling, explain how you would like things to change, and give your partner room to say what they’re thinking too. “Speak in terms of your wishes and hopes rather than focusing on what they’re doing wrong.”