People can react to stress at work in lots of ways. Some tend to bottle things up and become withdrawn. They might become defensive or angry or not want to do anything.
Others might overcompensate and try to gain some control back over the situation by doing lots more than they usually would.
Whatever the case, stress can have a really negative affect on relationships. Whether they’re avoiding talking about anything or becoming over-active, if your partner is under stress they may neglect to put your relationship first or take your feelings into account.
You might worry – especially if you aren’t being told anything to the contrary – that’s it’s you who is the problem: that you’ve done something wrong to prompt this change in behaviour.
Breaking the cycle
This cycle of assumptions can tend to get worse rather than better unless something is done to interrupt it.
Of course, if you’re witnessing your partner behave differently or shutting you out, it can be hard to know how to approach things. You might worry that any attempt at an intervention might just make the situation worse.
The simplest solution is just to ask. Of course, if you feel like your partner has been neglecting you or treating you differently, there can be a temptation to start from a position of blame: “You’ve not been paying any attention to me”, “you never seem to have time for us anymore”, “we haven’t had sex in ages”.
And while this is understandable, it’s only likely to make the other person feel defensive. It can be better to put things simply, and in a way that suggests you want to help: ‘I’m worried that you’re stressed. Is there anything I can do?’
Another way to do things is to plan the conversation in advance. Sometimes it can be useful to set a time and a place so you both know you’re going to take a little time to talk things over and really focus on what’s happening. It can be good if this is somewhere outside of your usual routine – while going for a walk or at a café, for instance.
Try to avoid springing the conversation on them late at night or just before you have to go and do something else – it’ll need time and space if you’re going to be relaxed and both have a chance to say how you’re feeling.
One particularly useful technique while having difficult conversations is using ‘I’ phrases – so, instead of saying ‘you don’t seem to care’, you could say ‘when you don’t talk to me, I start to feel neglected.’ This gives you a chance to express how you’re doing without it sounding like you’re putting everything on them.
One thing that people are often worried about specifically when it comes to work-related is stress is money. It can feel like they don’t have a choice but to be in the situation because they need the money to help support both of you. It can be useful to address this directly, asking: ‘Is this about the money?’ The more chances your partner has to not feel alone in what they’re going through, the better.
Of course, one of the biggest causes of work-related stress is simply having too much work. In cases like this, it can be useful to plan ahead together so, even if you aren’t able to have as much quality time as you would like, you can still make sure you get some.
This can mean allowing, for instance, one weekend for extra work, but making sure that the next one or one after that is dedicated time you two to spend together. Or it can mean accepting that they’re going to be busier for the time being (the onset of stress can often coincide with a new job or promotion), but that this isn’t going to be a permanent thing.
It can also be a good idea to set boundaries in terms of how much time they spend answering emails outside of office hours or how often they come home late. If they have a demanding job, then avoiding these things entirely might not be possible, but setting upper limits can mean the difference between having the chance to catch up a few times a week and slowly drifting apart over a matter of months.
Again, try to have this conversation in the spirit of working together rather than making demands. And if you have different ideas on things, sometimes it’s best to simply try to meet in the middle.
How we can help
We speak to lots of people whose relationships are affected by work-related stress.
‘Relationship Counselling’ can be a great way of starting to talk again, especially if things have been difficult for a little while. Your counsellor won’t take sides or tell you what to do they will simply listen and help you figure out a way forward together.
If you’d like to talk through your relationship with one of our relationship counsellors give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.