Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stressed by Her Stress

Dear Danielle,

My fiance has a stressful job as an attorney and she usually brings that stress back home at the end of the workday. Inevitably, some of her stress gets taken out on me (unintentionally). What can I do to alleviate some of the tension? My "everything will be fine honey" response is beginning to wear thin.

"Stressed By Her Stress"

Dear "Stressed By Her Stress",

Engagements are stressful even in the best of times, so I can imagine work related stress has just made everything feel unbearable for you and your fiance. One of the benefits of being in a committed relationship is having someone at the end of the day to confide in and unleash some angst. Of course, if the stress is just breeding more stress then something has to change. Instead of telling your finance that her complaining about work stress is taking a toll on you, I suggest you do the following. This weekend, when you are both in a relaxed mood say the following to her - "Honey, I know how difficult work has been for you lately and I know its even harder that when you come home you can't stop thinking about the hard day you've had. I think it would be better if we established a set amount of time a day (for example, 15 minutes) to discuss work issues. Once we have addressed what's on your mind let's try to focus on conversation that uplifts us and relaxes us. Nothing will really be accomplished by going over and over your work stress, and I want you to enjoy our evenings together." Then, when she gets home from work on Monday, after you have discussed work stress for the decided amount of time, sweetly say "Honey you deserve a break. Let's leave this conversation until tomorrow and let's focus on doing something fun." Go out for a drink, or go to the gym - or whatever you two enjoy doing together. If you make "work talk" a limited part of your evening schedule, it will force your fiance to focus on other things and let go a bit. Hope this works!


  1. I read once that men are fixers - when they hear someone complain or talk about their stressful situations, an automatic process begins in their heads that they should actively listen in an attempt to find ways to help the speaker. Women, on the other hand, are not seeking a fix but instead are seeking empathy. They just want someone to listen and genuinely (stress the genuine) comiserate with their troubles.

    Once I read that I found that I was much better at a) being there for my spouse during her stress, and b) keeping the stress from "infecting" me. Because I was no longer seeking a way to "fix" the situation (unless specifically asked), I became less stressed about her stress and just focused on trying to be there for her.

    That doesn't meant that there isn't a time to say "you know what, honey, let's talk about something else." But I'd worry that discussing a 15 minute time limit, however loosely enforced, might sitfle conversation and sharing and leave the stressed out partner even more stressed.

  2. Thank you to both Danielle and JeffZ for your advice.

    "Stressed By Her Stress"