Attention — 01 January 2008
How to recharge your overworked and under-appreciated partner

Today’s couples are extremely stressed by job requirements, family and life tasks. The intense energy required to accomplish all these functions well is exhausting and sometimes discouraging. It is hard to keep the emotional, loving and calm perspective alive when one is pulled in so many directions. The couple’s relationship is the one that often bears the brunt of the stress each mate experiences individually. Is loss of connection and intimacy an inevitable outcome of our harried lives?

Couples who are both employed outside the home encounter work demands and expectations that deplete their energy and capacity to seek connection. They often dream of sleep and rest more than they do of sharing their work stresses or even becoming amorous. Boston College sociology researcher, Juliet B. Schor, in her book “The Overworked American” cites that: “ Americans put in up to 500 more hours a year than counterparts in some Western European countries”. They are also trapped in ‘a cycle of work and spend’ that causes overworking, lack of sleep and stressed familial relationships.

Couples find these demands depleting their energy and preventing the peace of mind that is required to take care of themselves and their relationship with each other. H.D. Thoreau advocated a simpler life as he saw: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

When you add children to the mix, the balancing act becomes even more daunting. Practically, the couple is managing four businesses: their two individual jobs, their home and their children. Each of these tasks is actually at least a full time undertaking. Having only two people responsible for juggling all that these jobs entail use of so much energy that none is left for personal care, social life and interpersonal intimacy. They are understandably: fatigued, agitated, guilty and feeling unaccomplished in all of their undertakings. Families and Work Institute research found that: “The overworked employees felt less successful in relationships with their spouse or partner, children and friends and the poorer their abilities were to cope with everyday life events”.

Even in families, where one partner is a stay at home spouse, the couple’s needs are likely to be relegated to the last position. Here, you still have more than three jobs and an added dimension of a disparity in understanding and expectations of each other. The stay at home parent is juggling many demands of home and children, often feeling frustrated by the constant interruptions and distractions in attempting to complete any task. Upon the arrival of the mate, the stay at home parent is anxious for some relief and adult conversation, while the exhausted partner wishes a break before transitioning to the second and third jobs of the day. It is not surprising that these working parents feel overly taxed and under-appreciated.

Partners who are individually stressed are not able to provide each other with the attention and care they crave. That leaves mates feeling unsupported, unappreciated and perhaps even unloved. The chance that this pair will be embracing each other tenderly soon- is greatly diminished.
Ongoing patterns such as these are counterproductive to relationship harmony.

• Explore your options for changes within your career or in another field. Some people find a four ten-hour days as a better schedule for their lives. More and more employees are granted options to work some days from home. There are even those who trade less compensation for emotionally less demanding jobs.
• Understand that being overworked, tired and frustrated makes you a less compassionate family member. Take a few minutes to transition to your partner and family so you can be more available and present.
• Remember that your mate is equally stressed with his/her daily work and looks to you for support, soothing and appreciations.
• Make your greeting time a few moments of welcome and connection. Tell your partner how happy you are to see him/her, hug and refresh yourself with the support of each other.
• Express your appreciation for your partner’s work, accomplishments and contributions outside and inside the home. Kind words are very effective de-stressors.
• Carve time each day to be together that does not entail a task. Suggest fun activities at home such as playing a board game together, watching a lighthearted movie or cuddling on the couch. Couple time that is cooperative and enjoyable reduces stress, increases your love connection and makes you more fit to face the next day with fortitude.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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