If you ask my partner or me what we would say is our relationship’s super-strength, we’d both say one word: communication. The nitty, gritty, amazing or awful, we discuss it all and we try our best not to pass judgment on one another. Even so, sometimes the unpredictability of my full-time freelance career and his ever-traveling consulting one makes it difficult to find the time to download about our work lives.
Though there are endless pieces of literature that stress about the importance of separating personal and professional, considering we spend so much time burning the midnight oil, logging hours and attending or leading meetings, it’s unrealistic to never talk to your significant other about the office.
In fact, avoiding it can have major ramifications on your level of connection and your truth in one another. As career expert Amanda Augustine explains, if you don’t openly communicate with your partner about what’s going on at work and how it’s affecting you, you are setting your relationship up for unnecessary stress.
“Your partner isn’t a mind-reader. Poor communication can quickly lead to misunderstanding, resentment, and emotional distance that will seriously damage your relationship,” she adds.
To ensure you’re playing for the same team, consider having these conversations on an on-going basis.
The one about schedules
Most weeks, my partner travels to his client of the season Monday morning through Thursday afternoon. This means our in-person time together is limited to the weekend but that doesn’t mean we forget about each other during the week. Every night, without fail, even if it’s for ten minutes, we schedule time to hear one another’s voice. The same is true even if a journalism assignment has me hopping a last-minute flight across the country or even another continent.
No matter the dynamics of your relationship though, Augustine says coordinating schedules is vital. Even if it seems trivial, you’ll feel more confident — and satisfied — in your bond when you know there is a standing half-hour or date night on the horizon. It also helps foster a spirit of teamwork that’s essential for any duo.
“By tackling daily logistics together, you’re working as a team to keep your home running smoothly, even when one or both of you are having a hectic workweek,” she explains. “Never approach it as though one of your jobs is ‘more important’ than the others — rather, focus on ironing out the details and compromise where you can for the good of your relationship.”
This might mean swapping who picks up children, who calls the vet or who makes the reservations for your next trip or flight. Regardless, splitting up responsibilities and still carving time to connect will battle against miscommunication or resentment.
The one about their job satisfaction
No matter how long you’ve been together or how well you believe you know them, your partner’s career is ultimately in their hands. You can help by looking over their resume, being a thought leader when they need to bounce an idea off of you and lend a listening ear in stressful times, but you can’t make them love their gig. That being said, executive coach Elizabeth Pearson says it’s important to talk to your partner about their level of satisfaction and to gauge if they’re truly happy and enjoying what they do. More than anything, this reassures them you’re always there for them — and that you don’t just think about their income.
“Your spouse needs to feel that you are on their side and have their back — supporting every decision they make that involves their career fulfillment,” she continues. “If they feel pressure to remain in a job that they hate, solely for the paycheck and to provide for the family — then don’t be surprised if they begin showing signs of resentment towards you down the road.”
Encouraging your one-and-only to speak truthfully and candidly acknowledged them for their contributions, but also shows them your commitment to their happiness, not only at home but at the office, too, Pearson adds.
The one about a stressful period
Every industry has its ebbs-and-flows, and it can be a bit of a learning curve to understand the peaks and valleys of your partner’s profession. One surefire way to miss the mark and to not be there when they need you the most is to turn a blind eye to their obvious signs of anxiety and stress. The same is true if you never give them a hint that you’re feeling overworked, and rather, take out your grievances on them without any context or warning. Augustine says when you’re in the thick of it, don’t forget to give your partner a hint.
“You don’t have to go into the granular details of your job, especially if some information is confidential, but it is important to communicate your feelings and what your partner may expect over the next few weeks,” she continues. “The more your partner is dialing into your work and its effect on you, the better equipped he or she will be to help you through it.”
If you notice your partner is not him or herself, send a thoughtful message or call him or her to check-in. More often than not, the gesture itself will go a long way and help them feel like they have a cheerleader in their court.
The one about your level of support
“Is there anything I’m not doing, that you wish I was, to support you and your career more?” If you haven’t asked this to your love yet, consider this an invitation to start the conversation. Pearson says when you pose this question, you are expressing your authentic interest in helping your person grow professionally. While sometimes I start to miss my partner before he heads out the door every week, I try my best not to guilt him, as long as we are communicating our needs consistently to one another.
When I need to vent about my job — while definitely different than his — he makes time for me, no matter where he is. “If you can have an open and honest dialogue about how each partner can feel supported in their career—the result will be a happier and healthier relationship,” Pearson adds.
The one about work boundaries
When my partner and I have dinner together, we never have our phones out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a ten-minute quick bite or a six-course tasting with wine. Regardless of the time, we have to finish our meals — we spend those minutes chatting, catching up, and connecting. On the weekends we also try to be disconnected from our respective gigs, and though it isn’t always possible, the more we prioritize it, the happier we are.
Augustine says it’s increasingly difficult to truly disconnect, yet having ground rules with technology will help keep both of you in check. It’s also essential to not only talk about what’s happening at the office, as much as you can resist it.
“Put a standing date night on both of your calendars to ensure you get to spend quality time together. While it’s healthy to share the events of your workday with one another, be careful that your work isn’t the sole topic of every conversation, every evening. Set limits on ‘work-talk’ at home,” she suggests. “Establish a time limit on when and how long each of you will dedicate to checking email and other business communication. Setting these boundaries will help to reduce stress in your personal life.”
The one about work news — good and bad
In a robust, meaningful relationship, you should know about your partner’s boss. Their employees. The clients they like — and can’t stand. And he or she should know the same in’s and out’s about your career. As Augustine explains, partners should know the news of one another’s professions, for better or for worse. In fact, they should one of the first humans you text or call when you need to vent.
“Your partner should be there to help you celebrate the wins and process the losses. This is especially true if you anticipate needing to find a new job in the near future,” she explains. “When you’re facing bad news at work, such as a layoff, it’s best to be honest about the situation with your partner. Hiding the details will not spare feelings, and it will only create added stress at a time when you need more support.”