5 ways to keep work stress from straining your relationship

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Do you spend more time in bed with your laptop, answering Slack messages, than you do with your partner? Then it may be time for a reality check.

When our romantic relationships carry too much of the burden of our professional life, it can lead to resentment, jealousy, and, ultimately, a breakup—especially when we expect our partners to carry an unfair share of our work stress.

“We bring a set of expectations that our intimate partners are a source of emotional support, and that we can be our most authentic versions of ourselves,” Alexandra Solomon, a Chicago-based psychologist and host of the podcast Reimagining Love, tells Fortune. And while it’s a “blessing” when find that, she adds, “It comes back to bite us when we’re not mindful of the impact that our burnout has on how we’re showing up for them.”

It’s a widespread problem: In Deloitte’s Workplace Burnout Survey, for example, 83% of respondents said burnout from work can negatively impact their personal relationships. Similarly, in Headspace’s 2024 Workforce State of Mind report, 71% of employees shared that work stress has caused a personal relationship to end. 

A big part of the problem, Solomon says, is that the boundary between work and home life, especially with remote and hybrid work structures, can be difficult to draw. That’s why it’s important to set time and energy aside for each facet of our lives, including time to connect with our partners––outside of discussing work projects.

Here are five tips for ensuring work burnout doesn’t squash the romance in your life.

1. Resist the urge to compare

Often, when both partners are having a difficult time at work, Solomon says there is a tendency to become competitive—with a workplace-stress Olympics, if you will.  

“The conversation can begin like, ‘I want to share my day with you because you are a really important sounding board and safe place,’” she says. “But the conversation can have a sneaky way of morphing into a comparison of who has it worse.” 

Solomon suggests resisting the urge to compare your experience with your partner’s, and to remember that all stress—including the kind that comes about in this type of competition—is unwanted and can have a negative impact on our health.

2. Set ‘micro rituals

Creating ways to symbolize the transition from working time to home time—even, if not especially, if you work from home—can be pivotal for the strength of your relationship.

“For some people, it’s their commute home, or when you’re changing clothes from your workday, almost ritualizing, ‘I’m taking off the day, I have done my job, I showed up, I did what I was supposed to do. It will be waiting for me tomorrow,” she says. “Whatever kind of ways you can set a micro ritual to transition from the workday to time with your partner,” she says, it will be worth it.

3. Performance reviews aren’t just for the office

Performance metrics, desired raises, and a basic need to stay employed are all reliable motivators when it comes to doing a great job at work. But what about staying motivated at home?

“We don’t think, ‘A year from now I want to feel more connected to my partner,’ ‘I want us to have accomplished this goal in our life,” Jenna Glover, licensed psychologist and Chief Clinical Officer at Headspace, tells Fortune. But, she stresses, maybe we should.

“Part of that is intentionality and really bringing it to that [home] space,” Glover explains. “And when people do, they’re able to be successful in both work and relationships.”

Glover suggests relationship performance reviews as one way to ensure we don’t lose ourselves in work or miss out on important time with our partner.

“Take time to say, ‘There is not a template built for what it means to be successful in my relationship like a work performance review, but I’m going to take the time to identify what that would actually look like,’” she suggests.

And don’t worry about it being too formal. Instead, Glover says the point is to focus while sitting down with your partner and sharing goals and expectations for your family, your career, and your one-on-one connection.

4. Salvage ‘romance’ by defining it expansively 

It’s true that stress impacts libido. According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress can reduce your sex drive by taking your mind off sexual desire, and chronic stress can interfere with hormone levels, which also results in a lower libido.

“Nobody’s desire increases because of pressure,” says Solomon.

But romance and connection with your partner do not have to start and end with sex, she says.

“The definition of ‘romantic’ is the stuff we do that helps us feel connected,” she says. “And there are lots of ways to feel connected besides sex.”

She suggests making small but meaningful nods toward intimacy and toward counteracting your work burnout—playing a game with your partner, dancing in the kitchen together, or lighting candles while you eat dinner, for example.  

“Part of it is pushing back,” Solomon says, “and saying, ‘No, my job does not get to take both my time and my sexual energy.’”

5. Try to avoid putting your partner on the defensive

If you feel like you’re missing out on time with your partner due either one of your jobs (or both), a gentle way to start trying to counteract that is to ease into a conversation about it: How about an evening with no screens? What about scheduling a fun outing? Your partner cannot always read your mind or body language for clues as to what you want, Solomon says.

But pointing fingers and laying blame, she adds, can lead to them feeling attacked and guilty, putting them on the defense. Instead, take a beat to calmly tell your partner you miss their undivided attention.

Plus, she stresses, work burnout is often, if not always, about the company culture rather than the employee. So while it can be easy to put the blame on your partner for answering messages about work after hours, it’s also up to their employer to adhere to off-the-clock boundaries.

“[Your partner] didn’t create the corporate culture that demands that people are available at all hours, or refuses to hire the right number of people to do the work, or whatever the dynamics are in the organization,” she says. “So I think that part of it, too, is making sure to put responsibility where responsibility goes.”

In fact, nearly 70% of professionals, according to Deloitte, feel their employers are not doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout within their organization, and 21% say their company does not offer any programs or initiatives to prevent or alleviate it.

“People need to work. So it’s really important for employees to think about, ‘What is my work experience like?’ and hopefully work is there to support the quality of your life and not to degrade it,” says Glover.

She adds that we all have limited resources—limited time, limited energy—and that putting “too much” toward a job will ensure you won’t have a good work-life balance. 

And parsing that out is something that gets more and more difficult, Solomon says, as “work-life balance” terminology itself can be deceiving.

“In our minds, we have this belief that these are two separate spheres,” she says. “But the boundary between home and work is actually quite permeable.”

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