Posted on Tue, Feb. 14, 2012
CARL JUSTE / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
Will Plasencia, left, and Jami Reyes talk through their stressful days rather than retreat from their problems.
You come home after a stressful day at work, kick off your shoes, and continue to stew about the unrealistic demands of a customer or an insult from your jerky boss. If you’re married, chances are high that your spouse could come through the door soon with similar gripes.
But what happens next plays a big role in how well you bounce back after a rocky day on the job.
Spouses who talk through their stress and offer support will return to their jobs less agitated, more tolerant of co-workers and more satisfied with their career choices. Those who engage in one-upmanship, show no interest or downplay their spouse’s job concerns quickly become dissatisfied at home and work, a new study shows.
Wayne Hochwarter, professor at Florida State University’s College of Business, surveyed more than 400 working couples in both blue- and white-collar occupations to better understand how couples survive when both endure daily work stress. “In many cases, both husband and wife return home from work stressed, and it is often difficult to generate the mental and emotional resources needed to help when your own tank is empty,” Hochwarter said.
Those husbands and wives who were unable to generate coping support at home returned to work even more agitated, Hochwarter found. “It’s a feeling like, ‘no one has my back, no one is on my team.’ ” He says couples need to feel that the communication lines are open, without either pointing out vulnerabilities or monopolizing the venting process.
Farzanna Haffizulla, a South Florida doctor and mother of four, says she left a busy medical practice to start out on her own. Her new practice gives her flexibility in her hours, doesn’t rely on volume or require her to navigate the medical insurance maze because she doesn’t take insurance. Her husband, Jason, still works at a practice where he sees dozens of patients a day. “We made a rule early on. No matter what our days are like, we will not assume that one has less stress than the other.” Haffizulla says she and her husband vent to each other throughout the day by text and email, offering emotional support — even if it’s through a smiley face.
Hochwarter says couples in good marriages are continuously refining the give and take at home, sometimes begrudgingly listening to a spouse vent about co-workers who aren’t pulling their weight even after their own miserable day at work. They also are staying in tune to the communication style of their spouse. He found some people don’t want to unload, nor do they want to hear their spouse immediately bombard them with details of their rotten day. “They learn to read each other’s signals.”
After Orlando-based attorney Jason Johnson comes home, spends time with his newborn and puts her to bed, he likes to retreat to the bedroom, be alone and “veg out,” particularly if court proceedings may not have gone his way. His wife uses this strategy: “I’ll usually wait and then by me unloading first, it helps him get to a point where he’s ready to unload,” explains Lori Johnson, a public relations executive with a large global firm. Jason says talking over his job frustrations with his wife actually brings them closer. “Even though we’re in different industries, clients are clients and she can relate to the stress I’m dealing with and offer her perspective.”
In strong relationships, spouses or significant others know how to bring each other back to the middle. “We both work for external clients who want to know how high we will jump today. We can talk about how crazy our clients are and get each other to laugh about it,” Lori says.
In Hochwarter’s study, men and women differed in what supportive behaviors they preferred. Women wanted to be cut slack in terms of household chores and for their husbands to show empathy. Men wanted appreciation, affection and some alone time. Both wanted to feel the other understands the activities, culture and demands that encompass their work day.
In similar careers, Jami Reyes, a government relations consultant, and William Plasencia, senior staff for Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, have an advantage. “We completely understand each other’s worlds and the challenges and we can commiserate with each other. I think it helps in our relationship and our careers,” Plasencia says.
Divorced, Reyes says she was miserable in a marriage where she didn’t have spousal support. This time around, in a serious eight-year relationship with Plasencia, she enjoys work and home life more. “It’s not perfect, sometimes we both retreat to our corners,” she says. However, most nights, the two talk through the day’s stresses as they cook dinner together. “In healthy relationships, you look at each other as a sounding board,” Reyes says.