What causes lasting fatigue? The failure to detach from our work at the end of the day. Such detachment is crucial for recovering from stress, and preventing feelings of irritability. When we fail to detach, we have less energy, and withdraw from loved ones, thus negatively affecting our relationships. Because, when one partner ruminates, the other withdraws.

In a study of 159 educated and dual-earning couples, it was found that bringing home the stress of work not only affects the well-being of both partners in a relationship, but it also affects our view of the relationship itself. How did the researchers arrive at this? The couples completed questionnaires daily, for over a week. They rated their stress at work, their detachment from work, their relationship quality, feelings of exhaustion in the evening, and affectionate behavior towards their partner.

The result: as you would imagine. On days when participants felt more stressed at work, they were less likely to leave it behind. And the price for that was high: they reported their relationship to be less harmonious, less ideal, more distant, and more difficult.

It may not feel like earth-shattering information. We’ve all experienced it. But we’re highlighting the gravity of the situation here. Especially when 61% of Americans are stressed by their jobs! According to author Anik Debrot, “These hindrances to daily relationship quality accumulate, and threaten the overall relationship’s quality and longevity.”

So, how do we protect our key relationships?

  • Pick up a hobby. Be it playing golf together, reading the same books, camping, or trying new cuisine – any shared hobby has the power to undo effects of stress by offering a common ground to connect on, and eliminate boredom or complacency. Researchers believe such experiences can activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with neurochemicals related to bonding and joy.
  • Heed to partner’s distress. In a UCLA study, women either squeezed a stress ball or held their partner’s arm, as he received an electric shock. The ones who chose the latter and focused on their partner instead of their own selves, experienced less neural activity in the amygdala and more activity in the brain’s caregiving and reward system. They felt more connected. Thus, on rough days, ask your partner how they’d like to be supported. Be it getting advice, shared chores, or just some solo time.
  • Share humor. Psychologist John Gottman, a leader in research on relationship success, says that shared humor is both a way to strengthen a relationship and a “repair attempt” for couples in stress. Studies have shown that laughter can alter your mood and soothe your stress response. So, laugh abundantly. Keep things light.

In today’s ‘always on’ lifestyle, it can feel rather difficult to completely disconnect from work. But, making an effort to detach is worth it. For the success of your relationships.

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