Watching your spouse struggle with prolonged stress at work can be like a long roller coaster ride. Each day brings a new dip or turn produced by the irritability and frustration your partner brings home from work.
No one wants to watch helplessly as their mate wanders from unhealthy stress into burnout or depression. We want to take positive action, but we can't fix things by ourselves. Often all we can do is provide support and encouragement during the rough moments. Here are nine tips for handling the bumps and curves ahead.
1. Practice listening. We all struggle with the temptation to share our insights and knowledge, sure that we can solve our spouse's problem. Instead, partners may need us to listen without evaluating their responses.
2. Be content with silence. Being supportive does not equal talking. Recognize that your spouse may not want to update you daily, because reviewing and reliving every event and emotion is additional stress.
3. Share the load. Your mate needs you to acknowledge the emotional and physical demands of stress by offering help in acceptable ways. Volunteer to handle supper and the kids' homework. Hire a neighborhood teen to mow the lawn during the crunch season at work.
4. Meet primary needs. Husbands often need the reassurance of more frequent sexual intimacy when they don't feel successful in the workplace. Stressed-out wives need extra tenderness and affection—such as a simple hug with no strings attached—and more time for conversation.
5. Make home a haven. At times, deliberately choose not to unload every issue and problem from your day during your first minutes together. By waiting to share, you assure your spouse that you're not the next one in line waiting for a piece of him or her.
6. Adjust your expectations.The stressed-out husband or wife may not have much energy at home—for anything. The decision is ours whether to spend the evening sulking or to tenderly kiss them as we give them the evening off.
7. Keep your spouse in the picture. In an effort to help their stressed spouse, some husbands and wives silently start handling all the issues of the household or the children by themselves. They begin to withdraw emotionally, not wanting to burden their mate by sharing any personal struggles. In reality, isolating the beleaguered partner simply communicates that they're a failure at home, too. We need to share the news of a child's success at school or ask for our spouse's advice about a relationship problem, and our mate needs the encouragement of being needed.
8. Guard your heart. When we hear our spouse continually vent about the same people or situations, it's easy to get sucked into their anger and bitterness. Devoting extra time and energy to bolster our spiritual walk allows us to give a husband or wife the prayer support they need—without becoming bitter ourselves.
9. Demonstrate unconditional love. Let's face it. While we'd love to see our mates display only spiritually mature responses to adversity, that's not reality. Your spouse needs to "spew out the poison" building inside before it does further damage: Although watching that process isn't pretty, our spouses need the freedom to share bad reactions without fear of rejection. By extending that freedom, we put 1 Corinthians 13:7 into action: "(Love) always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
Near the entrance of most roller coaster rides is a warning sign. Some rides prohibit people under certain heights or ages; others warn those with specific medical conditions to avoid the ride. The roller coaster ride of job stress comes with no such warnings—for the spouse at risk or the partner.
We watch our mates struggle, but we can't win the battle for them. We can't wave a magic wand and make all their aggravations disappear. We can't even promise that our words and actions will lessen their stress. We can, however, offer one important promise to a stressed-out spouse. No matter how often the roller coaster pitches us from side to front and back again, we can promise to go along for the ride and stay in the car with them until the very end.
Donna Savage, a freelance writer, lives in Nevada.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.