How much does your partner need to know about what you do at work every day to be supportive? This polarizing question has many answers depending on what supporting and being supported by a romantic partner feels like to you.
Take a writer’s career, as did one recent viral tweet. If you have published work, does your partner need to make a concerted effort to read it? Writer Morgan Jerkins said yes.
For some, this advice resonated.
Writing is just one kind of career, though. If you have any sort of job and a romantic relationship, deciding how much or how little to share about what either of you do at work is bound to come up.
HuffPost talked with an executive coach and a couples therapist about how partners can support each other’s career and what to say when you’re not getting what you need.
There’s no rule for how your partner needs to support you, but there should be agreement.
When people want their partner to know the latest on the drama at their workplace or the details of what they produced this week, that may be because they like to integrate their work and personal relationships. “We spend so much of our lives at work that it sometimes seems odd for our partner not to be involved in it,” said Melody Wilding, a licensed social worker and executive coach.
Other people want the opposite ― to compartmentalize the different parts of their life. “They want to keep work at work, and home at home,” said Ryan Howes, a licensed clinical psychologist who works with couples. For these people, he said, the thinking could be, “I don’t want work to take up any more time in my life than it has to.”
The point is, there is no one right model of how a partner should support another when it comes to careers. It’s OK if neither you nor your partner shares what was said or done on the job when you come home ― if both of you agree that you don’t need it.
“There is no normal, there’s a spectrum, and it’s just about figuring out where you’re OK lying on that spectrum and making sure you are aligned with your partner on that,” Wilding said.
What you decide is not set in stone, either. “This is something you’re going to have to revisit with your partner and at different stages in your career,” Wilding said.
What does not being supported in your work feel like?
Only you can decide what you need your partner to know about your job and how often you need to share. “Usually our emotions leave clues,” Wilding said. “If with your partner you are feeling anger, frustration, resentment, dig into those emotions and ask where they are coming from.”
Once you know what you need or may be missing, you also have to factor in your partner’s needs.
“The problem comes in where there’s a mismatch, like if you wish you could talk about work more or vent to your partner or celebrate with them, but your partner doesn’t want that. That’s where tension comes in,” Wilding said. “The biggest problem is when you’re both not on the same page.”
If the dynamic isn’t working, bring it up without being accusatory.
If you suspect you’re out of step with your partner, lead with how you feel using “I” statements and don’t be accusatory, Howes recommends.
Try to make your request a task the two of you can work on together, rather than a problem for one partner to solve.
If you want your partner to listen and take more interest in your stories, you should feel empowered to bring the issue up.
“I would say that you need to call your partner’s attention to the fact that the story is important to you and share why,” Wilding said. “Before you do that, you should make sure you check with your partner that it’s a good time to talk, and if not, ask them when you could get some dedicated time to connect.”
What if you’re the partner who is struggling with how much your significant other talks about work?
You might say, “I feel overwhelmed when you talk this much, so you need to talk less,” but that places judgment on the other person. Instead, reframe your request with healthier language like “‘Sometimes when we’re talking about work after you get home, I feel kind of overwhelmed. I feel like there’s a flood of information. I don’t know how to help you. How can we work on this together?’” Howes said.
And what if you want your partner to share more about their work?
“Instead of coming at someone saying, ‘You don’t talk enough about work,’ which is going to put them on the defensive, you say, ‘I would like to know more about [your] work. It seems like you’re less verbal than I would be in that situation, so I’m wondering if we can work on that,’” Howes said.
There’s a line between sharing and making your partner a dumping ground for complaints.
For some people, talking about work at home is a way to release some of their stress. When it’s difficult to disconnect from work, you might take it home to your partner “because [you’re] either trying to process what’s happening there or solve problems while [you’re] not there,” according to Howes.
He said one round of venting, in which you decompress by sharing your day, is OK. That could look like, “‘Let me tell you what happened, this is what the boss said, this is what the co-worker said.’ You’re processing it out loud because maybe you can’t do that at work. Your spouse or partner can be there for you as a sounding board,” Howes said.
But once you start recycling that venting over and over, then the conversation is no longer about problem-solving productively, Howes said. It’s you complaining.
When one partner does all the complaining about work, this produces an imbalance in your personal relationship. “You create this dependency on your partner to be your dumping ground, and that’s not healthy for your relationship,” Wilding said. “They’re not there to be your therapist. It becomes unhealthy if you sense that the only types of conversations you have with your partner are complaining about work.”
And if you’re becoming the dumping ground, know that it’s OK to set limits as a partner. It can be taxing to absorb someone else’s work stress on top of your own.
“At some point, you may need to set a boundary that you can only provide so much help, and you really want to see them succeed and be happier and feel better, so it might be worthwhile finding someone more objective ― a coach, a mentor, a therapist ― who can really give them another perspective on this,” Wilding said.