In today’s “always-on” culture, the boundaries between our personal and professional lives are often blurred. Many jobs demand constant connectivity, and we feel stress from work long after we leave the office—unless we learn to “detach.”
Research suggests that detachment, or disengaging psychologically from work when we leave, is important in promoting recovery from stress and preventing feelings of agitation, or emotional strain. The failure to detach from work—by continuing to think about it when we get home—can lead us to feel more fatigued, have less energy, and withdraw more from loved ones. But how else might it affect our romantic partners?
A recent study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies explored how daily work stress affects the well-being of both partners in a couple, specifically looking at the importance of detachment. It found that the stress we bring home from work isn’t just exhausting; it can also affect our partner’s view of the entire relationship.
For the study, 159 educated, dual-earner couples with children completed questionnaires multiple times per day for more than a week. They rated their stress at work, their detachment from work, their relationship quality, their feelings of strain in the evening, and their affectionate behaviors toward their partner.
Unsurprisingly, on days when participants felt more stressed at work, they were less likely to detach from work at home. But that lack of detachment had a high price: The less individuals detached from work, the poorer both they and their partner rated their relationship quality, describing the relationship as less harmonious, less ideal, more distant, and more difficult.
“When absorbed by their work while being together, the perception of the relationship by both partners is compromised,” the authors write. “These hindrances to daily relationship quality likely accumulate and threaten the overall relationship’s quality and longevity.”
On the other hand, people who detached more from work tended to feel lower levels of strain (although their detachment did not seem to affect their partner’s strain). This was partly accounted for by the fact that more-detached participants exhibited more affection towards their partner. When you’re not checking work email or ruminating about office conflict, you can be more present with your loved ones.
A recent survey completed by the American Psychological Association reported that 61 percent of Americans are stressed by their jobs. So, what actions can we take to detach from work and protect our well-being?
- Pursue a new or existing hobby, such as travel.
- Socialize with friends and family regularly, incorporating touch and affection into your daily routine.
- Build in some time to relax and recharge. Unplug from your digital devices and take a walk or listen to music.
- Exercise, which can help you feel more positive in the evening.
If you have trouble shutting out thoughts of work at home, just remember: It’s not only good for your health and well-being, but your partner’s, as well.