Nice Things to Do for a Stressed Partner?
July 24, 2009 4:42 AM   Subscribe

Help me help my fianceé! She just had a bunch of new responsibilities added at work and is completely stressed by them.

She's now working 14-15 hour days (instead of the former average of 12) and is coming home completely beat. I want to do some things for her every day to help relieve her stress, let her know that someone cares about her and take her mind off work.

I'm not talking about everyday things like "clean the kitchen" or "make her dinner." Those are things I'm already doing as just par for the course. I'm looking for things that go above and beyond.

My problem is that I'm really really poor at reading what people want or need at any given moment (this could be the subject of a whole 'nother AskMeFi) so figuring out what to do for her next is a problem. Bearing in mind that you all obviously don't know her as well as I do, I turn to the hive mind.

Lists of nice things to do for a stressed partner would be highly appreciated.
posted by Inkoate to Human Relations (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
what works for me is that someone listens - not solves my problems, or even offers solutions - just listen if/when I want to vent about anything stressful at work. I usually end up realizing by myself how much i'm talking and will change the subject. It varies how much i'd want you to respond, even if you are in the same field. It's tricky, as you've realized, so I can only give you my experience. But just that you want to help is a big plus.
posted by alchemist at 4:50 AM on July 24, 2009

"What can I do for you to make your rather truncated time at home better?"

i.e. ask her.
posted by notsnot at 5:00 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Keep it simple:

1. Listen to her and let her deal with her day. Don't add yourself into her inputs when she does this - just listen, and show you're listening.

2. Go on a walk right after work if you can - suggest something outdoors and close by. The worst thing is when you're stressed out by work and then stew in it afterwards.

It's always better to have something basic to distract yourself with that doesn't involve sitting on a couch and marinating in leftover stressors.

3. Another good idea is to pay attention to the little things she talks about when she's not stressed, and remember them for moments when she is. Bring some small good into her life when she's not expecting it or feeling like she doesn't deserve it. Nothing gets another person re-calibrated from feelings of anger and irritation than a symbolic "Don't worry - I believe in you" gesture.

This isn't to suggest that gifts are meant to act as substitutes or palliatives all the time, it's more the attitude behind it - you're trying to remind a person of their presence in your life that is intimate and positive, in order to counteract feelings of futility and imposed drama.


Check in with her when she's not stressed to see where her passions are leading her and remember them. Do something supportive of them when she's feeling beat.

Give her some room immediately after work to get thermonuclear for awhile, and pay attention to the big thing in her anger - the larger points. She may be looking for a leadership role at her job that isn't being met, or having to navigate seriously dysfunctional gender politics, but it's coming out in a rush of petty and hurtful frustrations that she's trying to minimize.

Then do something together that's positive, that she likes to do when she's not at work, and preferably outdoors with some fresh air and some greenery. The beauty of the wider world is fantastic for combatting career stress.

Listening, being humble and remembering what others show you is a good start towards becoming better at picking up social cues. Good luck.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:06 AM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Massage.* Run her a bath. Flowers. Let her nap and tell her you'll wake her when dinner is ready. Listen for that tipping point between getting it out of her system and winding herself back up. Get her favourite movie or TV show. Chocolate. Oh, chocolate.

*I recommend: massage bars from LUSH, rolling a squash ball around on her back/shoulders, scratching her head as if she's a cat. And book her a Swedish massage on the weekend. Can you tell all my stress piles up in my shoulders and neck?
posted by heatherann at 5:35 AM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know about your fiancee but if I was having a super stressful time at work the last thing I'd want when I came home was someone to start pestering me with, "How are you sweetie? How was your day? Are you tired? Can I give you a massage? Can I run you a bath? Don't worry about dinner, it's ready, when do you want to eat?"

If she's been running ragged all day she might just be sick of people. So in addition to the suggestions above, I would also recommend giving her space and time to decompress when she comes home. It depends on her of course but for me this can mean anything from 5 minutes to change out of my work clothes or a half hour to cry in the bathroom.

For me I'd be grateful for just a cheery smile and hello until I was ready to initiate the next activity. Then he can jump in with an offer of dinner, massage, and/or a bath. Again it really depends on her own personality so employ this advice at your discretion! I wouldn't want her to feel like she's being ignored, just saying what would work for me.

Also, don't take it personally if she sometimes has a bad day at work and she turns down all your offers for help and she just wants to go to bed. Sometimes you just want to go to bed and forget the day happened.

I also agree with alchemist's first suggestion of learning the difference between just listening to problems and helping with problems and rely more on the former. Especially if you don't work there.
posted by like_neon at 6:04 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. meet her at the door
2. have favorite drink in hand for her
3. welcome her home
4. kiss her
5. tell her you're going to give her some decompression time and do so
6. tell her you made food if she gets hungry
7. offer to massage zee feet/back/shoulders if she wants it
posted by bunny hugger at 6:16 AM on July 24, 2009

Nthing decompression time when she gets home.

I appreciate it when my partner sets up options for stuff we can do in our limited time that will at least make me feel like I do something besides work and sleep, and give me something to which to look forward. Movies are nice because it's not a huge time commitment. So, knowing which movies are playing and where and what time, or being willing to watch maybe not his first choice of whatever I've ordered from Netflix, or bringing home a movie we'd both want to watch.

The other thing that I personally appreciate is some semblance of normalcy, including doing things myself. Being a little spoiled is wonderful, but I don't want the workstress to become something that disrupts my life so much that I feel like I'm sick or wounded. If I'm already a little touchy, the last thing I need is someone trying to do the dishes for me when it's my turn.
posted by desuetude at 6:31 AM on July 24, 2009

In grad school I worked long hours including weekends. At the start of my postdoc I was doing a 3.5 hour one-way commute.

I know that something I needed from people was the understanding that I could only manage one social event a week and that it needed to end fairly early.

Decompression is important - after getting home from my long commute, I needed to rail about it for about ten minutes. Alone time is also hard to come by when you're working long hours - you're going to have to find a balance between sharing the small amount of time you have together and giving her time to just be quietly by herself.

As you've said, cooking dinner and cleaning the kitchen is the obvious. Add to that doing laundry, paying bills, and packing a good lunch and snacks. If she's on her feet a lot, take her shopping for comfortable work-appropriate shoes.

I find that a good nerf gun with suction cup darts is a great toy and the darts stick to the television marvelously.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:48 AM on July 24, 2009

packing a good lunch and snacks

This is a great idea. I know when I'm busy at work, having to deal with lunch can feel like just another wrench in the works. Having something tasty and healthy to eat might end up being a bright spot in every day.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:00 AM on July 24, 2009

"Those are things I'm already doing as just par for the course. I'm looking for things that go above and beyond."

Whoa, bud. Youse makin' the rest of us look bad.

Anyway... First, were it me in your position, I wouldn't be in a hurry to effect change.

Are there things which you have observed that she likes to do, or gravitates towards, when stressed or run out? What?! You haven't observed?!

I think I'd be inclined to carefully watch what it is she tends to want to do when she arrives home from such a day. Doubly true because you admit to creaky people reading skills. Stop worrying about doing the right thing for long enough to really, really see clearly how she reacts to the status quo before rushing to try and change things.

Once you have a baseline, try, or introduce, a few little things that are above and beyond to see how she responds.

The first can be just not saying a word and greeting her with a little affectionate squeeze. Nothing weird or new but just an offer of silence and reassurance.

The you might go to the "I found this oddball wine (or whatever) today. Would you like to try a sip?" stage.

See how she reacts. Smiles are usually good. Eye rolling, less so.

After a few little sprigs of offerings, you may have a better idea what it is she wants. Even better, she may have a better idea of what she wants and that's a gift in itself.
posted by bz at 7:05 AM on July 24, 2009

(Oh, and I've been accused of being too analytical and cautious so... adjust as needed)
posted by bz at 7:06 AM on July 24, 2009

When my life is more out of control than usual, my wife will pack me a nice lunch+snack and I really do appreciate it. When it includes a little note of affection, I like it even better. Another thing that we do when one of us is really under the gun at work is for the other person to plan a "perfect day" for the next day off. Even when you are under tremendous pressure you usually take a day off somewhere. Make a plan for that day -- my wife's perfect day when she is stressed usually involves massage, sushi and a bubble bath. Mine pretty much just involves sex, but YMMV. I think it is nice to have something positive to look forward to when you are in crunch mode. Just don't make it too high energy for her, since what she might really want is to decompress.

I also personally like it when she sends me little affectionate text messages or emails during the day out of the blue. They don't take more than a second out of my day, but improve my spirits for hours. A friend of mine was getting "why I love you" texts once a day from his wife with stuff like "You kill all the yucky spiders" and "You hold me when I'm scared" and I admit to feeling a but envious.
posted by Lame_username at 7:16 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Work to fill 15 hour days that she is not entirely in control over means that she's probably really happy with the situation. Adding into that a significant decrease in free time, means a general retraction from socialization even on the weekends is otherwise likely.

What that means is: get out of the house with her on the weekends for a few hours (at least) to do something that she and you like. If there is a distraction which would take up the weekends because it can no longer be done during the week (cleaning, mopping, cooking, grocery shopping, etc) do it during those additional 3 hours daily that she's not home - or hire some sort of a service to assist.

Your profile indicates your in DC. So see if she wants to go for a trip to the Smithsonian or the zoo. Call up some friends and see if they're available for an afternoon in the park (or cocktails - almost everyone likes cocktails). Check out a movie or two. The important part is to have non-fixed time frame options for things to do (easier for her to refuse one thing over another) - things which you can schedule in and out and rotate through.

For more time, or more of a quasi planned trip, try a weekend to Rehobeth (am I spelling that right?) or Virginia Beach.

Of course, you also said fiance... that means you are planning a wedding - so ask her during the week if she needs you to make any appointments at floorists, caterers, bakeries, halls, clergy, etc. Then find out their weekend availability and help book those appointments for the both of you.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:43 AM on July 24, 2009

Response by poster: All of this is good advice, folks, thank you all. Keep em coming!
I can't really pick one best answer, they're all the best!
posted by Inkoate at 8:21 AM on July 24, 2009

I started a new job recently. At first, I was buzzing around like a lunatic trying to keep on top of things.

Here's what my boyfriend did to help:

1. Listened intently (even turned off the television!) while I went on my daily just-home-from-work rant.

2. Kept on top of dishes and housework until I settled down and got my shit together.

3. Huge hugs. Often.

4. Baked cookies and left little treats around the apartment for me to find.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:45 AM on July 24, 2009

If it's possible for you, save up a little dough and invest in some nice sheets, a new ultra comfy pillow, and a nice down or down-replacement comforter and make the bed look and feel absolutely delicious to lay in after a long day.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:37 PM on July 24, 2009

Since you seem to have the evening duties wrapped up pretty nicely, perhaps you could sneak out of a bed a little early and help her get ready? I know that if I have to work late, I try to compensate by staying up late, so I wake up later, and I'm stressed and crazed all day. When I'm like that, I think I'd be thrilled to pieces if my boy was already up making breakfast or packing a lunch or ironing clothes or something.

Say, do you have a brother?
posted by m_lazarus at 4:36 PM on July 24, 2009

When I was working two jobs and really stressed my mum sent me a gift certificate to a salon and I got a massage and a pedicure. I still remember it because it made such a difference in my life and really helped to decrease my stress level.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 12:49 AM on July 25, 2009

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