How To Deal With Spouse Stress?
September 12, 2012 4:57 PM   Subscribe

My husband has just gotten a new job in his dream company at much higher pay/benefits after a long and stressful search. That's the good part. The bad part is this job involves a lot more responsibility, longer hours, commuting time, and a much bigger project to oversee. How can I help him deal with the increased workload and stress when he is clearly having trouble adjusting to it?

He used to come around 3 and since I freelance, we saw each other pretty much all day every day. Now he doesn't get home til late and is so exhausted that he sometimes falls asleep taking off his suit. His appetite is gone and his sleep is disordered (crashing out on the train home and missing his stop and then not being able to sleep, etc) and he is very clearly under a could and "not there."

We've talked about it but he's not into admitting when he's stressed out/overwhelmed. Has anyone been in this situation? What do you do to help a stressful situation that you can't change? How can I make the reduced time we do have together better/more comforting? Is there anything I can do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'd bet that his biggest problem right now is not getting enough sleep.

Therefore, you could probably help by making sure that he gets enough sleep, quality. Even if that means changing your routine so that you aren't providing distractions for him when he should be getting to bed earlier.

So, both of you go to bed at 10pm (9pm -- not unheard of for some professionals I know). No TV in bed, no staying up to read (unless your reading doesn't bother him). Consider blacking out all of the ambient lights in the room (alarm clock, cell phone LEDs, etc). And yes, early bedtimes suck as far as time together goes -- maybe you can make up for it with more quality time on the weekends?

What does he eat for lunch these days? Would a healthy packed lunch help at all? Maybe he's not hungry when he gets home b/c he's filled up on some junk food that he barely had time to grab and eat.
posted by sparklemotion at 5:12 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

It will take time for both of you to adjust to your new routines. One thing I encourage my husband to do when he's working longer hours is take extra B vitamins, keep almonds in his desk, and offer simple meals when he gets home.

We tend to connect in the mornings. I deliberately let him get up and have his time to himself and then get up and we will chat about things before he has to take his shower & go off. On his part, he calls me a couple of times a day on breaks to check in.

Every other weekend or so, I plan a day out. To the beach or an art show, but not every weekend, as we do our together chores then and he needs his down time. So say, Saturday, he does the dump run while I plan the meals and we do the weekly shop, and have a nice quiet meal. Sunday, it's either leisure or some laundry, or a simple drive to somewhere away from the house.

Sometimes, if he goes to bed early, and I come to bed later, I have a low light on near the bed and we talk and cuddle. I think it's in bed that we connect, really, not just sexually, but being close in the dark and snuggling. Sunday, we both stayed in longer than we normally would have, despite the cats, and I think that sort of huddling under the covers away from the world makes a world of difference during the week when things get stressful.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:13 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is moving closer to the office a possibility? Commuting is the absolute worst thing ever.
posted by zjacreman at 5:36 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

While he is adjusting to his new work life, are there parts of his morning of evening routine you can do for him? Although it sounds very 50's housewife, when my husband changed jobs, I started getting his clothes together for him the night before and leaving them in the shower. I also sent tasty foods that I thought might help (like nuts and yogurt).

What about a scrabble game, or something similar, to play together via phones while he's on the commute home? Are there things you can provide him with to utilize the commute time better?
posted by Nickel Pickle at 5:49 PM on September 12, 2012

First, congratulations on the new job!

As someone who has been getting a new position every year (with bigger responsibilities each time) for the last 4 years, allow me to chime in.

The first thing to realize is that wen you take on a new position that is a step, or several steps, ahead of the last one things are going to be rough for a while. If professional success is important to both of you then this new position has to be the top priority for some time, which will affect work-life balance. However things will go back to "normal" eventually, although the new normal will be different than the old (and that's ok).

A very important thing to consider when working longer, more stressful hours is nutrition. Ensure your husband is getting a good breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have all my breakfast foods at work so that I can eat a good breakfast at 8 a.m. instead of 5:30 when I leave the house (try not to go more than 4 hrs without eating anything). If you have the time, homemade lunches are fantastic; pack extra so that he can snack on healthy foods in the afternoons (veggies, fruit, granola, etc). Also, replacing every second cup of coffee with a glass of water is a good idea (it's a little thing but research has proven that dehydration at work is an often overlooked cause of exhaustion). And of course, good home-cooked meals are just absolutely wonderful after a stressful day at work.

One thing that works great for me is reading non-work related material during the commute (a novel, or the news, or whatever). It provides a nice distractions from all those work thoughts that are in my head the rest of the time, plus by reading the news regularly and being well-informed is great for keeping a greater perspective on things in general.

You will see that after a few months your husband will adapt to the new routine and have more energy after work, make the most of the hours between supper and bedtime to relax, and keep an early bedtime. When he needs an extra hour at work he should strive to take it in the morning, the hours before 8 a.m. can be incredibly productive and don't take away from family time.
posted by Vindaloo at 6:16 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although it sounds very 50's housewife... could do a lot worse than tailoring the Unfuck Your Habitat night prep for your spouse.

The evening list, from UFYH:

Wash the dishes in your sink
Get your outfits for tomorrow together, including accessories
Set up coffee/tea/breakfast
Make your lunches
Put your keys somewhere obvious
Charge your electronics
Set the alarm
Go to bed at a reasonable hour

Write little encouraging notes and stick them in his pocket. Set some fruit or granola bars next to the coffee maker so that he can grab something on his way out.

Give him explicit permission to be mentally/emotionally absent for a period after he gets home (protect decompression time; don't encourage his absence to be open-ended). As sparklemotion suggests, reconfigure your bedroom to maximize the potential for quality sleep. Build routines.

You're asking for ways to support him, and it's a grace; when you feel like "Why am I doing this for a grown man?", remember that the situation may one day be reversed and you'll be grateful for his help is getting you through a stressful period. Good luck to you both.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:19 PM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was just listening to this radio interview on the way home from work, and it said that one of the tricks that Obama uses to not become exhausted from his job is to avoid unnecessary decisions, such as what to wear or eat. Mundane things are not an effective use of his energy and attention. It also talked about his (when possible) regular work and sleep patterns.
posted by forthright at 8:26 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

How long has he been at his new job with the longer commute? I think it's likely that he needs more time to adjust -- the first few weeks at a new job are always exhausting because you're on best behavior, learning new other-humans, trying to master new tasks, etc.; and then any increase in commute time tends to create exhaustion at first. When my husband switched jobs to one with a longer commute last year, it was INSANE how exhausted he was between the new job and the longer commute, and he sleep was all over the place. But once he got into a rhythm at work -- which took longer than I would have thought -- he settled in and he adjusted. For a while there he was falling asleep as soon as he walked in the door and then waking up at 4 a.m. and just a wreck on the weekends because his sleep was so messed up. I felt like I never saw him awake. But now it's back to normal!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:12 PM on September 12, 2012

Make sure he knows it's ok to sleep or whatever instead of feeling obliged to spend time with you when he gets home at the moment until he's adjusted because sleep is the single most important thing for him at the moment.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:57 PM on September 12, 2012

I am also in this situation only shorter commute, but no partner. Early bedtime, for real. While I'm no longer pulling 80 hr weeks (thank FSM), getting in the habit of being in bed by 10 at the latest for an 10:30-11pm lights-out was crucial (for a 5:30 wake-up; adjust as necessary; I work best at 8+ hrs but could not force myself asleep sooner). Also seconding frivolous fun reading for the commute if your partner is a reader and doing as much morning prep the night before. I'm not a super put-together woman, but having my clothes set out the night before (along with lunch + breakfast made & coffee prepped) makes SUCH a difference in how I feel when I drag myself out of bed in the morning (I am NOT a morning person, regardless of what my work schedule requires).

Otherwise, you are awesome for being so thoughtful and caring!
posted by smirkette at 11:32 PM on September 12, 2012

Once upon a time, I could keep all the relevant information about a new job in my head, and pretty much rely on keeping track. Those days are long gone. I keep a small leather bound notebook and write down each new thing as it comes up. I focus on the training, and make notes as necessary. At the end of the day, I go back and illuminate my short notes with extra tips, mnemonics, or other info that helps it sink in.

The trick is to get all of that stuff out of your head and onto paper, or at least onto a recording.

It seems like the commute home would be excellent for this, and allow him to step off the train and leave his worries and concerns behind. A quick review of the previous day's notes on the way to work would get him mentally prepared for the new day. The commute then becomes a valuable extension of organization time, instead of just a schlep, and home becomes a haven from work.

I initially worried about what others might think about this habit, until one of them asked me an obscure question about a client from weeks before, and I was immediately able to flip back and conjure it all up for them on the spot, including contact info.

I have since noticed that other project managers have started writing things down in notebooks during the day.

Good on you for your thoughful support. I hope this pays off big time for both of you.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:27 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

If the transition is recent, he may simply still be adjusting to the new workload and responsibilities. I've been there and starting a new job involves drinking from a fire hose of information for the first three months. It gets a lot easier once you know the personalities and expectations and you have some credibility with your colleagues. I hope this helps you and him to see it in perspective because it often gets better.
posted by dgran at 6:52 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just throwing it out there, a few surprise BJ's never hurt. Might be TMI, but I took on a new promotion and greatly increased workload last year, and it took me awhile before I had full energy/time to devote to our sex life. My SO was understanding, and a BJ or massage here or there with no expected return is a great stress reliever.
posted by cccp47 at 12:33 PM on September 13, 2012

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