Supportive Spouses

Last week I read an article that talked about how people with supportive spouses were less likely to be burnt out at work. Fifty years ago it was far more likely than today that only one half of a couple would work outside the home so the concept of a supportive spouse was much more clearly defined. The supportive spouse of that era was almost always a woman and she supported her husband by keeping the home, raising the children, and saying the right things in social situations.

Today, it is increasingly common that both spouses will work outside the home and often, that both spouses could have similarly demanding jobs. Therefore it is likely that those who are fortunate enough to have a supportive spouse will also need to be a supportive spouse.

The question then becomes, how can you help your partner when you are dealing with your own work stresses?

  1. Be mindful of what you can and cannot fix. A spouse is a great sounding board for ideas and complaints and when you are the one hearing these things it is easy to feel like you want to solve your spouse’s problems. While you can offer valuable feedback, it is important to recognize that you are not an objective observer and that overstepping your bounds may result in more problems.
  2. Ask questions instead of assuming your spouse is wrong. If your spouse vents about a disagreement with a coworker and you find yourself in agreement with the coworker, try not to say that outright. Even if you are right, you will be forcing him into the same fight at home that he was having at work. Instead try asking questions that might force him to look at things from a different angle.
  3. Think of ways to make both of your lives easier. When you want to make your spouse’s life easier, it is easy to skew too far in the other direction and take all of the household responsibilities on yourself. However, you then run the risk of burning out yourself and creating resentment between you and your partner. Hiring a cleaning service when you are both too busy to deal with the house or even just getting take-out food for dinner after a long week might help both of you to feel more supported.
  4. Be aware of each others’ busiest times. Most jobs have a certain amount of ebb and flow in their workload. If you’re lucky, those ebbs and flows will follow an identifiable pattern. If you know when your partner is at her busiest you can try to take on some of the household burdens during those times knowing that she will pitch in when you are at your peak.
  5. Don’t keep score. Every marriage requires a certain amount of give and take in every area but it’s best to aim for a general sense of fairness as opposed to a strict tally.

What are other ways you can be a supportive spouse while maintaining your own demanding workload?

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Michael Leiter

Dr. Michael Leiter, co-author of Banishing Burnout and The Truth about Burnout, is set to release his newest book on Work Engagement. Dr. Leiter founded the Canadian Centre for Organizational Research & Development and has researched organizational behaviour for more than two decades. He knows how to improve an organization’s bottom line (productivity and profitability by improving its top line - people. In fact, he and his co-author coined the term "work engagement" as the antithesis to burnout!

Over the years, Dr. Leiter has worked closely with a host of researchers, including Dr. Christine Maslach, creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), and most recently, with Dr. Arnold Bakker on work engagement. Now, through work with the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) - the largest integrated health care system in the U.S. - Dr. Leiter has the CREW Solution.

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