It took me a while to learn how to help my husband with stress, but the biggest teacher always seemed to be when I said the wrong things. Prime example: One afternoon I heard my husband open the office door. I took a deep breath. Will he be grumpy again today? Will he be able to help out with the kids tonight? I tried to push my worries away and put on a smile as he entered the kitchen. “How’s your day going?” I asked. “Terribly,” he replied. “A couple of coworkers got transferred and now I need to pick up their work.”
My response was to tell him it’s time to find a new job. Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say because he looked like he might pass out. And then he grunted and walked away, shaking his head. I’m not proud of my mistake, but sometimes saying the wrong thing is a good place to start! Here are 9 things not to do when your husband is struggling with work stress.
1. Tell him to chill out.
While he very well may need to calm down, telling him that may come across as an attack, especially if your tone is angry. Try this instead: “Is there anything I can do to help?” Just that question alone will allow him to take a deep breath. And if it turns out that actual “chilling out” would help, try asking if he would like a guys’ night.
2. Tell him to get a new job.
You know how they say that timing is everything? When his emotions are high, the thought of getting a new job can be overwhelming—searching, interviewing, maybe even moving, on top of everything else he’s dealing with? Yikes. Instead, wait until this stressful period is over and then tell him that if finding a new job would help him, he has your support.
3. Play the comparison game.
In stressful times, we can find ourselves in a game of “I’m doing more than you are” very quickly. I noticed that when I was trying to figure out how to help my husband with stress.
We always think a healthy marriage should be 50/50. However, the reality is it’s 90/10 one week and 30/70 the next. Sometimes we are giving a lot, and other times we are taking a lot. Accepting this reality will help ward off resentment.
We always think a healthy marriage should be 50/50. However, the reality is it’s 90/10 one week and 30/70 the next.
4. Pile on things that can wait.
He’s wrapped up at work, but meanwhile, the sinks still get clogged and the grass needs to be mowed. And you’d really like to redecorate that bathroom. But this isn’t a good time to bring attention to the Honey-Do list. See what can wait, and hire out any tasks that are truly urgent.
5. Avoid him altogether.
When we get tired of walking on eggshells, sometimes we resort to avoiding the eggshells! That’s normal. But eventually, he may feel alone and unsupported. So while you might not feel like embracing him, consider simply being next to him. Offer some sympathy (“I’m sorry things are so rough”), a pat on the back, or a cup of coffee to let him know you are there for him.
6. Assume that the stress is never going to end.
In the middle of a difficult time, we can feel stuck. We think, “This is not what I signed up for!” It’s a seed of bitterness that, if left to grow, can turn into a nasty weed in the marriage. Instead, think of a time in the past when you endured a stressful season. Remember that it did come to an end. How did you get through it? What helped?
7. Assume he’s just being selfish.
When your husband is working nonstop, it might seem like he doesn’t want to be with you and the kids—like he doesn’t want to help you. But is that true, or is that an assumption? In most cases, he would much rather be with you, get off work right on time, or attend your son’s baseball game. Try to give him the benefit of the doubt.
8. Attack his means of relaxing.
“You get an hour break and you want to do that?” Yep, I’m guilty of saying those words before I learned how to help my husband with stress in healthier ways. The truth is that his means of relaxing might look different from yours. You might want him to take you out to dinner or play a game with the kids to relax, but he may need to be alone and zone out. Giving him room to decompress however he needs to is one of the kindest things you can do.
9. Neglect your own needs.
You may be able to play the part of Wonder Woman for a day or two, or even a week. But you have limits too. It’s easy to feel unseen or just plain tired. Get a babysitter for an afternoon to yourself. Do something that you can’t do when you are caring for your kids. Plan a girls’ night out. Find a way to relax and care for yourself too.
How do you help your husband when he’s stressed with work?