Do you find that you and your partner get into a fight as soon as you walk in the door after work?
If you’re like many of my clients, you have a job that carries a lot of responsibility and you may be in life-or-death situations on a regular basis while at work. While helpers aren’t the only ones with stressful careers, I’ve seen time and again that they often struggle to manage the transition from work to home, and the first 25 minutes they’re back home with their partner or spouse can be the most difficult.
This can be the result of a lot of things—partners having different needs about how we handle stress is one of the biggest factors I see that can cause fights as we walk in the door. Maybe one partner prefers to be alone and decompress in solitude, while the other likes to share their experiences and connect with their partner for soothing.
If this sounds like you and your significant other, then you’re in luck. I have a couple of tips that may help decrease the likelihood that you get in a fight right after work or after getting home from a business trip.
The first tip comes from the work of author and couples therapist Dr. Stan Tatkin. It’s called the Welcome Home exercise and it helps couples to re-align their nervous systems after spending time apart, and it also adds in some much-needed structure to the process of rejoining. It’s so simple, and it’s typically a homework assignment I give to my couples clients very early in our work together. So here’s what you do:
When one partner arrives home after some time away (whether after a day at work, spending time out with friends, or arriving home from a business trip), the arriving partner should announce him or herself (who’s old enough to remember “Honey, I’m Home!”??)
The partner who was already at home should stop what he or she is doing and greet the arriving partner at the door. The only real exception to this rule would be if there was an emergency going on that prevents the at-home partner from greeting the arriving partner. If the at-home partner is doing dishes, cooking, reading, talking with kids etc., simply stop what you’re doing for a moment and go greet the arriving partner.
The partners should embrace in a belly-to-belly hug (no side hugs!), and they should hold the hug until they feel their partner’s body relax.
It is important that pets and kids do not get in the way or in between the partners. Right now, for this moment, the priority should be on your partner.
That’s it! Now the arriving partner can say hello to the dog or the kids and the at home partner can get back to whatever he or she was doing before their partner arrived.
The Welcome Home exercise ensures your nervous systems are aligned and puts you in tune with your partner’s experience as soon as you come into contact with one another. This should be something you adopt into your routine and keep it up on an ongoing basis. You can also use this if you’ve been separated for a while but still in the same space (maybe one partner was in another room working for a few hours—get a good ‘Welcome Back’ hug in as you re-enter shared space). Try it and see if this helps with your coming home routine—I bet it will!
The other tip I often share with my clients is a little more involved. It requires sitting down with your partner (not when you’re upset and not right after you get home) to get a “game-plan” and talk about what each of your ideal coming-home routines would be like. It’s important to talk about differences without being accusatory or blaming our partner. Remember in the example we talked about where one partner might like to talk about their day to help decompress while the other might prefer to have alone time at the end of the day? Neither of those preferences can be categorized as right or wrong—they’re just individual preferences, and it’s important that we understand and appreciate that.
So, in this example, perhaps you can come to a compromise that if the partner who prefers solitude has a few minutes to themselves (maybe set a 10 minute window for them to be alone after you’ve done the welcome home hug), then they will be able to connect and hear how their partner’s day was and talk it through. The partner who likes to connect through dialogue compromises by giving their partner space when they’ve first arrived home; the partner who prefers solitude compromises by not taking space all night long, and communicating in advance how long they need for solitude, so that their partner feels more comfortable with it. And in the end, everyone wins.
What ways have worked for you to prevent arguments at the end of a long work day? For couples who have intense fighting, or struggle to make the above tips work, couples counseling can help.
if you’d like to explore couples counseling in Austin, TX to save your marriage from the fights that can ensue from reuniting after difficult workdays.