Dear Maria,
My husband and I have been together for five years, and he is a good man. As of late, his stressful job has changed the quality of our life together. He is committed to staying at his position to acquire his pension, and yet the man I love is systematically being emotionally destroyed by his supervisors. He is a team player and well-liked by his equals. His stress level is so high that he shakes in the evening, and dreads returning in the morning. I have suggested counseling to no avail, I have distanced myself from his pain, but find myself getting angry that he will not pursue help from anyone. I have tried physical exercise, planning fun things together, but he has to do the Inner Work, and refuses. Got any ideas?

Worried Wife

Dear Worried,

Your husband is not alone in the pressure he feels at work. It’s my understanding that employees in this age bracket are likely to get laid off. There’s lots of anxiety for someone who’d just like to get through to his pension, and put his showing-up-at-the-office-years behind him. What you’ve described, however, is a concern regarding his physical health. His stress level has to be managed in a way that minimizes the collateral damage to himself and his loved ones. Is he open to seeing a doctor? (Sometimes spouses are more receptive to advice from an outside party.) Also, a tactic that helped my husband during a stressful job was writing out his frustrations before he came home. Perhaps your husband can take a personal journal or tablet with him every day, and take a few minutes before he leaves work (or stop on the way home) to unload his thoughts? The intention is to clear his head, leave the stress where it came from, and keep him from dumping this junk on you.

I’ve heard it said that our actions give us a payoff of some kind. For your husband to continue this behavior, despite there being healthier ways to manage the situation, suggests that he finds some satisfaction in staying stuck. Perhaps he believes that this is “just the way it is,” and there’s no changing the situation? Maybe he saw his dad stuck in a similar way and thinks this is what men do when they’re close to retirement? Maybe he’s “in” with his co-workers for braving the supervisors’ tyranny, and doesn’t want to abandon them, or appear weak if he left?

We could go on and on speculating about his mindset and not land on an answer. You are a loving wife to try to alleviate his pain, but frustrated that he won’t get help. Perhaps you’ve done all you can for now. You only have power over how you respond to him, and to take care of yourself in the midst of his pain. The best response to his complaining may be to acknowledge his feelings and not try to solve or fix things. A simple, “Oh, that must have been hard on you,” or “I bet you had a long day,” might be enough. Let him know he’s heard without giving him something to argue against. Create “gripe-free zones” in your home that are off limits to work-related conversation. First and most importantly: your bedroom. Don’t lie in the muck before you go to sleep. Do you really want his awful bosses in bed with you? And, how about some time limits? For example: We’ll talk about work over dinner, but after the dishes are done, no more! Gently enforce these boundaries when the work drama threatens to plow over them.

Lift your thoughts to the qualities that made you fall in love with this good man, and hold that intention for him. At bedtime, each of you say three things you appreciate about the other. In time, hopefully, the clouds will lift and the situation will shift. You want to be there to celebrate with him when they do!