“Stress Is Ruining Our Romance!”

Has your job become the “third wheel” on dates? Don’t let stress get between you and your honey! Instead, follow these six steps to strike the right balance between work and your love life.

By Dave Singleton

he good news is that you and your honey share a lot, including challenging careers. The bad news is that you also share work stress — too much of it, in fact! You’re smart people who want to be successful at the two things that Freud claimed would ensure success: work and love. Yet you’re desperately searching for the way to strike right
He vents, then I vent. It’s not healthy.
balance between the two. Lately, work is tipping the scales… and not in a good way. It’s dampening your libido, raining on your parade, and flooding your brain with stress to the point that you can’t think about anything else.

What a mess! Do you need the world’s biggest umbrella or a month’s romantic vacation in Bali? Why is it so hard to focus on work and have a relationship, too? “Everyone talks about work-life balance,” says Marylander Katie, 32. “But what about work-love life balance? I started seeing Bill five months ago and we’re having a tough time right now. Both of us are always thinking about yesterday’s argument at work or the next big meeting. It’s gotten to the point where it’s all we talk about when we’re together. He vents, then I vent. It’s not healthy.”

If you’re trapped in an emotional cubicle like Katie, you’re smart enough to know that stress has killed many a romance. So, don’t let it claim yours if you can help it by following these six tips to jointly manage — and perhaps even bond over — your stressful work lives as you re-prioritize your relationship.

1. Explore what’s really causing the stress
Is your issue simply work-related stress? Or is it something else, camouflaged in business casual? Sometimes people get addicted to their careers as a way to avoid looking at the problems in their relationship. Look under the carpet and make sure you’re not missing any other issues that might be disguised as “work stress.” If you’ve simply fallen into the habit of stressing and obsessing over work, then focus on changing your behavior first.

2. Develop an “us vs. it” mentality
“Nourish the overworked relationship by developing an ‘us versus it’ mentality,” suggests Bryan E. Robinson, psychotherapist and author of Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them. “That way, work stress doesn’t slither its way between two people that have become a couple — which, believe me, it will, if folks are not alert.” In more clinical terms, “it’s easier for couples to deal with high levels of work stress if they acknowledge that this is a ‘couple-external stressor’ and can learn to separate ‘couple-external’ stress from ‘couple-internal’ stress,” says Beate Ditzen, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland who has studied the effects of stress on relationships. “Of course, in times of high demand at work, this is difficult to achieve.” But it’s clear that one can impact the other, and being prepared certainly helps.

3. Create anti-work-stress plans for two
“If couples can help each other with their stress levels, everything becomes easier, so why not build a date around stress
It’s no surprise that hugs make most of us feel good.
relief?” asks relationship and wellness coach Elizabeth Scott,’s stress management expert. “Have a romantic evening in and create a haven from stress,” says Scott. “Play soothing music, trade massages, and feel the stress melt away. Or, blow off steam while metabolizing those stress hormones. It’s also a great date activity! Go hiking, ride your bikes out in nature, or take exercise classes together — martial arts, yoga, kickboxing or Zumba. These can create endorphin highs to replace your normally stressed thoughts, and are usually relatively cheap date ideas.”

4. Hug it out
“Hugging it out” is more than just the infamous catch phrase from the HBO series Entourage — it might also be the best way to reduce feelings of strain while resting in the arms of your honey. It’s no surprise that hugs make most of us feel good; now, science has shown that they’re good for stressed-out relationships, too. “Our research suggests that hugs and intimacy between partners seems to buffer the negative effects of work stress on physiology, as measured through the stress hormone cortisol,” says Dr. Ditzen. “This effect was shown in the laboratory as well as in a study by Hoppmann & Klumb in couples’ everyday lives.”

5. Put all your tech toys back into the toy box at night
Experts also suggest turning off your technology in order to dial down your stressful feelings. “Watch out for how technology is separating us from each other,” says Dr. Robinson. “There was a time when ‘BlackBerries’ were something we consumed, not the other way around. And when you had a ‘Bluetooth’ you went to the dentist, not a conference call. Our wireless devices have blurred our boundaries. Many of us think we have to answer a cell phone or text message immediately when it pops up, no matter if we’re in the middle of an intimate conversation. I advise that all working couples have a verbal agreement that during certain times, thinking and talking about work and using electronic devices are off-limits — during sex (no, I’m not kidding), on vacations, and during fun date nights. Work tools need to be put away after hours, just like the saw and hammer after you’ve built those cabinets in the den.” If you must engage in work on occasion during traditionally sacred “together times,” be judicious. Allow a set amount of time to complete the task and then stick to it. Answer calls for emergencies only, make them short, and keep all ringers on “vibrate” mode. Check your emails once a night — not every three minutes.

6. Develop some individual anti-stress rituals
“Each party in a relationship needs to have at least one activity or practice (a self-care plan) to pursue in order to combat work stress,” says Dr. Robinson. “Good examples include vigorous exercise, mindfulness meditation, a hobby, or other pastime.” Maybe your ritual is as simple as just taking an hour or two to unwind by doing your own thing before you meet up with your partner. Or use your commute home to focus on decompressing and setting realistic boundaries. Play your favorite music, listen to motivational CDs, or talk to friends to help you shift your gears from racing to cruising speed before meeting with your date. After all, date night is meant to be relaxing… don’t you and your date both deserve to enjoy it?

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at
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