The directive sounds simple: Hey couples, don’t fight when you come home from work. But of course anyone who has ever co-habitated will tell you that’s easier said than done. I think modern couples are probably a bit more evolved than my parents were, but I remember the hour after my dad came home as being a tense one each day. He was always slamming his stuff around trying to relieve stress (and not direct it at people, which was a kind tactic), but then he’d ultimately “start in” with my mother about what needed to be done around the house, what hadn’t yet been done that should have, about how he was the one who had to do everything, blah blah blah. (It’s easy to be a martyr – which both of my parents were – when you’re a perfectionist. Yeah, they were both that, too.)
Nowadays most couples have a more realistic set of expectations about keeping a spotless home at all times. Couples have some sense I think that expecting both partners to be both successful breadwinners and perfect homemakers is not healthy and puts tons of pressure on a relationship. Nonetheless, it is easy to let those external pressures seep into your relationship and wreak havoc on your home life via fighting about all of the petty things couples do during the first 60 minutes after they get home, aka “the adult tantrum hour.”
That’s what couples mediator Laurie Puhn, J.D., author of Fight Less, Love More, calls it. “We’ve been holding our tongues all day, so coming home means you can let loose with—or lash out at—your partner,” she says. Here are three concrete steps you can take to avoid doing that:
First 20 Minutes: De-stress, Alone
“This will help you transition from the role of stressed employee to that of supportive partner,” according to Women’s Health. Take a hot shower, grab a book, listen to some music, put your phone away. Just chill and decompress. Having a snack might help, too. Just like kids are hungry and grumpy and wanting to get rid of any tension they’ve built up during the school day, adults need to get rid of the ick and get cozy.
Second 20 Minutes: Whine Wisely
“Often, for women, talking about [problems] is not only a release from the tension of the day but also a way of bonding with their partner,” says communications consultant Audrey Nelson, Ph.D. “If done correctly, it’s an essential part of a healthy relationship.”
But Puhn cautions, “You need to give your partner some power to call you out.” Start by saying, “I’ve had a really crappy day and I need to talk about it, but tell me if I go overboard.” Fights during this hour tend to escalate, so communicate thoroughly. Nelson suggests women get to the point first and then flesh out details rather than make their guy wait for the end of the story. “That way, even if he tunes out at some point, he’ll get the gist, and you’ll get it off your chest.”
Last 20 Minutes: Show Your Support
“Guys are known for their slow disclosures, so it may take him a while to open up after a tough day at work,” says Nelson. “But when he does, listen to him in the same way you want him to listen when you speak—sympathetically and without offering quick-fix ideas that can feel patronizing.”
Studies have shown that “Couples who help each other cope with daily stress have more sex and even orgasm more frequently.” So dealing with the adult tantrum hour well means you’ll get to have fun later throwing a fit on the sheets.
For more in-depth commentary on this issue, visit Women’s Health.
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