Married to the Job

Stress at work can spill over on the homefront. In fact, work can be bad for marriage.

By PT Staff, published on July 1, 1992 - last reviewed on August 23, 2006

It's bad enough that our work lives are expanding at the cost of
our leisure. Now comes word that that's just the tip of the iceberg when
it comes to ways work stresses our private lives.

It's not just the amount of work we have, it's the psychological
characteristics of our jobs that are especially troublesome. For one,
they can subvert our marriages. Notably, having a psychologically
demanding job, one marked by high pressure and a boss who provides no
support, makes itself felt in marital tension, a trio of New York
researchers reports in the Journal of Marriage and the Family (Vol. 54,
No. 1). Workers in such jobs have more marital arguments about a wide
range of topics, from finances to how to spend their leisure.

Job-generated pressure prevents workers from meeting family demands
and creates a negative mood that spills over into home life. According to
Diane Hughes, of New York University, and colleagues, negative moods
generated on the job make workers psychologically unavailable at
home—preoccupied with work, fatigued, and irritable. Thinking about
work, they are not able to pay attention to their spouse.

What surprised the researchers most is that the tensions that
emerge because of work or family role difficulties are not limited to
such expectable work-family issues as time or family management. They
didn't even ask about such items in their study of 188 women and 344 men,
all of whom were married workers at a major pharmaceutical company, most
of them white, upper-middle-class professionals. Instead, the tensions
are generalized to other aspects of the marital relationship.

What's more, negative mood spillover has more of an impact on
arguments at home than does work overload. Excessive work hours create
difficulties in meeting family role demands, but they do not directly
influence workers' affective states.

For better or worse, we don't only marry our spouses, but their
jobs as well.