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 July 1, 1992 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

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.