Don't Take It Out On Me!

New research on gender differences coming home from work

Posted Jul 30, 2018

Alexax_Fotos/Pixabay
Source: Alexax_Fotos/Pixabay

Is a bad day at work a reason to be withdrawn at home? Most of us would say no. Sure, tough things happen. Sure, you might need time to think about them. Or plan what to do. Or talk it over. Or ventilate. But, most of us would say that we still need to be good family members. We still need to connect with our spouse and kids.

Recent research – released just this week – sheds interesting light on this matter. The study was called “How role jugglers maintain relationships at home and at work: A gender comparison.” It was published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The study had a small sample size and a short time frame. So, the results are more suggestive rather than conclusive. But here’s what they found:

When men had a demanding day at work, they were less supportive of their wives at home. (The study was done on heterosexual couples). They were less likely to listen to their wife’s problems, and less likely to cheer their wife up.

I’ve certainly noticed this pattern myself. I can get pre-occupied thinking about work. I can spend time planning, or researching, or thinking over what I need to do. When I get focused on the demands of work, I can be less focused on what my wife is going through.

It’s not a very unusual pattern.

But here’s their next interesting finding: Women didn’t do the same thing. When women had a demanding day at work, they weren’t less supportive of their husbands. Stress at work didn’t change how likely women were to listen to their husband’s problems or cheer their husband up.

A bad day at work makes husband’s less supportive, but not wives. (Of course, this was true of the research subjects on the average – not necessarily every single subject.)

Then the study looked at another question. How about when people had a good day at work. Would that change how they were at home?

For men, the answer was no. Husbands were neither more or less supportive of their wives after a good day at work. So, for men: Good day or neutral day – no difference at home. But on a bad day – less supportive.

Again, it was different for women. Wives were more supportive of their husbands after a good day at work. So, for women: Bad day or neutral day – no difference at home. But on a good day – more supportive.

These findings indicate that women are nicer at home than men. When women have a good day at work, they are more supportive at home. They carry the good home. They’re more giving to husbands and family. When women have a bad day at work, they don’t carry the bad home.

Me are not so nice at home. When men have a good day at work, they’re not different at home. But when men have a bad day at work, their family can tell. After a bad day, men are less supportive to their wives and family. Men carry the bad home, but don’t carry the good home.

I find myself saddened when findings like this were asymmetrical. I believe in single-standards, not double-standards. In the age of more equalitarian relationships, and fewer traditional role divisions, it would be nice if everything were equal and balanced. But it’s important to not deny findings just because they make us uncomfortable. These asymmetrical results, while not conclusive, are worth considering.

In particular:

Men: when you’ve had a bad day, be careful:

1.       Don’t take it out on your partner.

2.       Do take some time to ask about your partner’s day.

Men: when you’ve had a good day:

1.       Don’t make it all about you. Do show interest in your partner.

2.       Do a little something to celebrate together.

Everyone: beware the vicious cycle of giver/taker.

In this cycle the woman does all the giving of support, while the man does all the taking. It goes like this:

He feels needy
So he takes
So she feels overwhelmed
but she keeps giving

But he still feels needy
So he takes more
So she feels more overwhelmed
but she keeps giving

This Fear Cycle can go on for a long time. If you have a cycle like this, you’ll both feel much happier—and more connected – if you change it. Our book, Love Cycles, Fear Cycles will show you how.

References

ten Brummelhuis, L. L., & Greenhaus, J. H. (2018). How role jugglers maintain relationships at home and at work: A gender comparison. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.