How to Keep His Work Stress from Hurting Your Relationship

Anxious BusinessmanFor centuries, men have faced societal pressure to be primary breadwinners, pressure that doesn’t seem to be relenting much. In fact, a Pew Research Center study of 2,691 adults conducted in 2010 found that 67% of respondents believe that a man should be ready to support a family before marriage. (The same was said about only 33% of women.)

Despite the increasing frequency of women who work and occupy high-earning positions, many men continue to link their value, both in terms of self-worth and worthiness to their partners, with work performance. So what happens to the intimate lives of men who struggle at work or, worse yet, face unemployment?

From the Boardroom to the Bedroom

According to a study conducted recently by the Campaign Against Living Miserably, a United Kingdom-based charity started to prevent male suicide, men are significantly more likely to worry that they are less attractive to a partner following a job loss.

The challenges facing men are compounded by the uncertainties of a 21st-century economy. With competition high for available jobs, many men experience bouts of unemployment or feel undervalued at work, and many are unsure how to improve their prospects for work or a more fulfilling role at work.

In light of a shaky job market, it is becoming more common for some men to describe a sense of shame that permeates their relationships, especially as they question their ability to be strong and consistent providers for their partners and families.

What can couples do to counteract this trend?

Build Closeness

Many men who experience workplace stress do so silently. Generally speaking, societal pressures make identifying and exposing vulnerabilities especially difficult for men. Therefore, the importance of communication, especially with one’s significant other, cannot be overemphasized. Many men need more than platitudes and verbal validation from their partners to feel comfortable expressing their true feelings and vulnerabilities. Spending time together to create opportunities for emotional and physical closeness may help. Designating time for intimacy and communication is essential for men who are struggling at work.

Acknowledge His Virility

Some men may need reminded that their attractiveness extends beyond their role as providers, and there is often no better way to show this than by helping them get in touch with their “sexy sides.” This could take the form of reminding the man in your life how much you love it when he pays attention to you, whether it’s by cooking a meal for you or simply expressing his passion in the bedroom. A man may long for affirmation outside the workplace, and when a partner expresses desire for him, it may boost his sense of virility.

Boost His Self-Worth

Some men feel as though their identity and their role at work are highly linked, and those who are struggling at work or who lost their jobs may feel as though a significant part of their personal identity has been compromised. It’s important for couples to spend time together when work hours are finished, using their free time to take walks, watch movies, or read or simply laugh together. These shared experiences may increase the likelihood that a male partner will experience his self-worth as extending beyond the work context. Thus, his intimate life is less likely to be affected as well.

Seek Help for Workplace Issues

Some men feel as though their identity and their role at work are highly linked, and those who are struggling at work or who lost their jobs may feel as though a significant part of their personal identity has been compromised.Although many of the challenges of intimacy for men struggling in the workplace may take place in the context of a relationship, men may also benefit from communicating in a confidential space with other men undergoing similar challenges. Support groups designed to help build a masculine identity not only help many men feel less alone, but they may also provide support for becoming proactive in improving intimacy with their partners at home.

There is no one way for men to protect their intimate lives as they struggle with work performance, but these ideas may help. Men struggling at work benefit from nurturing closeness with their partners, identifying and expressing feelings of vulnerability, finding new ways to define their attractiveness, and encountering other men experiencing similar challenges.

Many therapists specialize in helping men with issues such as self-worth. Even if group therapy isn’t for you (or your partner), seeking one-on-one help from a qualified therapist may be worthwhile.


  1. The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families. (2010). Pew Research Center. Retrieved from
  2. Masculinity: Understanding the Causes of Male Suicide. (2014). Campaign Against Living Miserably. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Benjamin Meyer, LCSW

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Ryanne

    July 15th, 2015 at 8:04 AM

    When my husband moved into his new job, although it was exciting, it was also a stressful transition for him because he was taking on a lot of extra responsibility at work too. So we did struggle a little with managing that, and it was hard and took a bit of a toll on our marriage for a while.
    He is balancing things a little better now that he has been in it for awhile but I have had to relearn to do some things on my end too.
    Instead of bombarding him with questions when he comes in I have learned to take a little step back and give him some time to decompress when he comes home for a bit.
    That has made a huge difference for us.

  • Casey

    July 16th, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    this could/should also apply to the women in our lives too- think about that, that there are just as many female breadwinners as there are men.
    Do they need to have their egos patted all the time?

  • Leah

    July 16th, 2015 at 3:52 PM

    If your marriage is created on a strong foundation then you will be able to weather most any storm that comes your way. That doe snot mean that you won’t have some tough times, but it does mean that you will make it through it. Everyone needs a little reassurance from time to time that what they are doing is good and is right. Why is it so difficult for us to show them that when they need it?

  • Cecile

    July 17th, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    His work stress? what about my work stress? Just think- I work the same hours in the day that he does, but when he comes home he is done whereas I am still up and going well after everyone else has retired to the TV room or the computer. No I am cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, packing lunches etc. So where is the sympathy for all of the working moms out there?

  • Jonathan

    July 18th, 2015 at 8:30 AM

    At the core I don’t think that this has anything to do with being a man or being a woman, but just being in a relationship with someone who is willing to understand and appreciate you.
    We all want to know that what we are doing is to help improve our lives as well as the lives of other people that we care about, and we want to know that someone is out there who is appreciating the hard work that we do.
    That is something that none of us ever get tired of hearing.

  • reena

    July 20th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    Much of this is going to be about creating balance and trust within a relationship that is built on love.

  • Benjamin Meyer

    July 20th, 2015 at 11:34 AM

    I wanted to thank everyone who has commented on my article so far, and offer my response as well. Firstly, I wanted to express agreement that regardless of gender, we all need to feel appreciated in our relationships for the work that we do. Also, it is important to note that in today’s 21st century economy, women are working equally as hard if not sometimes harder than men, and deserve just as much credit for the sacrifices they make in the office and at home.
    The purpose of this article is not to diminish the accomplishments and pressures faced by women n the work force, but to simply point out that men have also faced societal pressure to be primary breadwinners, which still very much exists today. Therefore, as you can see in the two published studies in my article, many men perceive their attractiveness as highly linked to to their employment status, and therefore may experience difficulties and challenges in their intimate lives while struggling at work. This article offers a few steps that the partners of men who are experiencing employment difficulties can take to boost the self-esteem and maintain intimacy as well. I look forward to reading some more comments.

    Benjamin Meyer, LCSW

  • Shannon

    July 21st, 2015 at 5:08 PM

    While I agree that men have felt the brunt of this pressure culturally for a ,long time, I still think that to ignore the strong women who have been doing the same thing for years now could make them feel like their role as a breadwinner is being diminished. I don’t necessarily read it that way, but you know that there are those who do and who feel offended by the perceived slight. With that being said thank you for acknowledging that and hopefully there is something within that we can all learn from.

  • Benjamin Meyer, LCSW

    July 22nd, 2015 at 7:59 AM

    Hi Shannon,
    I wanted to take the time to respond to your comment. I do believe that women have been breadwinners for many years now, and that they make just as much if not more of a professional and personal sacrifice as men do. I can see now that maybe I should have more specifically stated that in my article. As a therapist who has worked with women for much of his career, I also believe that many women also continue to face sexism at home and in the workplace, which is an added burden that can contribute to her stress and impact her intimate life as well.
    I have to reemphasize that the point of my article was not to address the respective sacrifices, workloads, and challenges of men and women, but rather to talk about the many men who internalize their struggles at work, which may further impact their intimate lives. I am sure an article could be written about women in this regard as well, but I wanted and was asked to focus in on some of the challenges men face. It would have been difficult for me to fully address the challenges faced by women in an article that was specifically describing the challenges faced by men. However, I do see that I could have added something simply acknowledging the role of women as providers, and the fact that many women also make also make many sacrifices in their personal and professional lives. I hope another article will be written regarding the many challenges faced by women because this topic is equally important to address.
    Benjamin Meyer, LCSW

  • Shannon

    July 22nd, 2015 at 2:25 PM

    Thanks Benjamin! I think that there will be a whole lot of readers who would be interested in seeing that!

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