Relationships and Work Demands: Welcoming a Generous Spirit

Meeting the morningEditor’s note: How do egalitarian couples with a shared goal of equal partnership navigate differing work demands? This series considers common power struggles in such relationships, tools for peaceful communication and establishing mutual support, and how to seek outside help when you need it. Last month’s introduction to the series focused on emotional and sexual intimacy between partners. This month we examine the holidays’ unintended effects on relationships and offer heartfelt ways to support one another, regardless of season.

In November, families came together in the spirit of gratitude. This month, families come together in the spirit of giving—or at least that’s what we say, right? What would it look like for romantic partners to come together with these same seasonal intentions?

Sometimes the holidays aren’t really “about” love and togetherness. We can neglect our relationship fitness just as we may neglect physical health during this time. For many people (though not enough), the holidays provide a welcome break from work demands. Unfortunately, these breaks often give way to other demands. Based on the factors you can control, figure out which are upheld or self-imposed based on your values and which are distracting you from what really matters. It’s OK to be critical. Mindfulness doesn’t make you a Scrooge.

This season, let’s take some time to unplug from the stress surrounding holiday planning, extended family visits, year-end company goals, unmet expectations, and overall consumerist distractions, remembering to plug into each other’s worlds. As last month’s readership commented, a relationship takes hard work, and the holidays are no exception. We may forgo our fitness routines in favor of staying warm and indoors, but let’s remember to exercise our kindness muscles (see Smith, 2014).

Partners who work in retail and medical fields or who otherwise cannot guarantee holiday time off may have it especially tough during these months, especially if there is external pressure to spend time with family. This article doesn’t intend to exclude them. The pointers in this post can help partners with increased work-related stress be gentle with one another.

An Atlantic article from June—“Masters of Love”—recently remade its rounds on social media (Smith, 2014). Its author cross-examines studies of romantic functioning and points to the conclusion that kindness and generosity are the two main traits that make a relationship last. When we talk about generosity, we don’t necessarily mean giving material goods. In Smith’s interview, relationship scientist Julie Gottman offers an on-the-nose quote that many of us with unbalanced work lives can relate to: “If your partner expresses a need and you are tired, stressed, or distracted, then the generous spirit comes in when a partner makes a bid, and you still turn toward your partner.” These “bids” are small, often unconscious attempts at connection made by one partner to another.

This holiday season, remember to incorporate intangible gifts of kindness and generosity into your relationship. To help you out, I combined suggestions from Gottman, Smith, and others, written in a silly “shopping list” format. (I started out overly ambitious, rewriting the “12 Days of Christmas” instead, but the best line was the first: “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me/Two and a half positive interactions for every three!”)*

In the comments, let us know which relationship “holiday gifts” are on your list this year! Feel free to add more of your own.

Relationship Gift List

  • Hand holding
  • Verbal appreciation
  • A listening ear
  • The space to speak your truth (Colwell, 2015)
  • A date-night babysitter
  • Breakfast in bed
  • The decision to “turn toward” (rather than “away” or “against”;, n.d.)
  • A terrible chore takeover
  • The benefit of the doubt (e.g., Smith, 2014)
  • Ten massaging fingertips
  • Shared good news (Happify, 2014)
  • The chance to catch up on sleep
  • A heartfelt compliment
  • A home-cooked meal
  • A walk under the stars
  • Shared laughter
  • An open mind
  • Affection
  • A resting heart rate of 60 to 100 bpm (Harris, n.d.)

*Cited both by Happify and Smith, the Gottmans found a ratio of five positive interactions for every one negative interaction in happy couples, and 0.8 positive interactions for every one negative interaction in couples who ultimately separated.


  1. Alabama Healthy Marriage Initiative. (n.d.) Get Connected—Turn Toward Your Partner to Create Intimacy. org. Retrieved from
  2. Colwell, J. B. (2015). Make It Valentine’s Day Every Day of the Year. Curve, Jan/Feb 2015, 24-25.
  3. Happify (2014). The Science Behind a Happy Relationship. Happify. Retrieved from
  4. Harris, K.W. (n.d.). Wired for Love: Studying Physiological Reactivity in Married Couples. org. Retrieved from
  5. Smith, E.E. (2014). Masters of Love. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

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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.

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  • Steph

    December 23rd, 2014 at 11:03 AM

    It can be hard maintaining that balance and sometimes not feeling that need to throw it up in his face that I think that I am doing way more than what he is. I ask myself what good it does to behave this way when there are times when he pulls more than his load, but the days when I am so worn out and tired and frustrated makes it even harder for me to accept that we share the same workload and responsibilities.

  • larry

    December 23rd, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    I always try to be kind and attentive to my wife even when I have had a bad day because I have to try to understand that she may have had one too and that can’t be ignored just because of what I may have experienced.

  • K.Greaves

    December 23rd, 2014 at 8:26 PM

    For me,the best out of the hopin list has to be verbal appreciation!

    It may seem somewhat insignificant but think about it-how many times do we appreciate and thank out partner for what they do! Not a lot I’m guessing.

    This is because we take it, or if I may say, we take them for granted! We may not even realize it but when we think they are ‘supposed’ to do it anyway and that there is nothing to be thankful for for a routine thing, that means we have taken them for granted.

    I make sure to appreciate and thank my significant other and will continue to do so in the future too. Will you?!

  • Britt

    December 25th, 2014 at 4:13 AM

    My husband has a very demanding job, one where his time is not always his own even when he is not there. So I try to be as loving and understanding as possible. There are always those times when he gets an email at an inconvenient time, but I have learned that this is not something that he necessarily enjoys either, so why make him feel bad about it? The job and he provides for us very well, and sometimes the trade off is that we miss out on a little family time with him.

  • stefania

    December 26th, 2014 at 7:12 AM

    These are the things that couples should strive to practice throughout the entire year to preserve the sanctity and dignity and the love of their relationship. It cannot be relegated to one or two months out of the year. These are things that we must all work on all of the time to hold it together and to ensure that we have the best possible relationship w ith one another that we can have. I agree that there are always going to be times when we ignore the needs of our significant other…, we all do that from time to time but if you have formed the relationship on this basis of trust to begin with then I think that you will always have something safe ad solid to fall back on.

  • Angie

    December 27th, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    My brother’s wife is so ungrateful for everything that he does that she has even threatened to leave him before if he did not change how much he works. He does it all for her and the girls so I am not that sure what she has to complain about.

  • carter

    December 28th, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    Not a day goes by that I don’t tell my wife at least once a day just how beautiful I find her. I know that this sounds like just a very small thing, but believe me, when she is having a hard day, or even if I am, just that little reconnecting moment that gives us I think brings us closer together and helps ground me in a way so that we both know that we can make it thorough whatever stress we may be feeling. Sometimes its the small thing that really keep your loved ones the closest to you.

  • Peyton

    December 29th, 2014 at 4:20 AM

    I have determined that being generous with your love and affection are two of the most important things that you can ever share with the people that you love

  • TY

    December 29th, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    aarrgghh I know that I am a selfish man but I don’t want to have to share my time with my wife… I want her to be there for me in the same ways that I feel like I am for her but her job takes away much of our quality time together and that becomes very frustrating to me. It isn’t about the money, she could not work and financially we would still be okay, but she loves her job and while I don’t wish to take that away from her I still wish that there was some way we could work out a compromise so that she could carve out more time for the two of us.

  • Hunter

    December 31st, 2014 at 2:30 PM

    I know that I get so caught up in my own concerns that there are times when I forget to ask my wife how her day was, and you know what, there are times when she does the same… but we don’t do that a lot and it all sort of balances out for us thank goodness. There has to be that balance of one not taking total advantage of the other all of the time and being there to listen to her when she needs a little help just like she is always there to do the same for you. Things have to be kept evened out, not so lopsided like it can become.

  • Scarlet

    January 10th, 2015 at 11:24 AM

    Hey everyone, I’m going through a bit of a struggle. My boyfriend…and father of my unborn child has always had many female friends. I don’t trust easily and a lot of his female friends are the type to party and don’t seem to have boundaries. He hasn’t spoken to them due to my trust issues but I feel so helpless I want us both happy and I want to not feel like he will betray me like exs have in the past. I’m stuck and can’t seem to find my way through this. If he talks to them I know I’ll feel like something is up and I’m not sure if I can handle another heartbreak especially now that I’m pregnant.

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