Emotional Wellness

7 Tips for a supportive end-of-day conversation.

How was your day?

It’s a question that partners often ask each other at the end of the day. It's a great sentiment, of course. By asking it shows you are interested and ready to listen, and it can form a good foundation for a nice supportive conversation.

Or, it can add to your and your partner’s stress. Early on in my relationship I made some errors in having end-of-day conversations with my partner and instead of being supportive, I caused additional stress.

My previous end-of-day conversations would go something like this:

Arthur: How was your day?

Chris: We are down 3 staff members, and my boss just assigned me another project. It’s like he doesn’t even see how overworked we all are. Plus, we are having another fundraiser at work and I have to help organize that too.

Arthur: Well a fundraiser doesn’t sound that hard. I mean you guys do them all the time right? Have you told your boss that you are overworked? Maybe you should set some better boundaries with him, and stop being so nice. You know, being too nice can be a weakness as well.

Chris: We are all overworked! Why would my boss care? Why am I special and different from anyone else who is overworked? And I am not too nice!

So do you think my significant other felt supported and heard during this conversation? Probably not.

By my moving directly to problem solving, minimizing the difficulty of a fundraiser, and attacking his character by him being “too nice” it’s fair to say I made a few errors.

If this type of end-of-day conversation feels familiar to you and you want to change your approach, check out these 7 tips described in Dr. John Gottman’s book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

  1. Take Turns: Allow each partner to be the complainer for 15 minutes.
  2. Show Empathy and Interest: It’s hard to concentrate after a long day, but try and stay focused on your significant other. Make eye contact. Ask questions to further understand their experience. Face your body towards them. Use verbal encouragers such as “Uh-huh” “Sure” and so on.  
  3. Don’t give unsolicited solutions: In being a counselor I struggle with this one in particular. I refer to it as the occupational hazard in my relationship. Seriously though, I think for anyone it’s natural to have the impulse to help fix your loved ones problems when you hear they are struggling. However, oftentimes our partners just want to be heard, have a shoulder to cry on, and feel understood. This is not to say that problem-solving isn’t valuable. It is important, but effective problem-solving often follows proper understanding. Often, it’s only when your significant other feels fully understood that they will be open to suggestions. 
  4. Communicate your understanding and validate emotions: Let your spouse know that you are understanding and can empathize with their experience. Here are some phrases that could be helpful. 
    “I can see why you feel that way.”
    “That would have hurt my feelings too.”
    “That sounds really frustrating.”
    "Hearing that makes perfect sense why you’re upset.” 
  5. Take your significant other’s side: Express support to your partner, even if you feel that they are being unreasonable. Siding with the opposition will just foster resentment in your partner. The point here is not to be dishonest or that you have to agree with you partner; it’s just that timing is everything. When your significant other reaches out for emotional support, your role is to express empathy in that moment not to cast judgement.  
  6. Embrace a “We against others” attitude: If your significant other is feeling alone in facing a difficulty, express that you are with them and the two of you are in this together. 
  7. Express affection: Physical touch is one of the most expressive ways we can show love and support for our partners. Put your arm around their shoulder, hold their hand, embrace them. Create a physical space for them while you are conversing.  

So now knowing what I know, here is how a current end-of-day conversation would likely go utilizing the 7 tips from Dr. John Gottman. 

Arthur: How was your day? 

Chris: We are down 3 staff members, and my boss just assigned me another project. It’s like he doesn’t even see how overworked we all are. Plus, we are having another fundraiser at work and I have to help organize that too.

Arthur: Man that really sucks. (Tip 2) Why does your boss not see that you all are struggling with your workloads? Is he that disconnected? (Tip 5) Then he goes and adds another fundraiser on top of everything. Doesn’t seem like a priority, given that your department is short-handed. (Tip 4 & Tip 6)

Chris: Yeah he just doesn’t get it at all. It’s like there just isn’t any light at the end of the tunnel for how long this is going to go on.

Arthur: “I’m sorry work is really crappy right now. (Tip 2) I wish there was something I could do. (Tip 2 & Tip 3)

Chris: Thanks, I appreciate you saying that. There really isn’t anything that can solve this until my boss hires more staff. But I will hang in there.

Arthur: Hey, how about I cook dinner tonight, we can sit on the couch, and we can rent that horror movie you have wanted to see? (Tip 2 & 7)

Chris: Hey that sounds like a plan!

End-of-day conversations that provide support and understanding rather than judgement and problem solving can’t help but benefit your relationship and reinforce the love and trust that partners feel for each other. After a conversation like this you will walk away feeling understood and that your partner is on your side, and that’s one of the foundations of a long-lasting friendship in your relationship.

If you are a MSU employee, spouse, or benefits eligible family member of an MSU employee and would like to learn more about improving communication in your relationship contact MSU’s EAP to schedule a conversation with a licensed counselor today.

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