How Much Time Should You Spend Talking About Work With Your Partner?

Professor Delia Virga explains why communication about work is an essential part of a healthy relationship.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | January 17, 2023

A recent study published in Current Psychology attempts to quantify the importance of communicating deeply and openly about one's work with one's partner.

I recently spoke to psychologist Delia Virga from the West University of Timisoara to gain a deeper understanding of why communicating about one's work is one of the keys to a healthy relationship. Here is a summary of our conversation.

How important is it that partners/spouses discuss their work with each other? How do you think it impacts the health of their relationship?

We think it is essential for spouses to discuss their work with each other, as the work domain is often a significant part of our lives and can significantly impact our well-being. Sharing details about your work with your partner can help them better understand and support each other and provide an opportunity to connect and bond over shared interests and experiences.

Research has shown that couples who communicate openly and honestly about their work are more likely to have higher levels of relationship satisfaction.

For example, a study published by Lavee and Ben‐Ari (2007) found that couples who reported higher levels of work-related communication had higher levels of relationship satisfaction and lower levels of relationship conflict.

Discussing work with your spouse can be essential to maintaining a strong, supportive, and satisfying relationship. However, it is also necessary to strike a balance between personal and work domains and not overwhelm your spouse.

You mentioned that communication about work contributes to social construction of reality and the creation of a home environment. Could you expand on this?

This study focuses on communication quality through a particular type of conversation: communication among spouses regarding work.

This type of communication refers to individuals who, for example, are talking about work activities with their spouses. These conversations represent an essential part of how individuals enact their home environments, negotiate with their partners, build awareness of other-domain responsibilities, and ultimately create meaning out of their experience.

When spouses discuss their work with each other, they share information about their experiences, tasks, challenges, and perceptions of the work environment and their colleagues. This exchange of information helps to shape each person's understanding of their own work and the work of their partner and can influence their perspectives and attitudes about their jobs and careers.

Constructive communication is a resource or capability a couple can use to manage work and home demands. If the abilities of constructive communication accompany the family-work enrichment, then the relationship's well-being is maintained despite the work stress conditions.

Overall, communication about work is essential to the social construction of reality and to create a supportive and fulfilling home environment. By sharing information and ideas about their work, spouses can better understand and support each other, making sense of connection and teamwork. Additionally, communication quality is one of the best predictors of life satisfaction.

Are there gender differences in terms of who shares more about their work life and who benefits most from these discussions?

Generally speaking, the support received by wives is less significant than the support they provide to their partners. Starting from the premise that partners experience equal amounts of enrichment or conflict, they are likely to demonstrate an active and outward focus on their partners' needs by providing support or encouragement.

Also, since husbands benefit from a relative advantage in marriage concerning the support and understanding they receive, they can be less sensitive to additional support provided by their partners or take the support they receive for granted.

As a working woman yourself, what is the most important advice you would give partners (especially men in relationships) striving to bridge the support gap in their marriage?

Both partners are essential to learning to be a team and work together to balance work and private life. It may take trial and error and ongoing communication to find the right balance, but it is worth the effort to support and encourage each other.

Some advice that may be helpful for partners, especially men, striving to help their working spouses is: communicate openly and honestly about each person's responsibilities, expectations, and needs. It's essential to have regular check-ins about how things are going and being open to adjusting roles and duties as needed.

Moreover, each partner needs to be proactive in offering support and maybe try to anticipate your spouse's needs and offer assistance before it's requested. Be flexible and willing to pitch in with tasks and responsibilities that may not be your typical duties. This could include things like childcare, housework, or errands.

Show your appreciation and support for your spouse's dedication while actively listening to your concern about the work domain. This can be as simple as expressing pride and admiration for their achievements or offering encouragement when they're overwhelmed.

Make time for each other and prioritize your relationship and avoid busy schedules. Make an effort to carve out quality time together to increase the quality of your communication.