- We realized we were having only work conversations at home, even after our workdays were done.
- We set a “three things” rule by which we could talk about only three work-related things.
- It made us realize how much our jobs were seeping into our life as a family.
“How was your day?” my partner and I have uttered to each other every day at the same time right after work for the past decade. But to be honest, we don’t always necessarily mean it — a characteristic of all good and complicated marriage conundrums.
Sometimes we do mean it — unless a kid is crying for a snack, the dog is barking, one of us has talked about themselves for too long, we aren’t in the mood, or a million other “buts.”
So to create balance and to make sure we actually talk about something other than work at home, we came up with a simple solution that’s worked for years. It helped us get back to paying attention to each other.
The problem with bringing work home
Now that work is at home for many people, the lines have been blurred by the lack of physical distance between the two. Early in our careers, my husband and I, both teachers at the time, would use our commutes to either chat and decompress about everything that happened or to zone out to music and a pick-me-up coffee. But as work problems got more complicated, we had more kids, and our careers diverged into different fields, it became more of a burden to mentally bring work home and talk about it well into the evening.
When one of us spent too long chatting about what happened outside the home, we found that we couldn’t pivot and focus on what was happening inside it.
The solution: The ‘three things’ rule
On a date night after a particularly stressful workweek, one of us asked the other whether we ever talked about anything else. We swirled our wine glasses in a few moments of awkward silence when we realized we rarely did, and sometimes our words and thoughts were out of balance, with each other and with our priorities.
So in an attempt to rebalance our conversations, time, and attention, the “three things” rule was born as we realized we had again, filled all our kid-free time with more work. We were essentially paying a babysitter to keep talking about work.
We started sharing three short stories from our workday each then moving on to the rest of the evening. It worked almost instantly.
“How was your day?” was now a 10-minute conversation, rather than a drawn-out topic with no foreseeable end. It also forced us to examine our own days, choosing more carefully what was worth recounting and what was better left at work. We were able to listen more intently, as we knew we’d have our own turn, and focus on what clearly was important to the other partner that day, otherwise it wouldn’t have made the top three events or concerns.
When we deviate from the rules
Like all rules, sometimes it’s better to break them.
Once in a while, one of us will become really stressed and genuinely anxious about a work situation, and we will need to sit down together to look over an upcoming presentation or spreadsheet. After all, we are each other’s biggest fans.
We break the three things rule when we need to, but it has helped us on a daily basis to keep in check how much we let work seep into our home. We chose intentional boundaries and almost never again have to tune out when our spouse goes on a work rant.