Monday, May 29, 2006

Work Intimacy: At the End of the Day

People in therapy use expletives to describe their days at work or at school. Some therapists work on self-relaxation with them, others, problem solving. And many of us encourage venting to friends, parents, and spouses, partners.

When the day isn't all that good, it feels good to dump it, source the stress, purge. Others just want to forget about it. And when it is good, we might want to share that, too, brag, ramble on about the good things that happened, right away. Yet others sit and wait to be asked, and if the question never happens, well, they don't share.

It doesn't matter what we do during those waking hours. We could sell cars, drill teeth, study bugs or bring them home, whatever a person does with time, many people, even kids, like to talk at the end of the day. Then there are those of us who don't want to utter word one.

If we're lucky and our verbal skills get better and better as life gets more and more complicated,, some of us want to talk more and more. Maybe not everyone, but enough of us get into this, I can't wait to tell you place. It becomes such a drive that we resent when the other won't let us get a word in edgewise. In couple's therapy it can look like this.
YOU WON'T LET ME GET A WORD IN EDGEWISE, THAT'S WHY I DON'T TALK
another variation of Why does it always have to be all about you?

Maybe it's a basic human need to want to talk about our day, especially if it was a particularly good or bad day. I should think especially with the bad ones.

Why? When a person talks about something bad, it disappears, or at least loses some of it's drama, importance, maybe just a tiny piece, maybe all of it. You drop it off, you give it to the person you've told it to. It's a gift, of sorts.  This is the psychological equivalent of procrastinating an obsessive negative thought, or worry. It loses a bit in the process, and we need to do that, lose the negative.

Sometimes I thank people for sharing in therapy, and get funny looks sometimes, but mean it. It isn't a THANKS FOR SHARING sarcastic.  I feel it is a gift when someone trusts me enough to tell me personal things, even if one of the covert rules of the relationship is that they're paying me to listen.

When we're in a relationship—that can be any relationship—friendship, sibship, parent-child, spouse-spouse, lover-lover—boss-employee-if we have that talky-sharing thing going, if it is on-site, we're really lucky. There is another person who ostensibly is willing to listen to us (for free, even).

So if you're in a relationship, then there shouldn't be a problem. The willing ear is built in.

Take an adult married, or domestic partner situations.

A person comes home, someone's already there. One of the two begins to talk and the other is trapped.

Now, this other might have something important to say, too, or might want NO WORDS AT ALL at that moment is still working on something else, using the brain or the body in some way and can't defocus. Pretty soon they're either fighting a covert fight over who gets to talk or one of them isn't listening and wishes the noise would kindly end.

There's a lot to be said for winding down differently at the end of the day. If one of us needs to change clothes, work out, watch TV or eat in silence, then there's something to be said for that. Finding the balance, obviously, is the ticket.  But we're talking about the importance of intimacy, work intimacy, to be precise, talking about our day at the end of the day.

The key, when getting our psychological space, is not allowing so much that one of us is alone in a relationship, or absolutely wanting.  This happens in the workplace, too, between supervisors and employees. The mentoring process can be too distant, but we all have our jobs to do. Yet job satisfaction often hinges upon that relationship. Both the supervisor and the supervisee need to make time for one another.

But that isn't about feeling lonely (although a sense of abandonment might follow). That is about the yin yang of work relationships-- talking to people, yet getting the job done and doing it well.

Certainly being lonely when we're supposedly in an intimate relationship, when we're living with someone else, the whole emotional unavailability issue comes up. My cousin, the psychologist and rabbi, Peter Rosenzweig, wrote a book, Married and Alone.  Not the best feeling.

But all we're talking about here is waiting an hour before the sharing begins at the end of the day, before the discussion of what happened that day begins, what we're calling real work intimacy.  That availability generalizes to on the job intimacy, sharing work issues with those that can solve them at work. It astounds me, when a patient is discussing a work problem, when it has never been brought to the attention of people on the job who can help.

The relationship lesson your mother never taught you: Try to be second in a relationship when it comes to dialogue. It's probably impossible, of course, to always completely sublimate our need to communicate, to let a partner or friend's need to talk come first, but it is a virtual guarantee that the other will be grateful and more willing to listen to us a bit later. At some point it is worth discussing to see if the dominant position can be switched up a bit.

In a mature dyad (any two people), there is a point where it becomes a polite power struggle about who HAS to go first.

There's an old joke about social workers and why they never get home from a conference. They're all in a meeting room and there's one door, and they're all ready to file through. But the people closest to the door are arguing:
YOU FIRST.
NO, YOU FIRST
NO YOU FIRST.
It's funny, and it's about being co-dependent (some say) but it's really a nice way to be co-dependent.  Sublimating that desire to talk first is the best way to build one of the five kinds of intimacy, work or school intimacy.

How does the relationship at home matter in the work place?  Many of us assume that we are capable of close relationships, even though these are best left at home, and in many work places it is preferred, no friendships on the job.  But we are judged if we don't know about the significant people in our lives. When we're asked, maybe even on a job interview, So what does you spouse/partner/significant other/brother/sister/father/mother do/study?  We probably need to do better than I don't know.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

What if I don't want to talk at the end of the day? I really don't.

Therapy Doc said...

And you don't have to, it's only a problem if you want to and your partner isn't into listening (or at least pretending to listen!)

local girl said...

I guess some people just need a little time to unwind before they start talking about their day, especially if it was a bad one. You're right, finding the balance is important.

Thank you for sharing this with the Carnival of Family Life.

TherapyDoc said...

Thanks for hosting, L.G.

Holly said...

Oh wise one, such power in the obvious yet often overlooked eh? Amazing how just thinking about someone other than ourselves for a few moments can change course and direction for a myriad of other events and relationships. I wish I had a mini cattle prod for every time I hear someone blow off a discussion or relationship with "I dunno." Dugh - maybe THAT's the problem? LOL

Hugs,
Holly
Holly's Corner
Here via the Carnival of Family Life. ;o)

Jordan said...

I was in a relationship for a while where it really always had to be about him. It was so bad that once I got home to tell him that I'd been rear-ended (just a tap, no damage) and that same day he'd totaled his car and broken three bones. Coincidence, yes, but no matter what I went through, his problems always had to be bigger and better... or worse. (And yes, he'd been in therapy, but I doubt it was long enough!)

With my husband, sometimes we still don't talk about our days until we're lying in bed trying to fall asleep. As a SAHM, one challenge with sharing at the end of the day is that you often feel like there's not a lot to say. "I went to the post office and watched Price is Right"? Jordan, who probably needs therapy ;), via the Carnival of Family Life

Karen Lynch said...

Sometimes I need to sort it out myself before I can communicate it but I am grateful that my husband keeps trying to get me to talk and tell him when something is bothering me because it finally come out and he can usually make it all better.
Here via CFL