Having to work with rude, disrespectful people can seem like a punishment in itself. Now, to add insult to injury, new research indicates that toxic co-workers and bosses can wreak havoc on your romantic relationship, according to an article in the Association for Psychological Science (APS).
An international team of psychologists at the University of Singapore found that mistreatment at work — essentially, a form of abuse — can get under our skin so deeply that it’s almost impossible to leave those feelings in the workplace. The team studied 50 full-time employees and their spouses over the course of 10 working days. They found that those employees brought the hostility imposed on them at work into their homes and projected it onto their partners and family members, according to input from their spouses, who reported “angry and withdrawn behaviors, such as criticizing them or avoiding them.” Over time, this domino effect can take a toll on any couple or family, whether or not they recognize the root of the discord.
This study, first published in the Journal of Management, isn’t the first one to link workplace hostility with relationship instability. In 2011, research linked the tantrums and rude comments of supervisors to the marriage woes of their direct reports, according to Today. “It [an unhealthy workplace atmosphere] spills over and affects our families,” said the study’s lead author, Dawn Carlson, a professor of management and the H.R. Gibson Chair of Organizational Development at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University.
And in 2009, an article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science reported that workers are prone to take out their pent-up workplace anger on their families by withdrawing or being angry and irritable. Rena Repetti of the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the study, said of her subjects, “After describing their day at work, the mothers were reunited with their children. Analyses of the videotaped reunions showed that, if they had reported a more demanding workload or more negative interactions with coworkers and supervisors, the mothers spoke less and were less emotionally engaged … with their preschoolers, compared to their behavior on less stressful days.”
“When one is beset by a toxic work environment, it can seem all-consuming to the extent that it comes home with you,” confirms Sherry Amatenstein, relationship expert and author of the upcoming book How Does That Make You Feel? True Confessions from Both Sides of the Relationship Couch. “But when your home life becomes a ‘rant fest’ of you complaining and expecting your other half to keep listening and maintaining his or her head in ‘sympathetic tilt’ position, that is not a recipe for relationship success. Perhaps you and your partner need to set boundaries on how much of your time together will be devoted to discussing your work strife and stick to that boundary.”
Previous research has also found that rudeness is contagious, according to the APS article, spreading from one employee to another and, ultimately, creating a perfect storm of relationship strife.
“Even low levels of rudeness from a co-worker can have a significant negative effect on a person’s spouse and home life,” the APS article says. The good news is, armed with this knowledge, you can make a conscious choice to not let workplace incivility destroy your union or put stress on your family ties.
“To avoid relationship problems in your intimate relationship at home, remind yourself that your S.O. is your partner and is on the same side as you,” says Andrea Syrtash, relationship expert and author of He’s Just Not Your Type (and That’s a Good Thing), now on Audible. “Ask him or her for help you navigate a tricky situation or at least to let you vent occasionally so you can shake off the stress of the day.”