I am a smart girl. That’s just a fact. My school counselor once called the six year old version of me, “severely gifted,” which if I’m being honest, I thought was a little rude. Over the years, the rest of my class caught up with me, and I’m sure I’m mildly gifted at best these days- but I’m just saying, I’m not dumb. But when I’m talking about work with my husband? Daaaang, but it can sure make me FEEL dumb.
My husband is a Chemical Engineer, and specializes in Process Development. I barely know what that means, let alone when he actually tries to describe one of the processes he’s developing (is that even the right way to say it? I have no idea). But after years of looking at him sitting silent across the table at dinner parties, and watching him look at me with just a touch of envy while I regale our guests with stories of rambunctious first graders, I realized that he needs an outlet, too. He needs to deconstruct his day, and muddle through his work-related issues, and to have a sounding board for the problems he faces in the eight eleven hours a day that he’s not with me.
So I decided to take on the daunting task- to learn how to actually talk to my husband about what he does. (Shudders.) Here’s my tips for how to talk about work with your spouse- even when their job is not the kind of career you understand the ins and outs of.
1. Try to Actually Learn About Said Career
First and foremost-it’s not beyond you to learn the basics of your spouse’s career path. They don’t make that line of “dummy” books for nothing. Do a little research, and pick up the “Complete Idiots Guide to Aerospace Engineering,” or whatever it is your partner specializes in, and get to reading. Is your person’s job too obscure for that? Consider picking up an entry level text book- think Biomechanics 101- and see what you can make of it. For bonus points, you can even ask your spouse for a recommendation on what to read to learn the basics. They’ll likely be touched that you’re trying at all, and you might spend more quality time with them than you expect as they talk you through some of the more confusing concepts.
2. Talk About Work- But Be Vague
When my husband announces that there’s been a shift in the Downturn Spiral #6 (clearly I could have stood to learn more from Step #1 up there, but hey, I do what I can), I typically have no earthly clue what that means. So I gently press at the edges to try to make sense of it. Ask questions like, “Do you guys have a plan in place for that already?” or “What did your boss have to say about that?” You’ll get some good information from their responses, whether it’s “This has never happened before, we have to try to figure something out” or “I definitely got a pat on the back for that one,” so you can make the appropriate “Oh No” or “Yay” faces, respectively.
3. Focus on Your Partner’s Feelings and Reactions
Similar to “Be Vague” up there, this is your chance to have a meaningful discussion with your husband or wife without having complete understanding of the goings-on at work. Ask about their reaction to something that happened, or if you know a big deadline is approaching, ask how they feel about the deadline- are they ready? Stressed? Nervous? You’ll get them to open up more often than not, without having to dive into some of the more complex details.
4. Inquire About Their Coworkers
I like to ask Michael who he is working on the project with, who he went to lunch with, and the like. Follow up with them about their coworkers who are out on leave, or ask how so-and-so is liking the new house. You can even work them into your “Be Vague” questions by asking how a coworker you know reacted to a certain situation. Even if you’re not sure what’s going on at work, you can find out about the people who make their day meaningful and a little more fun while keeping the focus on your spouse and their workday.
5. Stick with What You Do Know
You may not understand the laws of thermodynamics, but maybe you DO know interpersonal relationships. Focus on that, and you might just be able to actually help your husband or wife problem solve some conflict in the workplace, since that may not be their strong suit. You know, since they’re a math nerd and all (she said lovingly).
Sticking with these tips will help you to interact with your spouse on a more regular basis, and help the both of you feel a little more connected. You know, so when you argue about who pooped in the tub or how much bread costs, it won’t hurt so much.