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Smart Advice For When Your Partner Thinks You’re Working Too Much

2-Minute Therapy is a regular series providing simple, effective advice on how to make sure your spouse thinks you’re as awesome as your kid thinks you are.

Here’s a painfully familiar situation: You’re heading home after a day at work that ran longer than you expected, and the tone of the text exchange you just had with your partner makes it clear she’s upset. So, you spend the commute having a conversation with her in your head, in which you convincingly explain why you’re late, and she responds with perfect understanding. Then you get home and before you get through the first line of your well-practiced explanation, the two of you are arguing.

According to Esther Perel, the relationship therapist whose TED Talk on maintaining desire in a long-term relationship has been viewed more than 5 million times, that argument doesn’t have to happen. With a few subtle shifts in how you approach the conversation, you and your partner can move beyond the stalemate.

1. Apologize Less And Thank More
“Arguments are rarely about the content, they’re about what the content evokes in people.”Your justification for being late is probably sound; it’s also probably just what she expects to hear. After all, she’s been having the same conversation in her head that you’ve been having in yours. So take the conversation somewhere new. “Say, ‘Thank you. Without you here doing what you do, I can’t do what I do,'” says Perel. “Let her know you appreciate that she takes over for you when you can’t be home.”

2. Don’t Think Of It As A Conflict
“The minute you set up a conflict, you fuel it,” says Perel. “You close the door on the vulnerabilities underneath.” You’re both looking for more understanding, compassion and empathy, but it’s always easier to argue than express more complicated emotions like loneliness or sadness or insecurity. Whatever the particulars, you’ve likely had the argument many times before, so don’t go toward the same impasse. Try to go under it.

3. You Create The Person Who Receives You
Your partner admires you for working hard – it’s likely part of why she fell for you in the first place – so acknowledge if you’ve taken that for granted. Are you quicker to respond to texts from co-workers than from her? Are you always able to take work lunches but never have lunch with her? “If you make her feel like she always comes last, when you get home she’s going to remind you that she exists,” says Perel, and she doesn’t mean in a greeting-you-at-the-door-in-lingerie kind of way. “Ask yourself, ‘When was the last time I made my partner feel like she matters?'”

4. It’s Not About The Work
It’s about the way you work and how that affects her. “Arguments are rarely about the content, they’re about what the content evokes in people,” says Perel. “Instead of trying harder to get her to see your point, try harder to see her point. If you hold up her flag for her, she can let go of it, and that gives her room to see your flag.”

For more of Perel’s relationship advice, check out her upcoming seminar Reclaim Curiosity, Connection And Passion, a guy-friendly 4-part online class for couples and individuals.