Q. My girlfriend lost her job about six months ago, and things have been really difficult between us ever since. It was a real shock – we are both dedicated to our jobs, and she was the one who earnt more. She's freelancing from home while looking for a new permanent job; the prospects for this seem good, and fortunately, money is not too much of a problem at this point.
But I'm starting to dread going home. Although I'm the one who's had a long and stressful day, she's short-tempered and seems resentful of the hours I have to work. After a hard day, the last thing I need is more sniping. She rarely wants to go out in the evenings, and I'm usually expected to organise supper, as I can pick something up on the way home. Personally, I'd welcome the chance to get a few things done around the house, but she doesn't even put away the breakfast things. It's driving me mad but I don't want yet another fight. What can I do?
A. I have a friend who's always worked at home and is long-married to a high-earning, high-stress executive. When he comes home of an evening, she describes the process of easing him through the transition from office to dining table as being "like landing a plane".
If that all sounds a bit Stepford – I like to imagine him, whisky-and-soda in hand, saying, "The report was well-received, but Blenkinsop was up to his tricks again," while she stirs a casserole, but I'm sure it's not like that at all – you've got to admire her dedication in defusing this couple-relations flash point.
But no casseroles for you. Your girlfriend is an unwilling captive of the domestic setting. She longs to be back out there in the rat race, but instead seems to have become guardian of the breakfast things – and is found wanting in this unwelcome new role. Even six months in, she is probably still traumatised by this seismic change to her life. A part of her identity has deserted her, the part that kicked ass in meetings, dealt with punishing schedules, then went home to her equally hard-grafting partner to spend the evening in an oddly satisfying state of mutual exhaustion.
When relationships are reduced to bickering, it's usually because there are grievances that aren't getting a proper airing. Try to think dispassionately about what these are. At a guess: that you don't appreciate how thankless and disorienting her days are, and that she seems to have forgotten how stressful yours can be. You need to take a deep breath and tackle these issues together head-on.
When you come home in the evenings, understand that you've both had difficult days. Don't make the mistake of believing your money-earning, office-political woes to be somehow more significant than her shell-shocked, home-based ones. If you lend a sympathetic ear, she will be more inclined to involve herself in your work dramas.
As for the washing-up and cooking, well, who dealt with these before, when you were both working outside the home? It's certainly not her job just because she's at home – but it's only fair that she pitches in and does her bit.
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