Ask A Helping Han #7: Navigating Emotionally Draining Careers in Personal Relationships

Dear Han,

My partners and I are all early in our careers as a social worker, a lawyer, and a therapist (this sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, right? I assure you, it is not, even though we HAVE all walked into a bar). I’ve been with one partner for six years, one for three, and they have become very close in the last two years and consider themselves best friends.

By nature of our professions, all three of us spend all day dealing with other people’s problems. We’re all emotionally exhausted and mentally drained by the end of every day, which is starting to impact our relationship(s). How do we balance doing our jobs, taking care of ourselves, and taking care of each other? Please send help!

I won’t make you use Matt’s high fantasy name, even in writing!


Dear Non-Fantasy Name,

This is so real that it hurts, and also can be super hard to navigate. Working in a helping field can be so fulfilling, and can help give you a sense of purpose and make you feel less useless in the face of what often feels like a cruel and unjust world. It is unfortunately, however, also exhausting as fuck. Pair that with the dueling needs of wanting to take care of your partners but also be taken care of, and shit gets stressful.

Since you all work in fields that are heavy on communication, I'm sure this isn't a new idea to you, but I think the number one thing that is essential to maintaining balance and support between the three of you is being super open about when you do and don't have the emotional energy to be each other's sounding boards. Try setting up set chunks of time that are for venting about work. Or, conversely, try setting up times that are specifically work-talk-free. Give yourselves some rules. Have an emotional safe word that any of you can use if you're unable to take on your partner or friend's stress at any given time. Have discussions about how each of you handle your stress—do you need to talk it out? Just vent? Have a physical outlet? Completely turn off your brain for awhile with TV or video games or reading? Not everyone handles their stress in the same ways, so if you make assumptions about what your partners need from you, you could very easily be making things harder for yourselves.

The bottom line is talk, regularly, about your needs. Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself when you don't have the energy to be someone's support. Take turns taking on the burdens. And when you're all too exhausted and drained to be there for each other, remember that your partners/BFFs can not be your only support—that's way too much to ask of a person. Call your mom, have drinks with another friend, see a therapist on your own—just find another outlet. 

The world is a shitty, shitty place sometimes, but you got together with these people because you think they're great. Do the things with them that you enjoy doing together, try to respect each other's boundaries and needs, and just do your best. You've got this.




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