workplace

Your boss may be ruining your marriage

Dec. 12, 2011 at 7:26 AM ET

Your abusive boss’s blow-ups may be doing more than just making you miserable. They may also be ruining your marriage, a new study shows.

We all like to think we can leave the tantrums and rude comments of bad supervisors behind when we close the office door and head home. But researchers now say that the fallout from all that nastiness can insidiously chip away at our marriages and harm our home life.

“It 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. “It translates into tensions with your spouse. And that leads to poor family functioning.”

To get a handle on how bad bosses affect families Carlson and her colleagues surveyed 280 full-time employees and their spouses.

Participants were asked how often their supervisors behaved in ways such as “Tells me my thoughts or feelings are stupid,” "Expresses anger at me when he/she is mad for another reason,” “Puts me down in front of others,” and “Tells me I’m incompetent.” 

The researchers then asked participants to rate a series of statements from one to five according to how applicable they were. Included in the questionnaire were statements such as, “When I get home I am often too frazzled to participate in family activities/responsibilities.”

The researchers decided to dig a little deeper by questioning spouses about their marital relationships and the inner workings of the family.

Spouses were asked, for example, how often during the past month they felt “irritated or resentful about things your (husband/wife/partner) did or didn’t do” or felt “tense from fighting arguing or disagreeing with your (husband/wife/partner)."

They were also asked to rate on a scale of one to five how well statements such as the following fit their family: “Our family can express feelings to each other,” “Our family is able to make decisions about how to solve problems” and "Our family confides in each other.”

While the employees with bad bosses didn’t report problems with their families, their spouses often did. Bad bosses led to more blow-ups between husbands and wives and to families that didn’t communicate well and weren’t close.

What’s happening, Carlson said, is that employees think they’re leaving their problems behind in the office, but they’re really just playing them out at home.

“They come home grouchy, tense and irritable and that makes them more likely to start an argument,” she explained. “And when Mom and Dad are fighting that makes for more tension in the family.”

What workers have to understand is that a bad job situation isn’t just hurting them, it’s harming their families, too.

There’s a tendency for people to think they can tough it out for the sake of the family, Carlson said. But this study, she said, “shows the importance of trying to remove yourself from a situation like this because it’s not just hurting you, it’s hurting your wife and your kids.”

With the bad economy that can be a tough message for people to hear, Carlson said. “I’m not saying this from an ivory tower,” she added. “I know it’s not easy. But it’s imperative that you try to get assistance, whether it’s from inside the organization or without.”

Linda Carroll is a regular contributor to msnbc.com and TODAY.com. She is co-author of the new book "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic.”

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