Can Working Too Much Ruin a Relationship? An Expert Weighs In

Sure, work/life balance is the ultimate goal, but can working too much ruin a relationship? In a household where one partner has a job that’s more labor-intensive or high pressure than the other, it’s common for romance (or, heck, even just everyday conversation) to get put on the back burner. But while this no doubt triggers strain and stress, Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist based in New York City, says it doesn’t have to be a relationship deal-breaker.

Married to Your Job? The Impact on Your Relationship Is Complicated

Research shows you actually positively compensate for this

A recent study published in the journal Human Relations challenges the assumption that working longer hours has negative consequences on romantic relationships. On the contrary, the research suggests that when a person actively chooses to take on a career that requires an intense time commitment, they’re aware of the trade-off they’re making. In fact, a lot of times, they compensate for it, by prioritizing the time they do have with each other. (Quality over quantity, right?)

But there are trade-offs

Still, there are significant trade-offs, and the idea that a relationship evolves into a partnership where you’re just “two ships passing in the night” doesn’t seem the healthiest long-term. “The impact depends on the couple,” says Dr. Hafeez. “Many couples in the early years of a relationship understand that they need to hustle and that, while a relationship is an important part of life, career and life goals compliment that, so those things are important.”

Guilt can degrade any relationship

But having opposite schedules means you likely have little time together, which can prove to be difficult over time. “When you’re spread too thin, this can lead to feelings of being taken for granted or nostalgia for an earlier time when you were in the courtship phase,” says Dr. Hafeez. “Guilt can also be a result of working too much, as one partner may be aware of their lack of attention to the romance, but could be overwhelmed by their workload or goals for the future both in terms of career and life-quality with their partner.”

And the fallout is pretty major. “[These emotions] can cause insecurity within the relationship as we question whether we find ourselves in second place to the job,” explains Dr. Hafeez. “All those feelings, when left alone, can fester and begin to cause major problems that leave people feeling unappreciated and isolated from each other. When you have kids, this gets worse because you are supposed to work as a united front, and this can affect the dynamic even further.”

There Are Ways to Protect Your Partnership—Even If Your Hours Are Long

Communicate even harder

Yes, you’re at your wit’s end with impossible-to-coordinate schedules and little to no romance. But, per Dr. Hafeez, there’s still a way to make things work. “Communication is key,” she explains. “Being spread thin and having to work hard is not uncommon or a threat to your relationship per se. But it’s stressful and it requires honesty and transparency about how this stress manifests in each of you.”

Think of it this way: The odds are good that if you are married or have children, you know your partner well enough to know how they react in times of stress. Identifying this out loud together can help prepare each of you so that if one of you is feeling overwhelmed, it’s not felt like a personal attack on the other. “This transparency makes it clear that you are stressed about work and your never-ending to-do list, but that reaction has no weight on the love and the bond that fortifies the relationship,” Dr. Hafeez adds.

Check-in with your goals

It’s also important to regularly talk to each other about your goals. “When you’re first dating, looking to the future can feel scary or sometimes like you’re getting ahead of yourself, but when you are in a more established relationship—especially if you have kids—couples need to understand what the bigger picture is,” says Dr. Hafeez. In other words, you need to have regular conversations about how your relationship benefits from financial success or hard work. “Even if you are passionate about your job, you’re not spread thin simply because you like to work,” she says. You need to remind each other regularly how professional success can lead to something you’ll both enjoy.

However Intense the Job Pressures, Don’t Neglect the Romance

Do the little things

Yes, you have opposing schedules. Yes, you have very limited time together. You still need to find ways to show your partner you care. “Leave each other notes, send flowers, remind them of a beautiful moment together,” says Dr. Hafeez. “These details help ease the stress of missing the time with the person you love.”

Make time for sex

It’s also important to prioritize intimacy. “Another important part of this is the sexual chemistry. Flirt, surprise one another, plan for alone time when possible and try to lighten the stress you’re both feeling,” she adds.

Set work boundaries

Finally, it’s important to set boundaries on bringing too much work home. “At a certain point, emails should not be a priority, phones should be put away and relaxing should be just as much about decompressing as bonding with family,” according to Dr. Hafeez. Bottom line: It’s not healthy for anyone to feel like they’re last on the list or that time together adds stress to your partner’s life.

Photo: Getty Images

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