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Something I see fairly frequently in couples who are successful, super high-performance couples, is a tendency to let work get in the way of the relationship. Work is necessary and important, and it’s great when someone really enjoys their work, because this contributes to a fulfilling life, but we need to keep an eye on where our partner is, where we are, and where the relationship is.
When your partner is in a high-stress work environment, there’s a need for them to be very focused on their work, especially if they work in a field where focus and time really matter. If someone works as a surgeon or as a first responder, for example, you want them to be focused on caring for others when they are at work or on call, but what happens when our partner is entirely focused on work over the relationship, all the time?
3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Work Gets in the Way of Your Relationship
1 – What is our Tolerance Level for Our Partner Being Unavailable?
When someone works in certain fields, like the medical field or as a first responder, they often have unique schedules. They might work 12-hour (or longer) shifts, on weekends, nights only, etc. That’s why people who work as first responders often couple up with another first responder. They know that they understand the job, what it’s like and what the schedule is like.
To figure out where your relationship is, you first need to understand how you feel. Are you ok with how much time your partner is unavailable due to work? What kind of tolerance level do you have for individuation – that is, your person going off and doing their own individual things outside of the relationship?
2 – What Kind of Narrative Are You Creating When Your Partner is Unavailable?
When you can’t reach your person while at work, what stories do you create in your mind? Why do you think they don’t answer the phone? Or, if you’re the one your partner couldn’t reach, what did you learn about what your partner is feeling, and what they need?
3 – How Do We Prevent Work From Threatening the Relationship?
When two people are in a relationship, anything outside of the relationship is a ‘third,’ that is a possible threat to their bond, and that includes work.
So we have to create safety and security in the relationship. That means that any of the ‘thirds’ outside of the couple bubble need to be managed by the two people in the relationship.
We do this by making decisions ahead of time, before conflict happens, about what we’re going to do to prevent that conflict.
For example, if you need to know why you can’t get in touch with your partner you could ask them:
“If you’re going to be performing a surgery, or going into a long meeting, and will be unavailable for several hours, would you call me and let me know first, so I know that you can’t answer your phone?”
These agreements create safety and security in the relationship, and the more safety and security we create in the relationship now, the more long-term security we’re going to have. And that’s what makes your love work.