For the last couple of months, we’ve been focusing on the various relationships that can have a negative affect on marriages and send them into the Danger Zone.
We discussed what the “fun” of fielding unsolicited (albeit well intentioned) advice from loved ones, and also how to spot the signs that a friendship might be inching towards fulfilling needs for intimacy rather than platonic connection.
This month, I’d like to about something that impacts my family—and a lot of others out there too–
I’d like to talk to you about mistresses. The truth is that my husband has had one for years now. And actually, so do I.
They call in the middle of the night—sometimes requiring us to drop everything and attend to them.
They cause us to sometimes stay out well past when we thought we’d be getting home—and even when we are home, sometimes they STILL need our attention.
They’re constantly emailing, texting, calling… putting us up in hotels away from home—and even have the gall to pull us away on birthdays, anniversaries and even holidays!
I hope by now you’ve figured out that I’m not talking about another woman—I’m talking about our careers.
Doctors, nurses, counselors, teachers, a lot of business folks… we just go go go all the time, it seems! And at that break-neck pace, it’s no surprise that often one of the casualties such a consuming professional life is our family life.
How and Why does our Work-related Stress Impact our Relationships?
Families in counseling are sometimes referred to as family systems. The family system is much like any other—it’s a series of parts that interact and relate to one another. More importantly, the health and well-being of each individual part, as well as the health and well-being of the relationship between the parts impact the system as a whole.
Ever notice that when work is particularly stressful, your libido all but goes into hiding? And how many times has that helped your marriage?
Is Your Work Place or Career Toxic to Your Relationship?
This is such a difficult topic to navigate. I mean, what if you say “Yes?”
What do we do? Do we quit our jobs and change careers in favor of more family friendly options? I have to admit, I know a lot of families where at least one partner did just that. And for some it really has seemed to work.
However, I’ve also seen situations where the spouse who made the change ended up resenting his/her spouse and family—having felt forced to make the change– and that created a whole other dilemma.
And let’s be honest—for some people (myself, my husband and many of our friends, included)—a simple and immediate change of careers isn’t particularly realistic or desirable. I love my job as a counselor, and I would be extremely upset if I was asked to give it up.
Besides, isn’t a major career change as a one-sized solution kind of like throwing the baby out with the bath water? Before we get there, let’s consider a few items that might help clarify the issue, and perhaps identify some paths to resolution.
Consideration #1: Examine the Health of Your Workplace
Fellow EM.com columnist Kim Hall just wrote a fantastic article on 5 Workplace Lessons for a Healthier Marriage. If you think your work place could be at cause for some undue stress in your marriage, I’ll invite you to read Kim’s article through two lenses.
1) First, read it for what it is—a great lesson on marriage.
2) Go back and read it considering how closely your workplace resembles the one that Kim describes.
The truth is, there are precious few (if any) career fields where there is only one option for where you will work and with whom you will work. So often the people, rather than the job itself can make or break a work environment.
Consideration #2: Consider what “Work” means for You and for your Spouse
(…And Recognize the Two may be Different.)
Did you know that work doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone? For some, working is a means to fulfill what one considers to be his or her life purpose. Others are driven by the need for achievement. And there’s a whole other group who strive for affiliation. Finally, there are those who simply see work as a means to an end of some sort.
You can place me firmly in the first category. Counseling, and working with others through trauma, is solidly part of my personal identity.
For the second category, of people who become doctors, lawyers and CEO’s—they constantly strive to meet certain “benchmarks”—and often report satisfaction from the chase more so than the catch.
Third, those who strive for affiliation might be those folks who seek to fulfill a “legacy.” Although there are many examples from which to choose, I always think of how many young people choose to attend certain colleges, join certain fraternities or even certain branches of the military because someone in the family had done so.
Lastly, there are always those people who don’t fall so neatly into those neat little boxes…
The point is, understanding how and why you or your spouse’s career is so important to them can help re-frame the sacrifices both you and they are willing to make.
Consideration #3: Your Spouse is Not Trying to “Ruin Your Career” by Expressing Concern.
This type of statement is just begging for someone to come in with a personal story that points to the contrary. And while I do not doubt the existence of some uniquely vindictive people out there, if that is truly the case, then “the problem” really isn’t about you career or work environment being toxic.
If your spouse it taking the time to voice some concern, try to take the time to listen to them. Afterall, you’re in this together, right? So if one of you has a problem with something, then essentially, you both do.
Consideration #4: Define Your Version of “Full.”
Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by a fellow counselor, Anne Stonebraker. (Anne specializes in working with women, and more specifically—people pleasers!) During her presentation, Anne challenged each attendee to look at our respective ‘plates’ and find what full meant to us. She gently chided us that full meant satisfying—not completely-at-capacity-and-about-to-overflow.
Was that working 40 hours/week or something else? Was that time spent solely doing one particular thing really well? Or were there a few different tasks or roles we enjoyed?
Of course, she was mainly focused on counselors in private practice looking at how many clients or other ventures we’d take on—but as I listened, I starting thinking about what “full” meant in other areas of my life.
How many outside hobbies, interests, or social events could I take on and still enjoy them rather than feeling pressured and even more exhausted?
How much time did I need with my spouse, or family in order to feel fully connected to them?
Finally, what were my priorities? And what was I willing or able to do to modify accordingly?
The Take Away
So what’s the take away from all of this? The take away is that while it’s perhaps normal to feel second-string to our spouses careers every now and then, that doesn’t mean it should be passively tolerated. It also doesn’t mean that all hope is lost.
The best way I can think to navigate a career or work related stressor that is impacting your marriage is to:
a) Come together as a team
b) Examine the facts
c) Get creative when possible
d) And start setting goals. Even if the resolution isn’t immediate, just knowing there’s a game plan in place and a united home front can make a world of difference.
Sound off! Let Me Hear You!
What’s been your biggest marriage challenge with respect to work?
Which of my “Considerations” do you think you’ll be pondering?
SHARE your tips and suggestions for future articles. Hands down, my best articles (and some of the best tips) have come from when you—the amazing wonderful readers—have shared your needs.
Relationships are so unique—if these articles aren’t speaking to you, tell me what will! I promise I’m listening!