When work gets in the way of your relationship


work stress

Work is an important and fundamental part of life. We work to pay the bills but also to fulfil our potential, realise our ambitions and progress in life. Work is very often bound up with a person’s sense of worth and self-esteem – for some it’s so much part of their identity that a period of unemployment can cause grief and bereavement.

Many people spend 40 or more hours actually working and often up to 20 hours commuting each week. The emotional impact of this time will inevitably overspill into our personal lives, especially as some people find it so difficult to turn off at the end of a busy day. Given the crucial role work plays in our lives, it’s natural that our attitude towards work will affect our personal relationships.


While work is an important part of life, if it’s constantly given priority over your partner’s needs, your relationship will suffer. Like a plant needs water, relationships need attention and without it they cannot thrive.

Often it’s the physical time couples are apart that causes relationship problems. Long hours, being on the road, foreign travel, unsociable shifts or months away on deployment will all have an impact on a relationship. The balance is achieved by spending quality time together when work is done, but for many people the line between work and home is becoming increasingly unclear.

Work/life merge

Technology is blurring the gap between our work and private lives with people plugged into work when they’re at home, out socialising or even on holiday. With the advances in smart phones and other mobile devices it’s possible to check in with work wherever you are and at any time of the day.

The temptation to use your free time to catch up can be tremendous, especially if you work in a highly competitive environment. There’s now no need to physically be in the office to take calls or make important decisions and this fragmentation of attention is having devastating effects on modern relationships. While you may be with your partner in body, if you are still tuned into work via technology your mind is inevitably still on the job. Your partner will feel your absence.

A common complaint people make is that their partner’s always on their phone or email, even in the bedroom! Intimacy develops through time shared but if your attention is always elsewhere then your partner may also begin to look for intimacy somewhere else.

Job insecurity

It’s not just too much work that can have an impact on your relationship. In these times of economic uncertainty, job insecurity and all the associated stress it brings can have long-term consequences on relationships. People may work harder or longer hours if they feel that their job is threatened, or stay in a job where they are deeply unhappy for fear of not being able to find another one.

If the worst happens and a person becomes unemployed this can have a devastating effect on their self-esteem and economic security. Naturally this will impact their relationship. It’s often only when work is taken away that people realise how much they depended on it for their sense of worth and value.

Work to live, don’t live to work

In her book ‘Life Lessons,’ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross talks to people in a hospice at the end of their lives. She asks them what they learnt about life and what they would change if they could go back and do it again. No-one said that they wished they’d worked longer hours or had a bigger house or a flashier car. Without exception people said that they wished they’d spent more time with loved ones and wished they’d been less preoccupied with work and money.

At the end of life people often realise what’s most important. You don’t need to wait for the end. Make time for your partner, turn your phone and laptop off and have a clear boundary between home and work. No matter how pressing or important that email or meeting seems, remember it’s not as important as love. Don’t miss out because you were too busy with work. It might not be there when you finally come off duty.

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