Your Marriage Or Your Job? How To Balance Your Career And Your Relationship

Elephant stands on thin branch of withered tree in surreal landscape. This is a 3d render illustration

As a couples therapist practicing in the non-stop, always-buzzing city of San Francisco, I’ve seen my fair share of dual-career marriages. Tech executives, financial professionals, lawyers and others in demanding or high-profile jobs come to me asking for help. For many of these clients, their chief complaint is being unable to nurture their relationships amid their hectic lives: “We have two very demanding careers. We each work 10 or 12 hours a day, and we don’t have enough time for each other.”

Adding to this already-precarious situation is an issue common to dual-career couples: financial independence. With each partner pulling in a six-figure salary, either could comfortably sustain a household on their own should they split up. In the absence of such financial constraints, staying together is a choice, not a necessity, and it’s my job to help them choose each other every single day.

Balancing the demands of a job, a personal life, a digital life (i.e., the daily onslaught of texts, emails and posts), and a committed relationship can be exhausting. Understandably, it’s downright too much at times. Sometimes, calling it quits can seem like the easier path.

Our digital lives in particular are adding new stresses to our partnerships. If your relationship is in a bit of is slump, your friend-of-a-friend’s social media post showcasing pictures from a second honeymoon can leave you feeling dejected and frustrated. “Why isn’t my relationship like that?” you’ll ask yourself, forgetting for the moment that posts on social media are often filtered through rose-colored lenses. Even worse, you might find yourself in a shame-spiral: “How do other couples do it, when we’re struggling? Why aren’t we better at this?”

While there will never be a single secret ingredient to achieving marital bliss, dual-career couples can, with a touch of extra effort, successfully balance their jobs with their relationships. Here are five tips to help you do just that.

Reduce Everyday Noise

Cutting out the white noise in your life is no easy task. It requires evaluating your landscape and then effecting change. Yet, just like during spring cleaning, getting rid of things can be hard—otherwise our closets wouldn’t be jam-packed with ten-year-old sweaters that no longer fit. We’re afraid to let go, asking ourselves, “What if I need that?”

For dual-professional couples especially, everyday white noise can feel much like that pile of old sweaters. In a demanding position, it’s common to feel “on call” at all times, just in case some unforeseen need arises. For some of us, it’s hard to acknowledge that we’re wasting resources—be it time, energy, or closet space—on “what ifs.” Resources that could be redirected into our marriages.

Effectively managing white noise, and the slew of micro-demands that come with it, is a key component to a healthy relationship. Whether it’s slowing down on how quickly you respond to texts, limiting your time on professional blogs, turning off your phone after nine o’clock, or even de-prioritizing a friendship you’ve outgrown, ultimately you’ll have more time and focus to give to your relationship.

Prioritize Your Relationship

Anyone in a committed partnership has heard that relentless phrase, “Relationships take work!” And it’s true, no healthy relationship runs on autopilot. There’s no getting around it: To preserve your marriage, you must prioritize it.

Among other things, prioritizing means you must always reserve a few gallons in your gas tank for your spouse. Even if you’re dog-tired when you get home from work, take a few minutes to check in with your partner. “Prioritizing” means you do this even if your big deal fell through, even if you’re facing an impossible deadline, even if your boss chewed you out after lunch.

Office concerns can send anyone’s head swimming, but they’re no excuse for neglecting to ask about your spouse’s day and the struggles they faced. These conversations, no matter how short, will keep you and your partner connected despite the demanding throes of your jobs.

Make Clear Commitments—and Keep Them

If you have an intense work schedule, intentional, mindful nurturing of your relationship is essential. You must carve out time for your spouse and protect that time. Commit to a movie night once a week, a monthly date night or a quarterly weekend getaway. Whatever methods you choose, this is time for you and your spouse only; it’s a chance to unwind, reconnect, and simply appreciate being with each other.

There’s some serious fine print that comes along with commitments: they must be kept. When life is pulling you in a thousand directions at once, it’s too easy to let things slip through the cracks. Your marriage, though, is not one of these things. Be accountable to your partner: if you can’t keep a commitment, it’s on you to reschedule as a way of prioritizing your marriage. It’s okay to occasionally shift a date night to another calendar slot to fit your over-scheduled life, but it’s not okay to forget.

Bring Innovation to Your Affection

Yes, you’re busy. Very busy. We understand, we get it. But no matter how taxing your job is, your spouse is a part of your heart and mind, even if your focus in the moment is on the report you’re presenting. However, after you’ve nailed that presentation (and after you’ve taken a deep breath), seizing a moment or two to remind your partner of your affection can have a big impact on your relationship. And, even though the digital age brings certain challenges, it also makes it easier than ever to show your appreciation and love for your partner.

Order your spouse a surprise lunch using your favorite menu app. Email an article about an exhibit you’d like to see together. Shoot off a text with an inside joke. Send a selfie with “Missing you” in the caption. These gestures don’t need to be sweeping or grand—and in fact they shouldn’t be. The point is showing your affection in small ways, even when you’re not physically together. A simple, “I’m thinking of you” is the gold you’re after.

Appreciate the Here and Now

If you’re like most dual-career couples, it’s easy to get lost in time’s whirlwind. August seems to jump straight into October… and by the time you look up again, New Year’s Day is around the corner. As important as your job is, don’t let time slip by in the blink of an eye.

The present holds the key to building a beautiful future, not the other way around. Each day, simply ask yourself this question, “What did I do today to connect with my partner?” If you come up short, you need to put a bit more effort in. Start immediately: talk to your spouse with curiosity and attentiveness. A small “I’m listening” goes a long way. A hug never hurts, either. These tiny, in-the-present acts cultivate continued connection over the long haul.

There’s no doubt that our careers are important. Aside from financial livelihood, our jobs can offer us immense professional satisfaction, and we work hard to achieve our goals. Yet work is never a reason for neglecting a marriage, not even when both of you are in high-pressure roles. While the balancing act can be difficult at times, the effort itself is important. By demonstrating to your spouse that you’re engaged in your relationship and deeply committed to your partnership, you’re enriching the soil in which your marriage grows.

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