If your work is important to you, chances are you’re doing well professionally and on the path to success in your field. You probably also feel fulfilled, at least in some ways, by your job, which can be quite beneficial for your overall mental and emotional health. “A person’s professional life is a main component of wellness and purpose in adulthood,” explains Ili Rivera Walter, PhD, LMFT is a couple therapist, and the owner of CityCouples™ Online Therapy. “Additionally, a person’s work is an environment where they are able to experience self-confidence, develop trust in their competence, and likely, create a sense of security, both financial and emotional.”
When you are satisfied with work, you oftentimes bring that satisfaction back home to your significant other, Dr. Walter adds. However, it’s very possible to have the balance of your work and private lives totally out of whack, that you’re putting your work before your relationships. In other words, if you’re noticing that your romantic life is having to continually take a back seat in order to make room for everything your work piles on your plate, you may need to rethink how you’re going about your day-to-day.
When this occurs and the balance between your work and personal life tips in the direction of your work, it can have negative consequences for individuals and also for their relationships, warns Lisa Marie Bobby, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., dating coach, founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching, author of Exaholics and host of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. “We all have only so much time and energy, and if work is slurping up 98 percent of it, there's not much of the best of you leftover for your significant other,” she says. “This can lead to more time apart, distraction, stress or fatigue when you're together and, ultimately, resentment.”
It’s not always easy to know if your work might be taking up too much room in your relationship, especially if your partner is extra supportive of your endeavors. Here are some key signs that relationship experts say signal that you’re putting work before your relationship.
Work somehow sneaks its way into almost every conversation.
The most common complaint Dr. Walter hears among her spouses are using their phones too often and doing work-related things when they are supposed to be spending time together. “Checking email, responding to texts, answering calls after work hours are examples of ways that work contributes to distance between partners over time,” she says. In order to prevent work from sneaking into quality time together, she recommends setting boundaries around phone use by setting strict no-phone times.
You’re canceling commitments.
If you start missing important events or repeatedly canceling on commitments, it might be a sign that you’re putting work before your relationship, explains Sofia Robirosa MBA, LMFT, CAP, a South Florida Licensed Marital and Family Therapist and author of the book, The Business of Marriage. “Without having a constructive conversation to agree on what spending time together looks like, one partner may feel that what is being offered is insufficient,” she says. “It's important to decide together when date nights will happen, when can you both take off time from work to enjoy each other's company, and how you can navigate stressful work schedules together.”
You have little-to-no energy left at the end of the work day or week.
If almost all of your downtime is spent resting, and none or very little is actively dedicated to the relationship, Robirosa warns that you may be spending too much time at work and not allocating sufficient time for the relationship. “It is important to consciously reserve some energy for your relationship, to be present for our significant others when we are together,” she says. “This may involve reducing hours at work, saying no to certain things, or simply being aware of how much energy is being exerted at work and protecting some for the relationship.”
You feel as though your spouse's problems are small or insignificant.
If conversations that you’re having with your significant other that are not about work feel boring, stale or insignificant, you may be putting work before your relationship, according to Robirosa. It may also mean that you’re having a hard time connecting with what matters to your partner. “Take a moment to set aside your personal goals and concerns about work to understand how your significant other feels,” she says. “Focus on their passions, no matter how different it may be from your job.”
You have little interest in caring for the household.
If you or your partner don’t have the time, energy, or interest in taking care of yourselves, doing routine things around the house, or being together, there may be an issue in the relationship, notes Dr. Bobby. “If your partner is always preoccupied, always stressed out, always upset, always working, or always too tired to enjoy their time with you (or be a pleasant partner for you), they are out of balance and taking your relationship down with them,” she says. She recommends having a respectful conversation that reflects your experience and a constructive dialogue about how you'd like things to be different. “Chances are high that your partner is not enjoying themselves either, and having support in figuring out how to set healthy boundaries with their job will benefit you both,” she says. “Working as a couple to plan down-time, and time away from work (both actual work, and thinking about work) can be enormously helpful.”
You’re starting to feel happier at work than at home.
“When being at work feels better than being at home, there is definitely a need to address what's going on,” says Robirosa. If this is the case for you or your spouse, she recommends taking some time to first understand why this is happening and address it head-on. “There may be many different reasons, such as an escapism from something happening in the relationship or individually, or that the friendship of the relationship is dwindling,” she says.