How your job can affect your relationship
Employed, Unemployed, Reemployed – In this era of downsizing, you should be prepared for changes in your job. Perhaps your department had a cutback, so you are working fewer hours than before and making less money. Or perhaps you’ve kept your full-time job but are expected to work extra hours every week to make up for a colleague who was let go. Perhaps you’ve been lucky and have been promoted so you’re making more money, but now you are traveling a lot or have been asked to relocate to a different city. All of these changes will affect your marriage. In this chapter, you will learn how to adjust to changes in the workplace so you can take care of the most important relationship in your life— and we don’t mean the one with your boss!
➤ How your job can affect your relationship
➤ Analyzing your current employment situation
➤ Avoiding pitfalls of long working hours
➤ Adjusting your schedules to make time for the chores and each other ➤ Staying close when one of you travels for work
Love and Work
Although you usually develop your relationship and your career separately, we all know through experience that they are connected. The quality of your love life will affect your work. If you’re feeling stressed about your relationship, you will be on edge at work and will be less productive. If you’re feeling great about your partner, you will sail through your day at work.
The opposite is also true. How your work is going will affect your relationship. This shouldn’t be surprising because most people spend more time at work than they spend awake with their spouse! If you are happy with your work, that will enhance your relationship. You will probably be in a good mood when you get home. You will be relatively re- laxed and will have an enjoyable evening with your spouse. On the other hand, if your job is sheer drudg- ery, you will probably be stressed when you get home from work. You might spend your evening in a bad mood and complain about work.
Some people are lucky enough to really enjoy their work and would do it even if they made no money or a lot less money. But the main reason most people work is to earn a salary. That doesn’t mean you need to be miserable at work. You can like your job and still be doing it because it pays a salary.
The first step toward maximizing what you get from your job is asking yourself the following questions:
- Do you generally like your job?
- Do you dread going to work in the morning?
- Are you treated well at work by co-workers and by your boss?
- Are you paid a reasonable amount of money for the sort of work you do?
- Do you feel completely drained at the end of the day?
- Are you working more hours than you can handle?
- Does your job keep you on the path to where you want to be five years from now?
- If you are unhappy at your workplace, do you think that doing similar work at another place would potentially make you happier?
- If you are unhappy at work, have you ever considered making a complete career change?
- Do you feel that your spouse would be supportive if you changed jobs or careers?
Consider your answers to these questions. If you are reasonably satisfied with your work, great! If not, make sure you consider whether there are ways you can improve your current job. For instance, can you change or shorten your hours, shift your job description, or work for a different boss? If your current job is so miserable that you don’t think it could ever be reasonable, is it possible for you to find a better job?
Diane and Brad have a good relationship. They have been married for three years and are thinking about starting a family soon. One day Brad was very excited when he came home from work. He told Diane that he had received a promotion to assistant manager at his company. The company could not promise him an increase in salary, but said he would probably get a bonus at the end of the year. Diane and Brad cele- brated by going out to a special dinner on Saturday night.
Eventually, the reality of the situation hit them. Brad’s entire personality seemed to change. He came home after eight o’clock every night. He was irritable and often snapped at Diane. He would eat his cold dinner without talking much about his workday. Diane had been prepared for him to work longer hours, but she was not prepared for his grouchiness. When they went out on Saturday nights, they often got into arguments about unimportant things.
Diane didn’t know what to do. She felt sorry for herself. Every time she asked Brad how he was doing, he would simply say “Fine.” But things weren’t fine. What was happening to their marriage? Diane finally told Brad that she was very unhappy and that they needed to talk. Brad said “Sure,” but became very defensive when Diane ex- pressed her concerns about his new behaviors. “What do you want from me? I’m tired all the time, and I’m working hard for our future.”
Diane asked him if he liked his new job. “Of course I like it, I’m an assistant manager now, aren’t I?” Diane then asked him a simple question: “What are some of the things that you like about your job?” He thought about it and couldn’t answer. After a while she asked, “What don’t you like about your job?” “Oh, I hate the stress and re- sponsibility that goes with it. I had to fire a perfectly nice guy because my boss didn’t like him. If someone gets sick at work, I have to make sure that his or her job gets done anyway. I used to go in, do my job, and come home. Now I have to make sure that several other people do their jobs, too. I come home feeling miserable.”
Diane was amazed that Brad felt like this. “Brad, I never want you to be miserable at your work. Even if it’s a promotion, if you’re unhappy, who needs it? Maybe you’re just one of those people who doesn’t enjoy being a manager. It’s much better to find that out now than later. Maybe you should talk to your boss about this.”
Brad talked to his boss the next day. He told him that he did not feel suited to his new job and ex- plained why. His boss was disappointed because he liked Brad. So Brad asked if he could have his old job back. His boss felt that he was overqualified for his original job, but told him that he needed a day to think about it. When Brad went back, his boss had created a new job for him. He restructured it so that Brad was no longer in charge of the entire division, but rather had responsibility for specific projects. Brad was very excited about this idea. He still worked slightly longer hours than he had before the first promotion, but now he was energized when he came home.
Brad had been miserable in his new job, but when Diane confronted him with her concerns, he was able to take action. By finally being honest with himself and his boss, he changed his work environment and, subsequently, his relationship with Diane. In your own relationship, see if there is a mismatch between your or your spouse’s work and how that work fits into your lives. If there is a mismatch, consider whether there are any possible ways to change or improve the situation.
Are You Married to Your Work or Your Spouse?
Some people are fortunate enough to really love their work. They put tons of energy into their job and receive a lot of personal satisfaction from the results. They tend to work long hours and talk enthusiastically about their job to whomever will listen. Most of their friends tend to be from the office. They often have little energy left over for anything or anyone else—including their spouse.
There is an expression to describe such people: They are married to their work. What does this imply about their marriage to their spouse? Usually it means that their spouse comes second, which is a recipe for disaster. Even though someone might re- ceive a great deal of satisfaction from his or her job, he or she still needs to put the marriage first. Work shouldn’t be at the expense of your relationship.
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Overworked and Loving It
Doug and Laura both had jobs that were important to them. Until now, they had managed to put enough time and energy into their relationship to have a great mar- riage. But recently, Laura was becoming more and more engrossed in her work. She was very excited about the new project she was working on. She worked 12-hour days, brought work home with her, and worked most weekends. All she could talk about were her ideas on the project and where her career was heading. Laura was to- tally consumed by her work.
Doug was beginning to feel left out and resentful. In general, he was very supportive of Laura and proud of her accomplishments. But lately she had no energy left for him. Every time they went out, she talked about her work. She never asked him how he was doing and never seemed to think about their relationship anymore. She even stopped doing small, nice things for her husband. Her commitment was exclusively to her job. Laura was married to her work and was putting her marriage to Doug in serious jeopardy.
When Doug brought up the issue about her work, Laura would always say, “Don’t you care about my career? It’s so important to me, and I thought it was important to you, too.” Doug really felt like he was being taken for granted. After a particularly bad argument about their situation, Doug blurted out, “Don’t assume I’ll always be there for you. You haven’t exactly been there for me lately!”
Laura was shocked. She had been working so hard and had made the false assump- tion that her marriage would survive the stress with no extra effort from her. Doug and Laura had a very serious talk about how Laura could invest a lot of time in her work and still have time for Doug. What was most important to Doug was that Laura really put work out of her mind when she was with him and focus solely on him and their rela- tionship. Laura needed to manage her time at work more efficiently. She realized she could save an hour a day, five hours a week, by using her cel- lular phone to make business calls while driving to work. And she changed half of her dinner meet- ings to breakfast meetings.
By making all of these changes, she had more time to invest in her relationship. Laura was much hap- pier and so was Doug. They really improved their marriage once Laura learned she needed to put time and effort into the relationship, even when she was busy at work.
Where’s Your Priority?
Priorities can make a big impact on your life. If you have them in the wrong place, you can be miserable. Below is a list of statements that will help you find out what priorities you have in your life. Decide whether the following are true or false.
Marriage Q & A’s
Q: I work at a demanding job and like to be relaxed at home. Is this okay?
A: Yes, of course you can relax at home! But you still need to put effort into your mar- riage as well as your work. You will be a lot happier and more personally satisfied. People forget that their jobs are often temporary, but their marriages will hopefully last their entire lives.
All I’ve Got Is Time
While it’s obvious that a relationship can suffer when one person is working long hours, the opposite can also be true. Surprisingly, if one of you spends less time at work than the other, it can also put stress on your marriage.
Joe and Cynthia both used to work full time. Joe worked for an accounting agency that decided to reduce its number of employees after the tax season, when it had less work. Joe was one of the unlucky ones and would be off work for several months. He looked for a temporary job but didn’t have much success. He decided to make the best of his time off and planned to do some projects around the house and improve his golf game. Joe rationalized this decision by seeing the benefits of having time off and telling himself that he could use the rest. Cynthia, too, liked the fact that Joe had more time because he was able to do some errands.
However, after a few weeks of the new schedule, Joe became restless. He was lonely in the afternoons and felt jealous that Cynthia had a full-time job. When Cynthia came home in the evenings after a full day of work, she needed to unwind from her day. Joe, on the other hand, had plenty of time to relax during the day and had energy to go out in the evenings. Another problem was that Cynthia started expecting Joe to prepare dinner every night and assumed that he would do all of the grocery-shopping. But she never discussed this with him.
Eventually, all of these unspoken issues became intolerable. One night Cynthia came home after a particularly difficult day at work. All day she had been looking forward to a delicious home-cooked meal. When she walked in the door, she found Joe comfortably sleeping in a recliner in the family room with a book laying across his stomach. Not only was there nothing cooking for dinner, but the refrigerator was empty. Cynthia was fuming. She woke up Joe and demanded to know why he hadn’t cooked dinner.
Joe looked at her dumbfounded. “I was reading and I fell asleep,” he said. He didn’t mind cooking dinner sometimes, but they had never discussed the issue. Cynthia went on a rampage. “Well, what do you do all day when you’re home? You should be making dinner every night, cleaning the house, and doing the grocery-shopping. I’m tired. I work all day. You’re not even making any money now. It’s the least you could do.” This made Joe furious, and they both went to bed that night angry at each other.
When Cynthia and Joe finally sat down a few days later to talk, they were in a better mood. Cynthia apologized and Joe was able to accept her apology. Cynthia realized she had specific expectations of Joe that she had never even verbalized. Joe agreed that he should take on more of the chores during these few months, but he also wanted to use the time for other things. Cynthia hadn’t realized that there were proj- ects around the house he wanted to complete in these three months. Joe agreed to prepare dinner three nights a week and take on some extra errands. Otherwise, he wanted to take advantage of the time he had in other ways.
If you or your spouse has a major change in your work hours, then you need to rene- gotiate your chore list. Don’t make assumptions about what your spouse will or will not be able to do. Redoing your chore list as soon as possible will prevent conflicts before they happen. You might also need to reschedule your planning time, discus- sion time, fun time together, or all three! But always remember that your goal is to have the best relationship you can possibly have—and that takes effort and planning!
Money Isn’t Everything
If one of you is absolutely miserable at work and there doesn’t seem to be a way to improve the situation, perhaps you should consider quitting your job. Depending on the situation, it might be relatively easy to find another job, or it might be difficult. You might be unemployed for a while or need to take a salary cut. You also might need to go back to school for a period of time in order to get a different type of job. As difficult as this transition might be, the two of you will probably be much happier in the long run.
Randy was absolutely miserable in his job at the bank. He especially hated his boss, who was unsupportive and gave him unrealistic tasks. Randy came home every evening feeling exhausted and stressed out. His wife, Pam, was supportive of him and helped Randy unwind and relax at the end of the day. But after months of focusing on Randy, she was feeling stressed as well. Pam liked her job, but she also had some difficult days when she needed support from Randy. She knew that Randy was very unhappy at work, but focusing on his problems every evening was taking a toll on her.
Both Pam and Randy were feeling stressed, and now their marriage was suffering. They were arguing more and were both irritable. They were having trouble enjoying time together, even on weekends. One day, after an especially bad time at work, Randy talked the entire evening about how much he hated his job. Pam was sick of hearing about it and said, “Why don’t you just quit? I don’t want to hear about it anymore.”
Marriage Q & A’s
Q: I hate my job, but I feel stuck. What can I do?
A: If you hate your job, consider it an opportunity to change your employment to some- thing you like better. Sometimes it takes being in a miserable situation to let yourself make a change or take a chance.
Randy looked at her and wondered if she was kidding. “There’s no way that I can quit. We need the money.” Pam answered, “Of course, we need you to earn money, but that doesn’t mean that you have to do this exact job to earn it.” They had a long discussion about it and decided that Randy would quit and look for another job.
At first Randy felt depressed (especially because they had to borrow some money from his brother), but when he started seeing job opportunities that sounded much better than his previous job, he began to feel excited. In the month that Randy looked for a job, their marriage completely changed. He felt much better and was renewed by the chance to look for another job. After six weeks, he found a job at a bank that not only had a more reasonable boss but was closer to their house as well.
Traveling with Work
There are many things to consider if you travel for work and still want to maintain a great relationship. It’s easy to lose some degree of connection with your spouse when you are away from home. There are many things you can do to ensure that your marriage is strong when one of you travels a lot. Here are some things you can try:
- Talk to each other at least once every single day. There is absolutely no excuse not to have a daily phone conversation with your spouse. It’s so important to maintain contact with each other. Even a brief conversation that lasts only a few minutes will help keep the two of you connected and will prevent each of you from feeling lonely and like separate people rather than the closely bonded couple that you are!
- Spend as few nights as possible apart from each other. If you are away from your spouse for only one or two nights, it’s much easier to maintain the day-to-day closeness in your relationship than when you are apart for a week at a time. Take the time to evaluate how important each activity is on your trip. You might be able to trim a day or two from your time away by rearranging your schedule or eliminating some less important activities.
- Go together. If it’s feasible for both of you to go together when one of you needs to travel for work, do it. It will give you a chance to have some time to- gether in a hotel room that is already paid for! Especially consider doing this when one of you needs to travel to an interest- ing city or a pretty resort.
- Greet each other warmly when you are re- united. It’s especially important to treat each other well when one of you returns home so you don’t forget how much you enjoy each other’s company.
- Spend time catching up on your time apart when the traveler returns home. Arrange a spe- cial date or a quiet dinner at home to catch up on each other’s activities. Don’t just ignore the days that went by. Make them part of your mar- riage by talking about them with each other.
There is a new phenomenam called supercommuting. A supercommuter works 100 or more miles away from his or her home. A supercommuter regularly spends three to four hours each day commuting. Often the supercommuter has a job that pays a lot more than a similar job in the city in which he or she is living, or the price of hous- ing is too expensive where the job is.
Sandy and Paul were tired of living in a tiny apartment in the San Francisco area and decided to move to a small suburb about two hours from the city. Paul made a good salary as a store manager, and he could not find a comparable job near their new home. They decided that it would make sense for Paul to continue working in San Francisco and commute, even though they lived so far away.
Paul and Sandy were very excited when they looked at real estate and found that they could afford a large home in a new development for about the same amount of money they had sold their small condominium for. They bought their new home and eagerly filled it with furniture, which they paid off each month. Their two children started at the local school.
Paul woke up at 4 A.M. each morning to be on the road by 5 A.M. He found that the drive took more than two hours when the weather was bad. When he tried to leave work at 5 or 6 P.M., again he found the traffic unbearable. So he started leaving work at 7 P.M. and arriving home at about 9 at night. He came home, ate dinner, and started the same pattern the next day. He never saw his children in the evenings or the mornings. In fact, he never had a full conversation with his wife during the week. Over the weekends, he spent extra time sleeping and had less quality time for his fam- ily and no time for himself. He became increasingly grouchy and unpleasant to be with. But all the time he insisted that he had his “dream life” with his dream home.
Supercommuting and a good marriage are extremely difficult to manage. Paul thought he was doing his family a favor by keeping a higher-salaried job. But instead, he created a situation in which he was unavailable to the people who mattered most to him. What should he have done differently?
Marriage Q & A’s
Q: Is it okay to commute a long distance while you are looking for a new job closer to home?
A: Yes, sometimes it is necessary to stay at a job that is not ideal while looking for a new one. A good marriage can tolerate the temporary stress, knowing that it is leading to a future goal of a healthy family life.
Moving to a smaller, less expensive community is a reasonable choice. However, they should have moved Paul’s job, too. They could have bought a smaller house, perhaps an older house that they could have fixed up, and held off on the new furniture. Paul could have then easily taken a lower-salaried job, and the family would have been much happier and fulfilled. Now, for the sake of the future of the family, they should cut their losses, sell their house, and restart their life more modestly. It is very important to prioritize what is really most important in order to help you to make tough decisions.
The Least You Need to Know
➤ Your job affects your relationship. If you are miserable at work, you will be bringing that to your marriage.
➤ Even if you love your work, you need to think carefully about your hours and still focus on your spouse. Make sure your relationship is number one.
➤ Shorter work hours don’t automatically mean more quality time in the relationship. You need to renegotiate your household chores and your time together.
➤ Sometimes the solution to being unhappy at work is quitting and finding a new job.
➤ If you travel with your work, make sure you keep your trips as short as possible and talk to each other every day. Reunite with gusto!