How to tell when work is straining your relationships

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For many people, work takes up an unprecedented amount of their lives. With many working over 40 hours a week, it’s natural that attention on how to improve work-life balance has recently come into focus. For many people, the most significant responsibility they have outside of their work lives are the promises and engagements of a relationship. However, the calls and demands of the workplace, even outside of office hours, can exert a negative influence on relationships. Especially if that work is calling for too much of your free time and attention. If this is the case, then it could be a sign that work is straining your relationships.

There are however behaviours to look out for, both your own and those of your partner, that might suggest to you that its time to make important changes to your working life to give your personal life the space it needs to bloom again.

Straining Relationships: the need for a boundary between the professional and personal

Many people are working longer hours than ever before during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Work-From-Home (WFH) era. It is inevitable that many of us come home from work physically and mentally tired. This can leave people without the energy to properly embrace and engage with relationships outside the workplace, which like a career, requires hard work, great communication, and happiness to maintain healthy growth.

A relationship can be put under strain by a lack of engagement or prolonged absence. Working long hours and taking too much overtime can leave a partner feeling left out of the picture. But physical absence is only part of the picture. Though you may come home to your partner every evening, or visit them often, if you are mentally still in the workplace, worrying or thinking over the day’s various problems, even in your presence your partner may feel distant from you.

On the other hand, too much time spent together can also place strain on a relationship. Particularly if you and your partner both work together. In this situation, it is important to put a clear boundary between your professional and personal life. When a day’s work ends, personal time should be about the relationship. Calls and professional duties should not interrupt the important time you get to dedicate to one another. At the same time, this free time should also allow for some time apart for both of you to explore your own hobbies and interests with different friends.

How can I separate my work from my relationship?

The key to managing the complexities of balancing work and a relationship starts with effectively and clearly separating the two. Drawing a clear boundary between the end of the work day and the times you spend together away from the office make clear that whilst work is for the company, free time outside of work is entirely for one another. Going hand in hand with this is the importance of communication. Let your partner know when the work stops. Make it clear when it is time for the two of you to enjoy one another’s company. Most importantly, gain confidence that you can both voice concerns and worries about the relationship without fearing the response.

Clearing up the boundaries between your career and personal life, alongside more effective engagement, will help you and your partner get a firmer grasp on your relationship, whilst also demonstrating that you are committed and interested in that relationship.

How do you know when work is having a bad effect on your relationship? There are certain warning signs you can look out for. These include your partner’s behaviour and your own behaviour. Lack of engagement might be an ignored factor if you are both steeped in professional life.

Warning Signs: knowing when work is getting in the way

There are several signs that a relationship is undergoing strain. The unique characteristics of work getting in the way of love lead to particular relationship symptoms.

Missing commitments

The most easily recognisable symptom of work affecting relationships is how you have managed engagements. If you have arrived late or missed important personal events or dates multiple times due to work, it can strain your partner’s view of your commitment. On the more mundane side is your day to day conversation. If work is all you discuss with your partner, it indicated that more time should be committed to the relationship. Otherwise, your partner may begin to feel like a career therapist.

Spending less time with each other

Spending less time together, and having little to talk about may make both partners quieter in one another’s presence. At the same time, it might motivate more arguments about things you would never have argued about before. You may find yourself making unprecedented sacrifices to grant enough attention to work and the relationship. This may seem like a solution. However, in the long run could have negative consequences for your physical and mental health. A significant question for self-reflecting on the role of work in your relationship is to consider whether you find the work environment less stressful than being with your partner. If this is the case, there are serious changes that need to be made.

Physical and emotional withdrawal

Looking to your spouse, there are many signs that a relationship is in a bad place. One example might be increased defensive body language on their part. Whether that be a lack of eye contact when speaking, crossed arms, or a low posture. This might be matched by withdrawn conversation and a lack of engagement, particularly when you are talking about work. Alongside this quietness might come bursts of argument and a lack of patience on both sides of the relationship. Also, a decrease in physical or sexual contact is also a warning sign of withdrawal. All these things are signs that a relationship, and work-life balance, needs to improve.

How to improve Work-Life Balance: simple steps and habits to restore a relationship

[1] Set clear work and life boundaries

It is important to stress the need for clear boundaries between the professional and personal bolstered by effective communication. This will help improve work-life balance and your relationship. This can be practically achieved by setting aside clear time for you and your partner alone that is free from invasion by the obligations of work. There are many practical steps to go about achieving this.

[2] Give your partner the attention they deserve

We live and work at a time of unparalleled technological advancement. Whilst this has been great for streamlining professional life, these technologies can be harmful for the intimacy of partners. Work, like our loved ones, is now only ever a phone call or instant message away. For this reason, it is useful to consider switching off your devices and ignoring work when outside of the office. This will simultaneously help you switch off your professional mind and fully engage yourself with your relationship. You can enjoy a date, a holiday, or weekday evening with your partner without the interruptions and intrusions of professional life, broadcasting to your spouse that the time is for you and them alone.

[3] Offer to help out around the house

Another great way to improve life at home is to do what you can to help out around the house. Offer to help out with the dishes, sorting out laundry, vacuuming the house or other chores show intent to maintain an orderly and comfortable home. Emphasising that it is a shared space, and not merely the place you return to after work. Alongside this, a well spent evening at home without work, can be a simple way to foster a relationship. Making the domestic space a place you can’t wait to return to each day.

[4] Allocating designated time to spend with one another

Though it is not always practical to take days off work for holidays, it is important not to forget these important shows of love. Reemphasising small romantic moments with the time you have available can help make your relationship part of your day, rather than something squeezed into the end. Consider a short lunch date, share errands together, or make a routine romantic occasion of a weekday evening. All these can be great ways to firmly establish your commitment to the relationship and improve your work-life balance.

Wrap up

Fostering a healthy and fulfilling relationship alongside a busy and successful career is not easy. Work-life balance and maintaining a healthy relationship should not be viewed as secondary priorities to work. A happy relationship and a happy partner should be a priority, in which the time it takes to fully support it pays for itself in the way it supports you and leaves you feeling happy, loved and more fulfilled.