Issue 42 –
The Top Ten Challenges to Relationship:
Keeping Your Love Alive Amid Life’s Routines
Challenge 2: Work
Our work is very important. It gives us power and money and keeps us safe in the world. It helps us to define ourselves. Hopefully, if we give it enough attention, our work will always be there to support us and we do not have to worry about our work abandoning or divorcing us. Most important, as long as we have our work, we do not have to think very much about our vulnerability. Anything that helps us to deal with our vulnerability, without us having to face it directly, is extremely attractive.
Is it any wonder that many of us develop a primary linkage to our work and relegate our relationship to second place? When we feel vulnerable deep down inside and we do not want to know about it, going to work can make us feel better. At work, we make a difference. We are needed. We are wanted. Here we have mastery, or at least we can work toward mastery. This is extremely reassuring. Life feels safe and structured and our priorities are set for us. We know what is expected and we are able to do the right thing. Add to all this, the fact that we are earning money and contributing to the financial security of both our inner and outer children and you have a total win-win situation.
Unfortunately, the more our linkage is to work, the less energy there is left for relationship. Since the lifeblood of any relationship is linkage, this is not good for the relationship! The tendency to link to work rather than to one’s partner is a major challenge to relationship.
Traditionally, men have buried themselves in work when they felt vulnerable or their emotions became too uncomfortable. Now women, too, have this marvelous option available. Many women have learned to drop the linkage in the relationship and shift their energies to their work. When the going gets rough for a two-career couple and each partner has satisfying work, there is a strong temptation for the partners to shift the primary linkage from their relationship to their work. As this happens, each feels abandoned by the other and each links even more intensely to work.
This linkage may be to the work itself, to the clients they serve, or to their coworkers. This linkage is frequently to a particular person at work, an understanding coworker or a particularly supportive assistant. Traditionally it was the man’s secretary. This may or may not become a full-blown extramarital relationship.
We find this can be a particularly subtle challenge for people who work together. For instance, it is very easy for the two of us to get so involved in a project that we lose contact with each other. We may both get so interested in our writing that our linkage goes to the book rather than to one another. It may look as though we are still in a relationship because we are both linked to the same object, but we are not. Not really. We are like two oxen yoked to the same cart. We are pulling together and doing a great job, but we have blinders on and we no longer see each other. We just see the road ahead. When this happens, there is a loss of intimacy. We do not feel good and we do not know why.
There are many times in life when being linked to work looks like a natural and necessary move. This is particularly true when there are financial pressures, either real or imagined. One or both partners will deal with this underlying vulnerability in the most seemingly sensible fashion by working harder and earning more money. This is not a problem if the connection between the partners stays strong and intimate. Usually, however, at times like these the truly strong connection switches to work and the partners gradually and unobtrusively drift apart until they are almost like strangers to one another.
Of course, there are times when any of us will feel better at work than at home, but think about it. Over all, where do you feel better, with your partner or with your work?
To deal with this challenge, see what you can do about putting a limit on the amount of time you spend at work or thinking about work. Set boundaries. Try to set realistic time limits that you can meet; for instance, no work or work-related activity between 8:30 P.M. and 7:00 A.M. This will probably be extremely difficult to do at first. To help you do this, keep a notepad with you so that when you have a work-related thought during your off-hours, you can write it down and not think about it until the next work session. For instance, you remember that you should send an E-mail to double check on yesterday’s order. Write it down on your notepad and put it away until tomorrow. Otherwise you will probably spend a great deal of time (1) trying not to think this thought and (2) fearing that you will forget to send the E-mail.