Your Relationship with Work Is Competing with Your Personal Relationships—It Doesn’t Have To

UPDATED: June 26, 2023
PUBLISHED: May 14, 2022
Your Relationship with Work Is Hurting Your Personal Relationships—It Doesn't Have to

It’s time to get honest about your work-love life.

Balancing all of life’s demands is difficult when it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day. You might resort to the phrase “I’m married to my work,” signaling to others that you’ve made a choice—either consciously or subconsciously—that you’re unavailable for emotional connections with others. Some people find fulfillment from their career similar to what they would receive from love, while others overwork themselves to avoid pursuing dating or relationships altogether. The misconception here is that you have to choose between work and your personal life.

Especially at the cusp of a career, work can be so meaningful to us that we attach it to our identity, and it feels like a dependable and familiar constant. It becomes something you’ve come to think won’t let you down and will always be there to busy you, fulfill you and give you a sense of accomplishment. And sure, it’s less risky and won’t break your heart. But work doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive from personal relationships. It is possible to have success in both without sacrificing your goals for either.

Work doesn’t have to—and shouldn’t—define you.

The demands of work and relationships often have parallel markers for success: loyalty, engagement, dependability and occasionally priority above all else. Work can grow to be consuming not only in terms of time, but also mentally, physically and emotionally.

Nowadays, hustle culture only fans that flame. In time, work becomes your partner and leaves little to no room for fulfilling relationships with others. But without balance, your mental health can suffer, along with your personal relationships.

How do mental health and relationships tie together?

People are intrinsically wired for socialization, and healthy social relationships can prevent loneliness, help you develop healthier habits and behaviors and positively impact intellectual health.

“Having those social connections helps with loneliness, but it also sharpens your memory and cognitive skills while increasing your sense of happiness and well-being,” says Dr. Adam Borland.

It’s unhealthy—physically, mentally and emotionally—to exclusively focus on and rely on your career to provide fulfillment in your life. Research by the International Labour Organization and the World Health Organization shows that working more than 55 hours per week can negatively impact your health, including increasing the potential for ischemic heart disease and stroke.

“In our society, it’s almost like a badge of honor to say, ‘I worked this much on this little amount of sleep,’” says Dr. Borland. “We need to adjust that type of mindset.”

How to flourish in both your career and relationships.

Here are some things you can do to continue flourishing in your career while also prioritizing healthy relationships:

1. Balance is best.

Rewards and recognition associated with work are often more external. Think top job, great office, executive perks. Meanwhile, the rewards of healthy relationships are often more personal and private. But the two are closely linked, and it’s easy to fall into the “this or that” trap. That is not to say you won’t occasionally have to make tradeoffs between work and personal needs. It’s beneficial to regard both as priorities, so if you need to lean into one more than the other for a while, you can purposefully lean in the other direction when you are able.

For example, even if your workday leaves you feeling a bit drained, make it a point to dedicate time to your personal life. This can be as small as allocating one evening to meeting someone new or participating in a social activity, be it a workout class or checking out the new museum exhibit. If you’re already in a relationship, make sure you check in with your partner and take some time to unplug together. Friendships need to be continually cultivated as well. Proactively put a catch-up lunch on your calendar with someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Small gestures like this can go a long way.

2. Be intentional with your time.

If you are currently “married to your job,” you have undoubtedly learned a thing or two about time management. Utilize your time management skills from work to identify, nurture and grow your next relationship.

Set aside time for social activities or dates. These don’t have to be every week, but changing up your routine of working and going home each night is a good start. Have dinner at the new hot spot, go to a gallery opening with friends or visit your local farmers market. Sometimes, however, you will find yourself under seemingly endless work responsibilities and discover that the best way to clear up space in your schedule is to outsource areas of your life, including your love life. You should absolutely consider matchmaking to help you find the right partner without stressing about finding the precious time and energy in your already busy schedule.

3. Make relationship-focused goals.

It’s important to make goals and even more important to stick with them. Ask yourself: Where do you want to be in five years in your career and personal life? Create actionable goals and steps to achieve them.

For relationships, make your goals actionable. For example, share your relationship goals with your inner circle for support and accountability; expand your network through thoughtful participation in activities and interests you are passionate about; have regular check-ins with a trusted friend, coach or accountability buddy; and so on.

With these tips and a change of perspective, you will find that you don’t have to divorce work to find love. Instead, you can discover that success in one area of your life often leads to success in other areas. You might just find yourself lucky in life and love.

Photo by @DimaBerlin/Twenty20

Barbie Adler
Barbie Adler launched Selective Search in 2000, combining her experience recruiting top talent with her passion for helping extraordinary people find love. Barbie is a national expert on dating and relationships who has consulted on national dating-related TV programs and appeared in publications including Forbes,Fortune, The Economist, Businessweek, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. She is also an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year nominee and a former board member of the Starlight Children’s Foundation and the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.