Good news, workaholics: Your job doesn't have to kill your love life

A new study says long hours at the office don't necessarily spell doom for your relationship

Published January 13, 2016 8:54PM (EST)

  (<a href=''>Adisorn Saovadee</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(Adisorn Saovadee via Shutterstock)

I grew up in awe of my parents’ relationship. A blind date set up by my uncles turned into love at first sight. They married within a year, and I came along a year after that. A few years later my sister was born, then my mom went back to school.

For as long as I can remember, my parents have always been as in love with their work as they are each other. My mom completed a master’s degree while still working, and later went on to a PhD. My dad’s work took him to the far corners of the Middle East for months at a time. He’d return to the U.S. for a few weeks and he and my mom would go on date night almost every night.

There’s a longstanding belief that once you start to succeed at work, your relationships will begin to suffer, and it’s something I’ve been both wary of and eager to dispel.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown to admire my parents’ dedication to their passions both in and outside their marriage. I’ve asked how it’s done -- as if there’s a special algorithm -- while I navigate my own career and relationships.

How do you make time for both? Won’t one inevitably suffer? Which should I choose?

According to my mom, “you make it work because both are worth it,” which seems easier said than done.

But good news for fellow workaholics! I hope you’re reading this at your work desk (let’s be honest -- you probably are). Okay, here it goes: careers don’t kill relationships.

A new study examined the impact of long work hours on relationships in which both partners have careers. Researchers used panels of participants to investigate the associations between working time and “selective optimization with compensation in private life,” a fancy term for how we choose to spend our time outside the office.

The study found when one partner throws themselves into work, quite often it’s to compensate for time lost with a partner.

Relatable, right?

My boyfriend leaves town, and I’m all too willing to take on more professional responsibility, look into fellowships, you get the picture.

The study also suggests the converse is true, too. When it comes to spending long hours in the office, the researchers found participants were more willing to make up for the time they missed out on with their partners.

Those who were completely devoted to their jobs were well aware of what they were missing out on at home (duh), and likely to make conscious efforts to compensate for this with their romantic partners. The results of the study suggest that a crossover occurs in terms of relationship satisfaction.

“Our data supported the hypothesis that the working time of a person in a dual-career couple positively relates to this person’s relationship satisfaction and self-disclosure via his or her private life,” write the authors.

Working long hours increases the dedication a person has to using the same selective optimization with compensation strategies to succeed at work as they do their romantic relationships.

For the pessimists out there, I get it. It’s exhausting to beat your brain all day at work, then go home and work as hard (if not harder) to keep the pulse beating in your relationship. But the study found relationship satisfaction transferred to satisfaction in the workplace, and vice versa.

I’m not claiming it’s easy, but I absolutely believe both are worth it.

The authors of the study write that based on the implications of this study, more research needs to be done to improve quality of life at home and in the office. Because time management and compensation strategies examined in this study were found to positively affect the two domains examined (work and romance), then similar strategies can be applied to other domains in order to alleviate as many stressors as possible.

One way to continue to improve upon a romantic relationship is by saying “thank you.”


A study published in the October issue of “Personal Relationships” found that gratitude is a primary factor in determining happiness within a relationship.

"Feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last," said study co-author Ted Futris, an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

I guess it goes back to the seemingly little things that make a relationship work, like knowing you have someone on your team.

So here’s a challenge: email your lover and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. Chances are they’re already at their desk.

By Erin Coulehan

Erin Coulehan is a freelance journalist with work in Rolling Stone, Elle, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @miss_coulehan

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Careers Love Relationships Social Science