Ask Wendy

Can Couples with Different Work Priorities Stay Together?

Friday, April 21, 2017
happy couple
Hey Wendy,

My boyfriend and I value work and career very differently.

He’s amazing at what he does, and he’s in the top of his field. He likes what he does, but he doesn’t live for work. He has a work/life balance that I just don’t have because he goes there, gets the job done, but it ends there for him.

I make a lot less than he does but I work twice as hard and twice the hours. I try to always take advantage of the opportunities that come up to build my career and these opportunities end up being conflicts in our relationship. I’m willing to do what it takes, even if that means I’m traveling a lot, I was out of the country for over a month last month. Do you think we shouldn’t be together? Is there anything that can make this work?

Zelda I. — Atlanta, GA

Hey Zelda,

My first piece of advice: “Do you think we shouldn’t be together?” is not the kind of a question you should ever leave in the hands of anyone but you and your partner. Don’t give that outcome over to an advice columnist, a barista, a well-meaning relative, not even a BFF—that question can only be answered by you two and the ins and outs of how you want to approach this problem.

Your second question, “Is there anything that can make this work?” does have an answer I can tackle, and that is yes, absolutely! With one caveat: That you two are both committed to and interested in living that kind of life.

“All You Need Is Love” is a song, not a way of life. You need more to make love work—like fundamental lifestyle compatibility, for one. I know power couples who are both hustling and doing everything they can to take advantage of every opportunity in front of them (and to the side of them, and under them, and above them, and behind them, and…you get the idea). Does their relationship take a hit or two from time to time because of this? Most definitely, and unavoidably. But these couples are aligned and on board with a shared big picture, and they’ve agreed to take care of each other as best they can and work through the uncomfortable parts that come with this lifestyle they’ve chosen.

I also know plenty of successful couples where one is trying to move into a leadership, guru, or celebrity role. Their partner is willing to fall back into more of a supporter role to make sure the leader has everything they need to make their dreams come true. That’s the key word, here: willing.

These are both examples of couples coming together in partnership, both agreeing to less-than-stellar conditions part of the time for the greater good of their shared future and goals.

Can your partner be that for you? Is he willing to kick into more of a support role to allow you to be the occasional workaholic that you need to be? Or is he willing to make deals with you to give you the space you need while you hustle, and you can make it up to him during other times by spending quality time with him?

This needs to be a joint effort, a shared conversation. If it’s not, it’s going to be a tough road ahead.

Good luck!

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