The choice between a successful career and love is not always clear-cut. Personal goals, current job satisfaction, financial needs and personal beliefs can all play a role in the decision. But it doesn't have to be as hard as some people make it.
"People keep getting stuck in all-or-nothing thinking. They think it is either work or a relationship, but life is more than both. Workers need to change their thinking to look for alternatives," says Kim Leatherdale, a relationship therapist. "Although no one worker is irreplaceable, a good relationship can be. People get focused on relationships or work and forget they can have both if they choose to."
Susan Cucuzza, a human-resources consultant with Live Forward, faced this issue when she met the man who would eventually become her husband. While they dated, his job required him to travel Monday through Friday, which made their relationship difficult.
"I think I broke up with him about five times while we dated," Cucuzza recalls. "We both lived in Cleveland and he traveled to Detroit. He worked 16- to 18-hour days, so by the time he called me, it was midnight and he was exhausted. I realized that if I loved this man and wanted to marry him, I needed to move to Detroit."
Fortunately for Cucuzza, she was able to transfer offices with her company, which meant she did not have to sacrifice her career. But, if she hadn't had that option, she says she would have made the same choice.
"I would have quit because I did not want to sacrifice a relationship that I had waited 34 years for," she says. "Life is too short. Relationships can last a lifetime and a career does not. From the time you start working, assess your top values in life, and do not compromise them."
Love and careers go hand in hand
Whether or not to put love or a career in front of the other is personal preference and each has its own benefits and consequences. Leatherdale says that relationships and careers often feed off each other. For example, some workers might be so focused on advancing their career that they end up stealing time from their relationship. But a good relationship can actually be a boon to work, she says, providing support, steadiness and insight.
Cathy Wilke, a life coach, agrees, saying that a good romantic relationship outside of work feeds our work life and everything else we do.
"A loving, supportive relationship -- if you are lucky enough to have one -- is akin to emotional bedrock. Being loved and supported emotionally enables us to thrive," Wilke says. "While having a great career is also very important to happiness, the career without the relationship often leaves one feeling like something is missing from life. We are social animals, and work can only fulfill so much of that need."
The key to this whole dilemma is not making the choice between a career and a relationship, but finding a way to better balance the two.
"Too many people confuse static balance with what we really live: a dynamic life. Sometimes we spend more time with one thing or another, where the finesse has to occur in knowing when to switch focus," Leatherdale says. "If you have a major work project which will take extra time, tell your partner and make a decision of how long you will allow yourself to be overextended. While you are involved with the project, take small moments to do something loving in order to remain intimate. This can be simply a small note before you leave in the morning or calling when you have a few moments during the day."
Here are five tips from the experts on how to successfully balance work with your relationship:
1. Treat your partner like a partner
Talk with him, keep him abreast of what is going on and let him know when you need a little extra focus at work, Leatherdale says. And remember love. "If you truly care about your partner, you will take time regularly to make sure you aren't taking them for granted."
2. Coffee talk
"Choose one weekday morning to get up early and have coffee together before going to the office," Wilke says. "This is a great thing to do, because rather than getting each other's sloppy seconds, you're fresh and can spend some quality time together before work takes over."
3. Put things into perspective
Leatherdale says to ask yourself, "On a scale of one to 10, how much will this particular job matter in 10 years?" and "On a scale of one to 10, how much will this relationship matter to me in 10 years?" "Be real in your answers; you may surprise yourself," she says.
4. Date night
"Schedule one night each week for a date with your partner," Wilke says. "It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just something you both agree upon. If you can keep a standing date each week, even better."
5. Work-free zones
"If work must be done from home, like email checking, set a specific time to do it," Wilke says. For example, no working after a certain hour or only dedicating a few hours of one weekend day to work so that the other day is a work-free zone. "When you're in the work-free zone, no thinking or talking about work!"
Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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