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Put Your Work Ethic To Work in Your Relationship

Being intentional about couple time pays off big


by Janice Holly Booth

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My friend Diane claimed her husband Jan was never late for any of their dates. I was skeptical, especially since they’d been married for more than 20 years and Jan’s mind tended to wander whenever he was practicing his trombone, which was often. My husband, on the other hand, was precisely the opposite: he had yet to be on time for any of our dates. Could Jan share his secret? “The bus doesn’t wait for me. Work doesn’t wait for me—when the curtain goes up on the orchestra I better be in my seat ready to play. If I can be on time for these engagements, I can be on time for my wife.”

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Jill Bowers, a researcher at the University of Illinois, would agree. She suggests we bring a work ethic to our relationships to strengthen them: “When people enter the workplace, they make an effort to arrive on time, be productive throughout the day, listen attentively to co-workers and supervisors, try to get along with others, and dress and groom themselves to make a good impression.” Couples, she says, should be at least as invested in their relationship, prioritizing their partner and putting the same kind of energy into managing effectively (and cheerfully) the workload of a relationship that they apply to managing tasks at the office. Bowers isn’t daft: she knows that couples arrive home tired and emotionally drained, just when “the second shift begins, with its cooking, cleaning, laundry and the demands associated with children that compete for communication and quality time with your partner.” 


Bowers is the lead author of a study evaluating work-life balance for dual-earner married couples. The study measured the effect of an “Intentional Harmony” workshop that focused on work-partner balance skills and strategies as well as relationship satisfaction. Not surprisingly, the tips and tools couples learned at the workshop helped improve their relationship focus, and reduced their physical and emotional stress. 

Beefing up a couple’s organizational and time management skills can help them balance their work and family commitments, but it’s not necessarily easy. “Sharing household tasks continues to be a big concern for couples. Flexible work schedules are often advocated as a way to balance work and family commitments, but these arrangements can blur the lines between work and family time. Establishing those boundaries is difficult enough, and not having those limits can make life even more stressful,” she said. 

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Bowers isn’t suggesting that you view your relationship as another “job” with all the negative connotations that can bring; rather, apply the same kind of intention to your relationship dealings that you bring to work. Your job may give you a paycheck, but there’s an even bigger payoff in developing a solid ethic for your relationship. “You may not feel like you have the time or assume that everything’s okay because your partner isn’t complaining, but over time the consequences of shortchanging your relationship could mean serious relationship issues, and that has real implications for your mental and physical health. That’s why we advise taking your relationship work ethic seriously and making time for your partner intentional,” says Bowers. We agree—not all paydays come in cash.

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