Love and Work: What Your Career Really Means for Your Relationships

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We’re all drawn to different careers. Being a nurse might fulfill someone’s need to help others while being a CEO can feed another’s urge to lead.

When we’re looking for a partner, careers play a big role in our compatibility. But it isn’t just the job that matters. A person’s professional choices say a lot about their priorities, commitments, and long-term goals.

Connections and Commitment Still Override Career

Even if you have a clear idea of what kind of job you’d like your future mate to have, it might not matter in the end. Many people’s mate preferences don’t actually match up with their behavior, according to a book by Jenna Birch.

Her book, “The Love Gap,” seeks to understand these inconsistencies. She points out that many men say they want to date successful women. In reality, though, these high-achieving women can make those same men feel more insecure about their own accomplishments.

“These men may feel they have little to add to a woman’s already-pretty-fabulous life,” she says.

It’s no one’s job to manage the fragile egos of others. If your own success intimidates someone, then you should move on. At the same time, everyone must be aware that while professional success is important in both reflecting and shaping someone’s personality, it isn’t the sole factor.

A potential partner’s career success doesn’t determine their romantic astuteness, anyway. Therapist Dr. Chris Donaghue points out that business values and healthy relational values aren’t the same. In fact, business usually requires no emotion and is instead about being rational and productive.

“Personal relationships are the opposite: [Business skills] are going to do nothing for you! Just being is your only goal, and you often can’t schedule for it. The person who built an empire must unlearn much of what made them so successful if they want their relationship to work.”

Moreover, someone who does seem to have career and commitment alignment may not check boxes in other critical areas. Elite Daily’s Desiree Johnson points out a common situation many young professionals face: dating someone who can’t balance their demanding career and their relationship. That can wreak havoc on both partners’ lives.

Successful, career-driven people might struggle with time management and organization. While they might look good on paper, their disorganization might make them a bad communicator. If your partner isn’t making time for you, it won’t matter what job they have or want.


Time Management and Commitment

Communicating career demands up front can help you find a healthy balance for spending time together. PR executive Megan Maguire Steele explains how she and her husband are both extremely busy in their separate careers. While their careers are different, they both value their individual work equally.

“It would be difficult to be with someone who wasn’t as equally and deeply invested in their own creative endeavors because he would not understand the long hours and crazy schedules.”

Steele illustrates a key point: Drive and commitment to your career affect your relationship more than the career itself. When you both have similar levels of commitment outside of the relationship, you can find a common ground for spending time together.

Moreover, it might be a warning sign if you find someone who’s way more committed or way less committed to their career than you are. Social psychologist Neal J. Roese points out that meaningful relationships tend to suffer when people are pursuing intense careers. Over time, Roese says, people tend to regret letting their meaningful relationships suffer in pursuit of career goals.

Choosing a busy career over meaningful relationships can make a person struggle with acute stress responses and illness. If you see your partner losing out on friendships due to their career, it might be a sign that they don’t have time for you either (which they will probably regret only when it’s too late).

The most important aspect of maintaining a relationship with a career-minded person is patience. Take time to communicate your needs and listen to your partner’s needs.

What Our Careers Say About Us

Our career paths are correlated with our personalities, and so clearly they’re intertwined with our compatibility with significant others. Let’s examine the relationship among personality, career, and compatibility.

As a starting point, researchers Rebecca J. Kimongo Kemboi, Nyaga Kindiki, and Benard Misigo have found “there is a significant relationship between personality types and career choices.”

In other words, a person’s career — not job — can serve as a fairly accurate reflection of their personality. University of Illinois psychology professor Brent Roberts has found that someone’s choice of career path similarly helps shape their personality, and so it goes both ways.

Roberts’ study looked at young workers who had either pursued vocational training or gone to college after high school. Six years after those two group’s paths diverged, clear personality differences were emerging. Those in the academia track were more interested in engaging with scientific, business or entrepreneurial activities. Those who didn’t attend college were more interested in continuing pursuits in fields that didn’t require higher education.

It seems intuitive, but Roberts’ conclusion is profound: How a person spends time in their career can alter their goals and their outlook on life.


How The Career-Personality Relationship Affects Our Compatibility With Others

As our personalities are both reflected and shaped by our careers, the kinds of people we connect with becomes clearer.

That’s not to say we should (or do) stick with like-minded people who share the same career goals. Human compatibility is far more nuanced than that.

In fact, two people with wildly different careers can complement one another in surprising ways. “A painter who is mostly reflective and introvert may jell well with somebody who is more open and allows him to express himself,” writer Divya Sharma notes.

Having a partner in a different field can also change your perspective on things. It can open up your mind to seeing the world in a new way.

That said, when you are looking for a relationship with someone else, there are practical matters to account for, and careers become a useful lens for exploring those practicalities.

Financial and Lifestyle Goals

On a practical level, careers help determine financial goals. Do you value flexibility rather than long-term wealth? Are you more concerned with financial security over creative fulfillment?

“Career is a proxy for lifestyle, and it’s important to get aligned on what kind of lifestyle you want to have together,” explains Alexandra Dickinson, a startup founder and current strategy leader at the student loan management site SoFi.

Talking about your career should go hand-in-hand with conversations about emotional and personal desires. Getting what you really want from a partner requires you to voice those needs, Katarina Nilsson at HerMoney explains. Whether it’s intimacy or career goals, your partner isn’t going to know what you want unless you tell them. The more you ask, engage, and share, the more you will receive.

Kathy Caprino, career coach and founder of Ellia Communications, agrees. She says that many people neglect the impact that a potential partner might have on their career. “By the time adults choose long-term partners, they’ve developed attitudes and opinions about work, family and their preferred lifestyles,” she writes. “Yet couples tend not to discuss weighty topics, like their careers, before settling down.”

A willingness to work at the relationship can be more important than having the same career or being wildly in love. Further, the ability to connect over shared passions — career or otherwise — can keep busy couples together.


Images by: Bruce Mars, Git Stephen Gitau, Skitterphoto

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