“You can’t run a relationship like a business. Well, you can, but before you know it, you’ll run your relationship into the ground.”
You excel in your career because you are logical, focused, and decisive in your leadership. But these strengths in business can create friction and resentment at home. Reflecting on these strengths through the lens of relationship distress, though, can give you a new framework to empathize with your partner and avoid these common pitfalls.
1. You detach from emotions in conversations and stay “logical.”
All individuals within relationships naturally experience a broad range of emotions, from love, happiness, and appreciation, to fear, insecurity, loss, shame, and disappointment. When we are experiencing any of these emotions, nothing feels worse than a partner speaking to us from a “logical” perspective. Because it feels like our emotions and what matters to us is being trivialized and undermined.
Most spouses on the receiving end of this will feel even more upset. So, your quest to stay “logical” is not strategic or frankly logical in that moment, because you end up adding fuel to the fire. And your partner may feel hurt, disappointed, and angry. The most strategic — and kind — immediate response is to genuinely acknowledge the emotions that your spouse is expressing. They may eventually want to have a thoughtful conversation with you about the topics at hand, but that should not be your starting point.
(Side note: Even the most “logical” business conversations and decisions are often unwittingly impacted by emotions. That’s just how our human brains work whether we like it…or want to admit it…or not.)
2. You’re so focused on the task at hand that you miss bids for connection from your partner.
Concentration and focus, especially being able to cultivate flow states of creativity and productivity, are important components of success on many career paths. However, research on healthy and stable relationships points to the importance of being mentally and emotionally present when you’re in proximity to your partner. This means that even if you’re working from your sofa at home, zoning out to ESPN, or making a household repair, you’re still attuned to hearing your partner talking to you. And you pause what you’re doing to listen and respond.
In relationships, we often put out bids for connection. How you respond to your partner’s bids lets them know that you are there for them…or not. If you have a one-track mind when you’re focusing on something, it’s important to talk through strategies for how to get your attention (e.g., tapping you on your shoulder) and make sure your partner knows that you DO care about what they are saying.
3. You make final decisions without fully consulting with and listening to your spouse.
In my coaching work with CEOs, this kind of unilateral decision-making can cause a lot of problems with their spouses. Their spouses feel undermined, unimportant, and not heard. These emotional and mental states are dangerous in a marriage because they breed deep resentments in the long run.
When you’re in efficiency mode, it can be difficult to pause and even realize that you’re making decisions without fully understanding your partner’s needs and perspective. One way to avoid this pattern is with a daily (or at a minimum, weekly) quick check-in. Block off five minutes to address the question: Is there anything that we need to make decisions on as a team right now?
If you know that ANY of the above patterns are a concern in your marriage, share this essay with your spouse and ask them to share their experiences. And then listen and empathize. This is the starting point for greater teamwork, communication, and love.
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus — Relationship Coach, Intimacy Speaker, and Sociologist