How the Workplace Ethos sabotages relationships!

(continued from last week’s 1 + 1 does not = a Couple)

One of the areas that can derail relationships is the strong sense of individualism each partner brings into the relationship. There’s nothing inherently wrong with individualism BUT a rigid interpretation, carried into the relationship, quickly becomes about which partner gets their way, or who has to give up a part of their identity, or what they want. The perceived fear of losing one’s identity can become a stressor in the relationship; a sense of entitlement creeps in to colour conversations that start to prick. This paradigm of individualism is fueled by the organization ethos, especially if both partners are working.

Contemporary research points to the adverse impact workplace performance pressure, individual career expectations, peer pressure, organization culture, and logistics issues such as the daily commute – have on family well being. Conflicts between work and relationship commitments impact almost every couple and family. Needless to state, WORK nearly always wins! The tacit (and now increasingly explicit) ethos in organizations is: produce, perform, put in the hours, and compete – AT ALL COSTS! This pressure tends to destroy any equilibrium that an individual might want for one’s life or relationships. If the work DAY involvement was not enough, there is additional pressure to attend evening and weekend events all aimed at building teamwork, productivity, and bonding (tried wiggling out of these??). In the mean time, the slow erosion in the couple bond goes unnoticed.

This work ethic can cause isolation between the couple as each partner is swept by the organization ethos and pressure. Intimacy tends to get replaced by a feeling of competiveness, and who’s getting a better or fairer deal. Competitiveness (and often times the toxicity) of the workplace seeps into the relationship. Couples feel that their primary obligation is to work and not to their relationship. The first warning sign: not being able to spend time with each other!

Research suggests that each person has a defined capacity to bond and enjoy intimacy in relationships. If this entire capacity is taken up by the organization, then it’s no surprise that there is no time, energy, or interest left in bonding as a couple. The second warning sign: Relationships at work become more intimate than the ones at home!

Other signs that the work ethos is endangering the couple: physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, decreasing physical fitness, increasing alcohol or substance use, unhealthy eating, no communication, not doing fun things together, feeling blue, being angry or irritable all the time, and so on. These are the outcomes that flow from the belief that career achievement is higher priority than a close, intimate personal relationship. The third warning sign: When a couple doesn’t talk! – really talk, about things small and big, important and silly…

Take a moment, and see if you can notice these warning signs in your own life! Before you say NO! share this with your partner and ask for their feedback? Just to validate your assessment. Feeling hesitant to do it? (Go back and start reading this again…)

However, things need not be like this! With a little care and thought, couples can find togetherness and intimacy on a day-to-day basis. Actively planning to spend time each day (perhaps even while both/one is doing chores); establishing rituals; calling each other; spending time with just each other over the weekend (and not with the family) – even if it is for a couple of hours; making a commitment to talk and share the things that are going on; finding ways to laugh, joke, tease, have fun together (even if it is in little moments); sitting next to each other (even while doing one’s one thing) are all baby steps in co-creating the relationship.

This is not easy! On an ongoing basis it takes 4 Cs to co-create a successful couple: Commitment, Cooperation, Communication, and Community. More on the 4 Cs shortly.

If you’d like to talk to someone in confidence and safety about what you (individually or as a couple) might be going through in your relationship, then email us on Information about what we do on our website:


Sheras, P. L., & Koch-Sheras, P. R. (2006). Couple power therapy: Building commitment, cooperation, communication, and community in relationships doi:


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