The Pressures of Executive Marriages
- Dr. David B. Hawkins Director, Marriage Recovery Center
- 2010 6 Jul
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Marriage is challenging, under all circumstances. Two people coming from disparate backgrounds, possibly even separate cultures, sometimes bringing children from other relationships, decide to blend lives. Like two rivers converging, the results can be thrilling, enlivening, sensual---and sometimes nearly impossible.
What if, however, these two separate lives have an additional complication making things even trickier—one or both are executives?
At first glance this may not seem like any greater challenge, considering we all live busy lives. The pace of our lives has quickened and most of us find ourselves hurrying about, snatching moments with our mate and family. We often find ourselves longing for a simpler life, one where we can truly connect.
While this is enough activity to make our heads spin, spouses in executive marriages tell me there is something substantially different about their marriage. When comparing the pressures of their marriage with those of their friends' busy lives, there are additional stresses worth considering.
A woman summarized her concerns in a recent email:
Dear Dr. David. My husband is an executive in a telecommunications firm. He travels often for his job, which he loves. We have moved six times in the past ten years, and there is little hope for things to change. He seems impatient with me when I ask for a simpler life, or for things to become more stable. I feel like one of his employees or maybe a colleague, but I no longer feel like his wife. He becomes angry with me when I ask for time with him. He seems to think a little bit of time here and there will be enough, but as I get older, it isn't. I know there are many couples in my situation, and I'd love to know how they are coping with the difficulties of being in an executive marriage. I'm lonely, feel abandoned and unloved, and wonder how much longer I can cope with this situation. My love for my husband is slowly dying. Please help.
This woman echoes the sentiments of many busy couples. Like a cancer invading every aspect of our lives, busyness has the power to erode the fabric of our marriage—especially the executive marriage. Let's consider some of the unique pressures and then explore what can be done to not only preserve the sanctity of the marriage, but the thrill and excitement of two lives joining as one.
Let's first consider some of the pressures faced by executive couples:
- Expanded responsibilities, adding to the stress of everyday life;
- Increased time spent on the job, away from the marriage and family;
- The need to be "on call," being attached to the job;
- Limited vacation time;
- Increased work travel, limiting time together;
- Accompanying troubling habits, such as alcohol consumption, depression, irritability, and other health issues.
Since these are some of the pressures, let's consider some of the answers.
First, executive couples must admit and accept their unique stressors. In addition to the above list, executive couples often experience symptoms of burnout as they work greater hours, take on more responsibility, and struggle to find balance in their lives. They often feel irritable, pressured and pulled in different directions. Being aware of the stressors, including naming and owning them, enhances a sense of control over them.
Second, executive couples must develop a game plan for managing these stressors. They must know their limits, understand their unique stressors and make a practice of getting enough rest, exercising, avoiding the temptation to micro-manage their work and be willing to call for help if needed. They must seek support, maintain avenues of fun and relaxation, find ways to remain involved in church and spiritual lives, as well as create opportunities for family time and extended vacation. Most importantly, they must ensure that nothing jeopardizes their marriage.
Third, executive couples must find ways to minimize their stress and enhance the time they do have together. Since time off together is at a premium, executive couples must create mini-pockets of time when they will leisurely enjoy each other. These pockets of time must be without distraction—cell phones off and laptops put away. Time together is precious, and must be treated as an invaluable commodity. Executive couples must watch for any "connection collapsers"—power struggles and conflict-- that ruin their precious time together.
Fourth, executive couples must set healthy boundaries on their work, travel and other stressors that negatively influence their marriage. They must learn about boundaries and set parameters on their work. Life cannot function unless we understand the critical aspect of boundaries: knowing when and how to say "no" and "yes" in making decisions that will impact marriage and family.
Sixth, executive couples must celebrate the strengths in their marriage and the opportunities afforded by their careers. While it is tempting to lament having to work so much, the executive couple often have rewarding careers and have chosen this life path. Remember why you made the choices you have, and celebrate the time you have together. Celebrate the positives that come from your work, and the rewarding lives you have because of it. Choose to enhance the positives while minimizing the negatives.
Finally, know when you need help. Executive couples often feel too busy, and proud, to seek counseling when they may desperately need it. There are counselors who specialize in working with executives—don't be afraid to ask for help.
I'd like to hear your opinions about executive marriages. Please send your responses to [email protected].
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.