Do I prioritize my work or my relationship?

By Michael Clark from Wanted Man Training

Every year, countless Australian couples will part ways and overwork will be one of the leading, but unnamed factors. Most of these couples won’t call their relationship’s executioner “Overwork” – they’ll give it some ambiguous title like “Communication problems”, or “Personality differences”, but chances are that “Overwork” was quietly but persistently in the background.

My job is to train people in how to meet their partner’s needs and have a healthy home life. I’ve seen a lot of tough things and heard a lot of terrible stories but one of the really prominent catalysts for a lot of break-ups I’ve seen lately has been work… or more accurately, overwork.

In today’s work climate, insecurity is everywhere. Will I keep my job? Will I get the promotion I’ve had my hopes on? Will I be earning enough if interest rates rise again over the next few years?

So what do we do?

We work harder. We work longer hours. We spend more energy trying to demonstrate how capable we are and how much we are needed at work. It’s exhausting but we are so accustomed to this uncomfortable performance act that we start to see it as normal and even find ourselves secretly despising those who won’t play by the same rules that we have learnt to work by.

Each day we return home like tired, wet, shaggy pack dogs returning to their kennels exhausted by the day’s hunt for recognition and security. We give our partner what meagre crumbs we have left in the energy tank and we quietly tell ourselves that we deserve more than this. Why doesn’t my partner value me or appreciate me? Why aren’t I getting the attention that I want from my partner who is as exhausted as I am? The problem isn’t me… so it must be you.

We all know that to make a plant grow, it takes regular, generous amounts of water, sunshine and nutrients. Yet we live as though our relationship will survive without the necessary time and effort to keep it going, let alone growing.

We know that if we don’t service our car, preferring to disregard the servicing date and ignoring all the subtle but increasing sounds of dysfunction under the bonnet, our car will break down.

We don’t seem surprised if an attention-starved plant withers away or an unserviced car becomes irreparable. It’s just how life works, right? Well what happens to a relationship when he finds himself in the routine of coming home at late o’çlock, and she doesn’t have energy for more than a glance up from the couch because she, too, has spent all her enthusiasm at the office?

“She’ll be right, mate. We won’t split. We’ve been going like this for years.” We somehow think that we are the exception to the rule, as though break-ups can’t happen in this home – only to others. But we conveniently – or perhaps deliberately – forget that the law of gravity applies to everyone, that everybody must pay taxes, and that healthy, fun relationships require on-going time, energy and effort

My heart aches for the four couples in my life who have split in less than 6 months. I know that overwork was an insidious resident in each of those relationships. Each couple tells me that, but then tries to explain that they thought they were immune to the effects of overwork and the toll that takes on each other.

John complains, “She just became too demanding and hard to live with,” while Karen counters with, “He didn’t give me enough attention the way he used to in the early days.” Nobody acknowledges it, but overwork was a key drain on both their time and enthusiasm for each other.

Aaron angrily declares, “She always seemed too preoccupied with the kids to even notice I’d come home,” while Sarah quietly explains, “He had no time for me and didn’t seem to notice I had needs too.”
The issue wasn’t that they didn’t love each other – it was that they didn’t put the time and energy in to show it each day.

Let’s pause for long enough to consider…

Would my relationship last another 10 years if the amount of time and attention I gave my partner last year was to continue indefinitely?

How often have I made my partner’s selfishness, insensitivity or bad moods the scapegoat so I don’t have to take responsibility for making the first move to show genuine, abundant care, love and attention?

If I have to choose between having a terrific reputation at work or being a terrific partner in my relationship, what would I choose… and more to the point, what have I chosen lately?

I have seen many, many average relationships become fun and healthy, but I’ve never seen things turn around without one or both of the partners choosing to put each other first.

Michael Clark is founder and presenter for Wanted Man Training, an organization committed to helping people understand their partners’ needs. Michael works primarily with healthy, ordinary men and speaks at conferences, events and in the media. He is regularly amazed by the lack of
understanding that most Australians have about how their partners think and see the world.


  1. angela says:

    Fantastic helpful MICHAEL. CLARK wrote brilliantly, very clear and very helpful. Giving back and being grateful, staying positive, if only this was on youtube.

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