- Success at work can sometimes come at the expense of relationship stability.
- That’s because the qualities that make someone good at their job can also make them a less-than-ideal partner.
- This phenomenon is especially common among entrepreneurs, who tend to seek novelty and resist routine.
- Still, some experts say that, in moderation, certain traits that help someone at work may also help their relationship.
At the Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California, therapist Peter Pearson works with many entrepreneurs and their partners.
And he’s noticed a pattern.
“Just about every entrepreneur has that attitude of, ‘I don’t like people telling me what to do,'” Pearson said. Instead, they prefer to be in the driver’s seat.
That typically doesn’t bode well in a relationship – or at least not for long. Despite the entrepreneur’s desire for control, Pearson said, a marriage is “not a hierarchy.”
What’s more, Pearson has seen that entrepreneurs tend to resist anything that resembles structure, predictability, or routine. That’s why they relish the variety and fast pace of startup life.
But over time, every marriage begins to develop routines around things like who does the dishes, who takes out the trash, and who picks the kids up from school. As a result, Pearson said, “the marriage starts to feel humdrum and not as interesting, stimulating, or exciting as [the entrepreneur’s] work.”
It’s a common theme: The traits that make you successful at work end up hindering your ability to be in a relationship. And while this phenomenon is hardly limited to entrepreneurs and their partners, they tend to draw the most attention.
In some cases, entrepreneurs may find it difficult to enter a stable relationship in the first place.
Ty Tashiro, a psychologist and relationship expert, said entrepreneurs tend to be what he calls “high novelty-seeking.” That means they score high on measures of openness to experience (i.e. intellectual curiosity and the desire to discover something new) and low on certain aspects of conscientiousness, like being orderly and planful.
“Novelty seekers are so much fun to date,” Tashiro said. “They are exciting; they will do all these novel and unique things with you.” He added that entrepreneurs tend to get absorbed in the moment, which means “they are really into you and they’re really into the relationship and that feels great.”
But here’s the catch. “People high in novelty-seeking also get bored more easily, which means they will get bored with you.”
Traits that are necessary in certain careers may be turnoffs for romantic partners
Professionals in other fields may experience similar issues.
Being in a relationship with a CEO, for example, can be problematic, Tashiro said. Research suggests that CEOs tend to have higher levels of psychopathic traits than the rest of the population.
“When it’s contained, it’s part of the reason they’re successful in those jobs,” Tashiro said. “You need that emotional numbness to negative feedback that a lot of great CEOs have. Otherwise you get overly sensitive about things and can’t move forward.”
Some people who score high on psychopathic traits don’t feel any negative emotions even when they get punished, which “if you’re in a really nasty corporate battle or struggling for survival in the marketplace, is not a bad person to have leading you around,” Tashiro said. “But in the context of intimate relationships, it’s always going to lead to tears.”
Joseph Burgo, a marriage and family therapist and clinical psychologist, said that for people working in highly competitive fields – think litigation or investment banking – it can be “hard to switch off those traits, and it doesn’t play well at home.”
Burgo also cited surgeons, or people in roles where they have to be emotionally detached. “It’s hard to turn it back on at home,” he said.
Marriage and family therapist Sarah Epstein (a college classmate of mine), wrote “Love in the Time of Medical School,” about the ups and downs of dating and then marrying a medical student (also a college classmate of mine). In her interviews with other partners of medical students, she realised that doctors’ seeming coldness can hurt their relationship even if it’s not directed at their partners.
“It can be off-putting watching them be emotionally detached in their work,” she said, for example – even though it makes sense that a doctor can’t realistically get invested in every single patient they treat.
Sometimes the traits that make you successful at work can also – in moderation – improve your relationship
Jay Goltz, a business owner and speaker, remembers talking to his friend’s wife nearly 30 years ago and hearing her say, “If I was your wife, I would have thrown you out years ago.”
Eventually, Goltz understood that she meant they were too similar, both assertive and strong-willed. That is to say, he made a wise decision marrying someone who wasn’t nearly as domineering as he.
At the same time, Goltz said one of the reasons marriage is hard is because you don’t get “immediate feedback” like you would at work if you overstepped your boundaries.
“If you did marry someone who’s not as assertive or aggressive,” Goltz said, “they might not have the wherewithal to say, ‘Look, you’re not at work. When you say stuff like that, it bothers me.’ They’re just going to suffer in silence.”
Still, Burgo said those extreme personality traits that make someone successful in their career can also help in a relationship. For example, “the very competitive, aggressive person can often use that to protect the family.”
And as long as you’re not too emotionally distant, that calmness and rationality “can be helpful in negotiating things that might otherwise become explosive and overly emotional in a relationship,” Burgo said.
As for Epstein, she’s certain that the traits that make her husband a skilled physician are the same traits that initially drew her to him. His determination and single-minded focus are things she finds attractive – but they can be “detrimental if they go too far,” like if she feels the relationship is secondary to his career.
When it comes to the relationship, she said, these traits are only beneficial in moderation. “That’s always the catch.”
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