From Google cofounder Sergey Brin’s split from 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki to SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s second divorce from actress Talulah Riley, the separation of several high-powered couples could signal that extreme career success comes at the expense of relationship success.
But relationship experts say this doesn’t always ring true. You can have a successful marriage and balance high-powered careers — it just takes work.
Dr. Mike McNulty, a Master Certified Gottman Therapist, says maintaining a marital friendship, romance, and intimacy, managing ongoing conflict that is inevitable in marriage, and creating and maintaining a meaningful relationship is more challenging for partners with successful careers because they have less time to do so.
He says these couples are at more risk when the connection to the career becomes primary, and the commitment to and trust in the relationship becomes questionable. “Having a spouse addicted to work can feel like as much of a betrayal as extramarital affair to the other spouse,” McNulty says.
But as research psychologist and couples counselor John Gottman explains in his book “What Makes Love Last,” 40 years of research shows that trust and commitment are crucial to holding relationships together. “When both partners have a strong commitment to a relationship, this leads to a strong sense of trust, which makes love last,” McNulty explains.
Here’s how some of the most successful married couples keep their relationships strong:
Gerber says it also helps if power couples spend time doing things outside of the ego.
'People dedicated to making the world better or with a spiritual side seem to have more chance of success in partnership because they aren't depending on external factors only to feel good,' she says.
'Make time every day to talk with your spouse, in person or by phone, about one another's lives,' McNulty says, noting that texting is often not enough.
'Focus on the stressful things or events that are important to your spouse. Listen. Help your spouse express his or her feelings. Empathise. Show support. Don't problem solve or fix. Most of us just want to be heard,' he explains.
According to McNulty, Gottman's research shows that this kind of conversation is the one common thing that all successful couples do after marriage therapy.
In The Gottman Method of Couple Therapy, he says this kind of conversation is called a 'stress reducing conversation.' 'Successful, busy couples' relationships will suffer if they fail to find a way to have this type of conversation on a regular basis,' McNulty says.
People with successful careers and love lives know that time is precious, and it's best not to waste it on holding secret grudges.
Successful power couples express their needs sooner to avoid pent-up emotions getting the better of them.
'We're very conflict-avoidant in our culture, and so people sometimes are afraid to speak up about what they need from one another,' McNulty says. 'And then what tends to happen is, people store up their complaints, and they have to almost build up a sense of self-righteousness before they allow themselves to even express their needs and their feelings.'
And this self-righteousness often results in poor communication and fights.
'Two egos in a marriage can be great if all the important issues are agreed upon up front,' Gerber says.
Some of the most important issues couples should agree upon early on include sexual and romantic needs, who pays for what, and family boundaries.
Most break ups happen because of cheating Gerber says: 'Couples who face the reality of this threat head on and deal with it stand the most chance of success.'
Gerber says there is a range of what's acceptable within the bounds of a relationship if agreed upon in advance, so partners need to hash it out and agree on what the rules to live by are.
Arrangements could include:
• No alone dates with the opposite sex, even socially
• Certain outside-the-marriage content is ok
• We can bring others into the marriage and and have an open relationship
'Know what your partner can handle, what they want, and what the deal breakers are going to be as you face head-on the fact that cheating will be an option,' Gerber advises.
One way to limit issues later is to write a handbook detailing boundaries and expectations from the beginning.
'Don't be afraid to put it all in writing to refer back to as a living breathing document,' she says. 'And plan to have meetings about how you are running your marriage and family just as you would for your company or any other project you care about profoundly.'
For a marriage to remain successful when both partners are highly driven and busy, McNulty says couples must remain committed to one another before anything or anyone else.
'A successful career and exciting workplace can distract partners from their relationship, and from the family they have created,' he says.
'Each partner has to be able to trust that the other has his or her back, and that they intend to do all they can to understand and support one another,' McNulty says. 'The relationship must come first.'
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