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How to Have a Great Career—and a Great Relationship

7 tips for high-powered couples, courtesy of an ex-monk

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By: Jerilyn Covert
September 4, 2018

Former monk and behavioral-science geek Jay Shetty has spent the last decade hanging around entrepreneurs. And he’s noticed that when it comes to career and relationships, these people are always trying to “fit” one or the other into their busy lives.

 

“That’s the language or the rhetoric that we use,” Shetty says. “We’re always trying to balance the two.” We see them as conflicting, not as symbiotic or simultaneous. That’s understandable, especially for entrepreneurs who are expected to work 60-plus hours a week at minimum.

 

But that mindset can stress you out and put undue pressure on your relationship. So stop thinking of work-life “balance” as an equal division of time—it’s more about making the most of the time you do have together.

Shetty, who has mediated conflict resolution for many of these couples, has noticed that these seven strategies are key.

Manage your energy

Forget time management, Shetty says. Focus on energy management instead.

When your partner asks for more “time” from you, says Shetty, just sitting nearby with your face in your phone or watching Netflix doesn’t cut it. “You want to have a real conversation with them.”


For that, you need energy—and after spending your workday with your face in a screen, that’s something you’re probably short on. In fact, technology may lead you to feel more distracted, distant, and drained, according to new research from the American Psychological Association (APA). Not great for bonding.

Ask yourself what gives you energy. Is it dinner at home? Getting outside? Going for a walk? Hitting the gym? Whatever it is, use that as the starting point for dates with your mate.  

Let your partner in on the plan. Don’t just say “I need to go on a walk”—that comes across as negative. Instead, tell your partner that you want to go on a walk now so you can bring your best energy to them later.

“If you can only spend a half hour with your partner,” says Shetty, “bring your best energy to that 30 minutes.” An engaged 30 minutes might be better than five distracted hours.

Underpromise

Ambitious entrepreneurs aren’t exactly known for setting realistic expectations. But in a successful relationship, that’s exactly what you need to do.  

“Underpromising hurts our egos,” says Shetty. You make big promises because you want to believe you are the type of man who can fulfill them—and in the moment, that makes you feel good about yourself.

On the other hand, when you inevitably fail to live up to those promises, you’ll likely feel like crap. And so will your partner.

Science bears that out. A new meta-analysis suggests that many people overcommit due to a chronic misjudgment of their own abilities. When that happens, you can disappoint both yourself and others.

So let’s say you tell your partner you’ll be home for dinner, but you end up getting stuck at work because you overestimated your ability to complete a project by a certain time. If that happens once in a while, no big deal. But if it happens on the regular, then your partner is likely to become annoyed.

Long-term, making promises you can’t keep can cause real damage to your relationship. It erodes trust, making the future seem uncertain to a partner who feels they can’t rely on you.

What’s more, according to the meta-analysis, chronic overcommitment may even increase your risk for heart disease.


So do yourself and your relationship a favor: Make under-promising your default. If you can’t commit 100 percent, then don’t say you can.  

Be honest. If you’re not sure whether you’ll make it back in time for dinner, say so. That way, if you don’t make it, no harm done. And if you do manage to show up—that’s major points.

Commit to one night a week

A 1:1 work-relationship time commitment is not necessary. For many, it’s not even possible. But if entire weeks go by where you can’t make time for your partner, then you may need to reevaluate your priorities, Shetty says.


“Anyone who has a busy, stressful life has to carve out time, even if it’s a small amount of time,” Shetty says. “I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Agreeing to a set “dedicated time” with your partner not only ensures you’ll make time for each other but also gives you flexibility on other nights when you may need to work late instead. Shetty knows one couple who are always traveling for work. So their rule is whenever they’re in town, their time is dedicated to each other.  


For Shetty, agreeing to one night a week together should be manageable even for busy couples.

“I work seven days a week, every hour I’m awake,” says Shetty, “but I still know that I can dedicate an evening or a couple of hours every week for my relationship.”

Schedule together-time on a shared Google calendar, or enlist your assistant to help hold you to it.

Take advantage of “between times” during the workday

Small gestures matter, says Shetty. And entrepreneurs tend to overlook them.

“We’re often so clinical and efficient that we don’t recognize that a two-minute call when we’re just getting out of a meeting can have a huge impact,” he says.

Successful high-powered couples will grab any moment in the day, between meetings or during crosstown Uber rides, to send a text or leave a voicemail for each other, says Shetty.

He knows one late-night TV host who always FaceTimes his wife and daughter during a commercial break to say goodnight.

Another entrepreneur takes 30 seconds out of her busy day to record a video for her husband telling him she misses him.

Science shows that small gestures can have a big impact on relationships. One study from the University of Rochester found that small acts of compassion—doing something that shows your partner is valued—can boost emotional well-being for both of you.

Shoot your partner an “I love you” text, or check in to see how her big presentation went.

Make work and relationship like church and state

“The biggest challenge I’ve seen,” Shetty says, “is that entrepreneurs are on their phones all the time.” That’s bad news for romance.

Research shows that “phubbing,” the act of snubbing your partner by concentrating on your phone, can significantly and negatively affect communication quality and satisfaction in your relationship, even after as little as three minutes.


And remember that APA study from earlier? Study participants who kept their phones on the table during a meal reported more distraction and less enjoyment than those who stowed their phones away. In another experiment, social media use was linked with less empathy and emotional intelligence.

Entrepreneurs may feel they need to stay connected to work at all times, but if you work while you’re with your partner, then you’re not giving either one your full attention.

Instead of doing two things half-assed, just focus on one or the other. It’s more efficient in the long run and much better for your relationship.

One way to do that is to ban all tech from the kitchen and the bedroom, Shetty says. “Those are two places of human connection.”

An app like Flipd may help too; the free version locks you out of your phone for 30 minutes. (And you can’t cheat—even restarting your phone won’t interrupt the time set.)

Talk about the big stuff

Entrepreneurs prepare for and strategize every aspect of their lives—except for their relationships, Shetty says.

“We don’t take time to figure out, where do we want this to go? What do we want to do together?” Shetty says. “I don’t mean take out spontaneity; I mean recognize what’s going on so your relationship can thrive rather than become a burden.”

To do that, you have to talk to each other. Don’t roll your eyes. Talking about your relationship doesn’t have to be boring or awkward.

In fact, by introducing an element of play, you can even make it fun.

Shetty recommends taking personality quizzes together, like the free 16 Personalities test.

“You can have a laugh about them. They’re not an intense conversation. But they can help you learn more about yourself and about your partner,” Shetty says.

And they’re good icebreakers that can lead to deeper conversations.

Another framework that Shetty likes is Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages. That can help you figure out what makes your partner feel most loved: Acts of service, touch, quality time, gifts, or words of affirmation. That’s valuable intel.

Remember to be flexible

These days, there is no “typical” relationship. The prototypical married-couple-with-2.5-children is all but a relic of the past. And because relationships are constantly changing, the rules are, too—if there ever even were rules, that is.

“No one has mastered this,” Shetty says. “It’s a constant dynamic balance, a shifting scale. It’s a constant push and pull.’”  

You will make mistakes, and your partner will, too. You will have setbacks. What matters is that you have an intention and desire to keep the relationship moving forward, Shetty says. Even if that means taking a few steps back from time to time.