Why We Should Treat Our Relationships Like We Treat Our Careers

two-hearts-laura-garnettAs a workforce, we’ve dramatically changed how we work in recent decades.

We’ve focused on engagement and motivation instead of loyalty put a higher priority on personal and professional development, and we’ve made strides in embracing diversity and inclusion. More and more, we’re beginning to bring our whole selves to work.

But why have we not done the same in our romantic relationships?

I am an expert at helping people be who they are, and I developed the Genius Habit, a science-backed method that helps professionals embrace their unique Genius, Purpose, strengths, and attributes and make sure they’re utilizing them regularly. Those who practice it achieve their performance goals and career visions in half the time they expect, while feeling incredibly engaged and fulfilled along the way.

Could the same process work for our romantic partnerships? This year, I realized that our relationships are ripe for disruption, too.

Love Lessons From Corporate America

In the business world, we’re still migrating away from the mindset that work should be a struggle. This notion started in the ’50s and ’60s when a job was a job, and you stayed at a single company for as long as possible. If you didn’t like your job, you just sucked it up, because work wasn’t supposed to be fun.

Thanks to the science of success and performance, we know that there is a better way. Studies now show that joy and fulfillment are the keys to not only success but also to high levels of engagement and performance. Joy and fulfillment can only come from within, which is why the act of knowing who you are and prioritizing it is a necessity to achieving the kind of career that provides achievement and purpose.

Romantic relationships are not dissimilar. The societal view of relationships, however, is still operating from a 1950s model, where struggle is seen as part of the journey, and individual desires are sacrificed for the sake of the union. Societal messages are also clear that the longer you’re married, the more successful you are at being in love. But what’s not prioritized is how people feel and whether or not their desires are being met.

Societal messages are also clear that the longer you’re married, the more successful you are at being in love. But what’s not prioritized is how people feel and whether or not their desires are being met.

In 2020, with the pandemic shutting down our lives, I gained insight into my own relationship that couple therapists had failed to provide. I realized that my partner and I had completely different desires, visions for our union, and commitments to growth. So, rather than continue to try and make our relationship work, sacrificing our own needs in the process, we decided that the best path forward was uncoupling.

Society would say that a relationship ending—especially one with a child, like ours—is a failure. But for me, the situation revealed what American relationships can learn from Corporate America. I know from 12 years of helping hundreds of people elevate their careers by moving on from something that’s not working is not a failure; rather, it’s a process that’s fundamental to success. So, if my partner and I viewed the end of our relationship not as a failure but as a new beginning—as something different that was more suited to who we each are—our continued journey as a family could be positive.

In fact, if we all looked at relationships dramatically differently, we’d be better off.

But there are still forces that are holding us back—forces we as individuals and a society need to conquer if our beliefs about relationships can evolve the same way our mindset toward our careers did. Recently, I surveyed nearly 80 people in committed partnerships, and found that the challenges lie in four key areas:

  1. The traditional structure of romantic relationships, which prevents evolution
  2. Sexism, which plays a subtle but powerful role
  3. Lack of self-awareness, which clouds decision-making
  4. The legacy of emotionally distant parenting, which makes relationships more challenging

Here’s what the survey results and my work over the past several months have shown—and the vision I see for the future of our relationships.

1. Traditional Relationship Structures Prevents Growth

Relationships are not cookie-cutter, yet most of us grew up with a one-size-fits-all model for marriage. Marriage is good, being single is bad, and once you’re committed, breaking up is a failure (or, if you have children, a tragedy). It’s an antiquated model for antiquated times. A marriage ending shouldn’t be a sign of defeat, but a stop on a journey to learn more of what you want and need.

A marriage ending shouldn’t be a sign of defeat, but a stop on a journey to learn more of what you want and need.
In contrast, the business world accepts that you’ll likely acquire a few failures on the way to eventual success. I coach my clients that failure is an incredible tool for learning and growth. As such, a marriage ending shouldn’t be a sign of defeat, but a stop on a journey to learn more of what you want and need. Just like job-hopping is on the rise for superstar employees in the business world, being open to our relationships evolving with our needs can also be a positive direction on the path to emotional healing and personal actualization.

Interestingly, according to my survey, 84% of respondents don’t believe divorce is a failure. We’ve also seen a very public example of positive uncoupling and family blending with Vice President Kamala Harris, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, his first wife, and their children. We have a long way to go for the national conversation about divorce to truly change, but mindsets may be subtly shifting. For now, however, the unspoken truth still remains that marriage is best if it’s for life.

2. The Undercurrent of Sexism Inhibits Equality and Breeds Resentment

A discussion about relationships, particularly heterosexual ones, without acknowledging sexism would be remiss. Across many cultures, the history of marriage has long been rooted in the idea that men had the power and women cared for the children and household. We still see these issues playing out today. Studies have shown that even in two-income households, women are still doing the majority of the child-rearing and household management.

This takes a colossal professional and emotional toll on women. In denying their own needs for growth to take care of others, there’s less of an opportunity for discovery, self-assurance, and happiness, not to mention growth at work. (With that said, our society pressures men to bury their feelings, so the opportunity for a relationship to enhance their growth is stifled, as well.)

Through my clients’ work, it’s become clear to me that if a relationship isn’t adding energy and vitality to our lives, it’s holding us back. But if it could add that energy and vitality? Our potential would be endless.

3. Lack of Self-Awareness Means Other People Make Decisions For You

In my 12 years of experience, I’ve seen self-awareness be one of the best-kept secrets of career success and happiness. However, we rarely embrace this type of self-discovery romantically. Rather than being confident and clear on who we are and what kind of relationships we want, we instead fall prey to what others have modeled for us.

According to my survey, half of the participants said that they had a healthy and loving relationship modeled to them in their formative years, which means 50% of the group didn’t. Reality dating shows teach us that finding love is a result of having a laundry list of superficial characteristics, both physical or otherwise. What isn’t often discussed, however, are the deeper qualities. What are they exceptional at, and what gives them purpose? What are their values? What kind of relationship “work” are they interested in participating in?

It’s easy to see how so many people end up in relationships that feel okay on the surface but not quite right on a deeper level.

It’s the same as assessing a potential new job by the benefits, salary, and clout of the company, rather than understanding how doing the job day to day will feel.

But when you know who you are and your partner knows who they are AND you have actual long-term relationship experience, the ability to create a relationship that is a reflection of both people’s authentic selves becomes easier. You can grow in a variety of ways independently and together, thereby creating a lasting relationship that continues to fuel you in ways you never thought was possible.

4. Emotionally Distant Parenting Has Created More Challenges for Romantic Relationships

We’ve all heard the old saying that you marry your mother or your father, but the implications run deep. Our psychology drives our choice of partner; it’s what creates emotional chemistry. Research also shows that we are attracted to people who mirror our primary caregivers’ positive and negative attributes. As a result, we often find individuals who will re-wound us in the same way our primary caregivers wounded us. For example, my core emotional challenge from childhood is not being seen and understood—and thus I unconsciously selected a partner that did not see and understand me.

We all are also a byproduct of the parenting we received, which is a byproduct of the parenting our parents received. Parenting evolves with each generation, but those who are not putting in the work and rewiring their brains from the lessons they received in the past often parent in an emotionally distant manner. Today we know the problems that can come from emotional immaturity: Narcissism, lack of connection, unequal distribution of needs being met, depression, anxiety, unhappiness, and the inability to manage emotions and moods effectively. Many Millennials, Gen Xers, and even Baby Boomers feel these things acutely.

The difference between today and 20 years ago is that we are slowly starting to honor our emotional worlds and making it safe to express them. This shift, while positive, is making relationships more complicated. Those who are emotionally mature, or were raised with a secure attachment, will navigate intimate relationships with more ease. They’re comfortable expressing their needs and boundaries, with intimacy, and with giving and receiving feedback. They are confident in themselves but also understand that relationships require work. But for the majority of people who are the byproduct of emotionally distant or troubled parents, relationships are challenging.

The good news is, when you start to acknowledge and own your desires, especially if you’ve never done it before, it can change your life.

The Future of Relationships

Having a healthy and fulfilling romantic relationship is the same as having a successful career. You must be willing to fail hard, learn from your mistakes, and try, try again. If the professional world is calling for individuals to embrace self-awareness and take the reins of their careers, why would love be different? Being able to feel valued and nurtured in a romantic relationship is a journey and a choice, just like a career, not a destination that we must stay rooted in for life if we don’t want to.

There may be another path, one that is different from anything you’ve seen in the movies, one that may be fraught with endless emotions, change, growth, and learning, but also one that ultimately allows you to fulfill your emotional desires and heal your wounds from the past. Know yourself, make your path, and don’t be afraid to make the change that allows you to feel how you want to feel in love.

Laura Garnett

Laura Garnett

Laura Garnett is a performance strategist, TEDx speaker, and the creator of the Genius Habit. Her book, The Genius Habit: How One Habit Can Radically Change Your Work and Your Life (Sourcebooks, February 2019) shows the path to finding long-lasting professional happiness.

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