Are you, or your partner, so focused on success that it’s impacting your relationship? Maybe you’re a stay-at-home parent whose partner is married to their job or their business, or maybe you’re the one who is out there building an empire. Whatever your story, you’re not alone. High-achievers and their partners face unique challenges.
I recently spoke with Jean-Paul Gravel, founder of ThroughConversation, who has spent more than a decade of his life coaching extremely accomplished people and helping them optimize every aspect of their professional and personal lives.
He has worked with countless couples who have built the life of their dreams, only to find themselves deeply unsatisfied in their relationships. The passion is gone, and despite their extraordinary career success, their marriage is barely hanging on. Gradually, the relationship issues start to affect work performance, threatening the life they’ve built. Many have tried therapy, but nothing seems to work.
The good news? According to Gravel, there are things you can do to radically change your relationship, with or without your partner’s buy-in. More on that below, but first things first.
Before diving into the solution, I wanted to get a clear picture of the most common struggles that successful couples face in their relationships. In Gravel’s experience, these are their most common challenges.
- Work Dominates the High-achiever’s Schedule
Leaders have gotten where they are today because they spend a great deal of time working, and they spend most of their waking hours building their dream. This leaves limited time to focus on their romantic relationship.
How this impacts a relationship: The emotional connection suffers. Partners end up feeling unheard or misunderstood, and at times they feel more like business partners than lovers.
At best, the relationship becomes stale and boring, with no fulfillment and no fun. At worst, it can become unbearable, with ugly, recurring fights stemming from ridiculous disagreements.
- Dominant Personalities Can Be Too Rigid at Times
“Overachievers are often bold, aggressive, and resilient,” says Gravel. “That’s not always the case, everyone is unique, but those are common personality traits that drive them to work hard and succeed, and it can also accompany stubbornness, strong opinions, and the drive to always be right.”
In other words, what works in business can sometimes make interpersonal relationships more challenging—especially romantic ones.
How this impacts a relationship: These traits, when taken to an extreme, can create a vicious cycle of poor communication, endless bickering, and anger. In turn, this can lead to irritability, blame-shifting, outbursts, and withdrawal.
The drama often cycles, with short periods of calm and peace, until the pattern repeats itself. Couples dredge up the past each time an argument arises, and the whole thing feels like Groundhog Day.
- Professional Stress Spills into Personal Lives
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and leaders face stressors that rank-and-file employees never face. The stress of making payroll, avoiding layoffs, or watching the company’s stock price go up and down can invoke serious anxiety, leaving them struggling to connect with their life partners. And when it comes to family businesses, personal and professional stressors are even more intertwined.
How this impacts a relationship: Couples can develop expectations that their partner considers unfair or unrealistic. This can feel suffocating for both parties, who end up feeling trapped.
- Chronic Stress Produces Anxiety
On the outside, high performers often appear cool, calm and collected. On the inside, however, it can be a very different story. Fixated and unable to stop thinking about work, their negative thoughts and fears can take over.
“Despite being highly capable, many leaders suffer from imposter syndrome, wondering whether they’re qualified for the position they’ve earned and whether they deserve all this success,” says Gravel. “Deep down they might be thinking that everyone will figure out they’ve been faking it all along.”
How this impacts a relationship: Anxiety and self-doubt, especially when repressed, can have serious consequences. Simply put, it’s hard to be present and connected with your spouse when your mind is constantly racing.
Chronic stress and anxiety can even impact physical health, sleep, and sex life, further straining the relationship.
- Bad Habits Can Arise as a Coping Mechanism
This doesn’t always happen, but Gravel has seen it enough times that it’s worth mentioning. As a coping mechanism, a struggling relationship can give rise to bad habits. This can be something as simple as tuning their partner out while scrolling through business emails and texts at all hours.
How this impacts a relationship: Bad habits and unproductive behavior patterns put even more stress on an already strained relationship. Couples can reach their limit, losing patience and tolerance for one another. In the end, this can push a struggling marriage past the breaking point.
How to Deal with These Challenges
Leaders and their spouses are a special breed. They’re hell-bent on achieving great things in life, and they don’t need anything handed to them.
Sure, this lifestyle can take a toll on your relationship, but Gravel contends that those same qualities can help you take charge of your marriage and your mental health. In other words, you need to apply the traits that make you who you are—your drive, focus, and determination—to build a happy, thriving marriage.
What’s Gravel’s secret? You need to focus on the one thing you can change. Yourself!
“Every relationship survives, and thrives, based on the value you bring to the table. And the only thing you can directly improve in this world is yourself,” he says. “You need to become your best self—improving your mental and emotional state to become more effective in your life, in your business, and in everything you do.”
By working with his clients to optimize their own lives, he has watched stress levels drop and witnessed his clients become happier, calmer, more patient, and more compassionate people. This makes them better listeners and stronger partners.
What About Your partner?
Here’s the best part. Even though Gravel works with couples, he meets with them individually. It also happens that sometimes only one person decides to do the work while the other opts out.
“In my experience, I’ve discovered a very surprising fact. More than 75% of the time, if only one person does the work and significantly betters themselves, it not only saves the relationship. It allows the relationship to flourish.”
Gravel had a client who came to him with a successful business and a struggling marriage. His wife was skeptical, but he went all-in on the work. By his own admission, he saw drastic improvements in every aspect of his life—to his health, his business, and yes, his marriage.
Is it ideal to have both parties work on themselves?
“Absolutely,” says Gravel. “This pretty much guarantees success. But again, the only person you can control is yourself—so get to work on becoming the best, happiest version of yourself, and see what happens.”
Gravel contends that in all likelihood, your transformation will inspire change in your partner. Together, you’ll discover healthier ways to communicate, build better habits, and fall back in love.