Being in a relationship with a high-achieving woman can be ... well, rather challenging. In fact, a lot of the high-achieving women I've worked with over the years have had their fair share of relationship problems, often because of the hectic and overscheduled lives most of them lead, but also for the same reasons many people have relationship problems--poor communication and poor fit between the partners.
So I thought I'd share some tips from a few relationship experts on what helps high-achieving relationships soar, and the kind of partners who are more likely to make good flight partners.
High-Altitude Advice for High-Achieving Relationships
According to John Gottman, a psychologist who has been studying marriage and divorce for over 35 years, couples who have successful relationships are more likely to accentuate the positive (are more accepting of each other's feelings and ideas even if they don't exactly match their own). He also says that complaints, such as "She doesn't appreciate how hard I work," or "He doesn't understand that it's hard to focus on him when I'm dealing with everything I have to do at work and home," are common among couples juggling demanding jobs and other responsibilities. "There really are just twenty-four hours in each day," writes Gottman in Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, "and partners are bound to disagree over the way each person spends time. Since such conflicts aren't likely to disappear, the couple's challenge is to learn to live with their differences without harming the relationship."
One way he suggests that couples do this is by complaining without criticizing. It's perfectly normal for couples to have legitimate complaints from time to time, but the way in which these complaints are expressed is critical to the success or failure of a relationship. According to Gottman, partners who are able to express their needs without criticizing each other's character or personality are more likely to have happier and healthier relationships.
So what's the difference between a complaint and a criticism?
1) Complaints focus on the present whereas criticisms wallow in the past.
2) Complaints focus on your partner's actions and how those actions make you feel whereas criticisms attack your partner's personality or character.
3) Complaints are specific, case-specific, and use "I feel" or "I think" often whereas criticisms are vague, use "always" or "never" a lot, and often require your partner to guess what you're thinking or feeling.
Criticism: You're the most selfish, self-centered person I've ever met. You stood me up for lunch so you could help John close his deal? You're always bailing him out. Don't you think you work enough? You seem to love your job more than you love me!
Complaint: We had this lunch planned for weeks, and I'm upset that you canceled it at the last minute to help John handle something that I think he should have been able to handle on his own. It makes me feel like you care more about John and your job than you care about me.
Finally, Gottman says that in today's dual-career society, men in particular have to be sensitive to changing roles and changing dynamics in relationships. If men aren't willing to accept influence and input from their partners, there is little chance for a successful relationship. In fact, in an interview for Harvard Business Review, Gottman said, "When a man is not willing to share power with his wife, our research shows, there is an 81% chance that the marriage will self-destruct." He goes on to say, "... women are now being educated and empowered to achieve more economically, politically, and socially. But our culture still teaches women that when they assert themselves they are being pushy or obnoxious. Women who get angry when their goals are blocked are labeled as bitchy or rude. If men want to have a good relationship with women, they have to be sensitive to the changing dimensions of power and control in the Western world."
Good Flight Partners for High-Achieving Women
So what kind of partners are more likely to have successful relationships with high-achieving women? Author Randi Minetor says it's partners who value home, family, and personal achievement more than they value their high earnings. In her book, Breadwinner Wives and the Men They Marry, Minetor shares three traits common to men who are happy with their high-achieving wives: 1) their primary motivators are not power or money; 2) they don't feel a need to compete with their wives, but instead measure themselves against their own accomplishments; and 3) they are more invested in the lives of their wives and children than in a high salary. She goes on to say that although it takes a certain kind of man to be content with a high-achieving woman, there clearly are many who find successful women attractive and are ready to share happy relationships with them.
As you can see, it's clearly not the case that high-achieving women are destined for troubled relationships. As in all relationships, it seems to be more a matter of mutual respect, a healthy communication style, and finding the right fit for your amazing and unique qualities.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
© 2011 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved
Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of the newly released book, High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).