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To Get Ahead at Work, Work on Your Relationship

The "marriage premium" is no coincidence.

Key points

  • Better romantic relationships at home relate to more career success, including being a better leader.
  • When workers have better relationships they're more productive and suffer less burnout.
  • Building relationship knowledge and skills offers substantial return on investment, career included.
Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
Career success starts at home. How is your relationship helping (or hurting) your career?
Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Everyone knows that relationships are important. The need to belong is a fundamental human experience.

Relationships are a vital ingredient in happiness. Naval Ravikant summarizes this in the following equation:

Happiness = Health + Wealth + Good Relationships

Perhaps in recognition of this, we readily invest in building our wealth, mainly through our jobs and careers. We also dedicate time each day to optimizing our health by watching what we eat and exercising. What do we do about our relationships? Not enough.

Too often, our relationships are an afterthought. Life success first, relationship success second.

This approach is exactly backward. In reality, relationships are the one decision that impacts every other area of life, including career success.

When you get your love life right, success follows. As future Hall of Fame football player Jason Kelce said in his retirement speech, "I think it's no coincidence I have enjoyed my best years of my career with Kylie by my side.”

The research agrees.

Relationships Help Your Career

In a Harvard Business Review article entitled, “To Be Happier at Work, Invest More in Your Relationships” Rob Crow states, "In interviews with a diverse group of 160 people from a variety of industries and positions, my colleagues and I found again and again that flourishing in your career depends as much on your relationships, both in and out of work, as it does on your job itself."

Research finds that when people report lower marital satisfaction, they are more likely to indicate family life negatively impacting work (Kinnunen et al., 2006). Similarly, a study of politicians found that career success wasn’t related to how long a couple had been together (Kornblum et al., 2001). However, what mattered was the quality of the couple’s connection. Those who felt closer to their relationship partner were more successful in attaining their career goals. There are specific benefits that are likely making career attainment possible.

Relationships Enhance Productivity and Leadership

Among men, there is a marriage premium where married men earn more money than non-married men (McDonald, 2020). When research explored the reason for this, they found it was primarily due to selection (i.e., more productive men choose to get married), but also that marriage encourages men to be more productive at work.

Good relationships also positively affect leadership qualities. Leaders received better ratings (i.e., less passive and less abusive) from their subordinates when those leaders reported less conflict in their romantic relationships (Dionisi & Barling, 2019).

Relationships Reduce Burnout

We all recognize how experiencing work-related burnout can harm relationships. It’s a serious and common problem. A Deloitte work stress survey found that 83 percent of the 1,000 respondents said work burnout had a negative impact on their personal relationships.

However, high-quality relationships can help counteract workplace burnout. For example, a study of 300 full-time employed women in dual-earner couples found that those who reported high-quality marriages experienced less negative impact on their mental health when their job wasn’t going well (Barnett, 1994). They found similar benefits for husbands.

Similarly, people who reported higher relationship satisfaction were less likely to report work-related burnout (Gharibi et al., 2020). Another study reported that married men were less likely to report workplace burnout, and as their marital satisfaction increased, burnout likelihood decreased. Finally, when people reported having higher-quality romantic relationships, they experienced less emotional exhaustion at work (Özdemir & Demir, 2019).

Take Home

Relationships matter. As one group of researchers concluded, “Individuals should gain their partner's support for their career goals…supervisors can facilitate employees' career development by enabling them to capitalize on home-domain resources such as their romantic relationship.” (Kornblum et al., 2021).

Companies must realize that helping their employees' romantic relationships can have work-related benefits. Some colleges are already catching on to relationship’s impact on careers. At Northeastern University, business and computer science students take a sex and relationship course that “…goes deep on the dynamics of romance, family and close friendships.” They report, "Students have found it invaluable for their careers, too.”

Having a fulfilling relationship isn’t something that just happens. It's a skill you learn. Building relationship knowledge and skills offers incredible return on investment for many areas of life, including careers.

Facebook image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock


Barnett, R. C. (1994). Home-to-work spillover revisited: A study of full-time employed women in dual-earner couples. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56(3), 647–656.

Dionisi, A. M., & Barling, J. (2019). What happens at home does not stay at home: The role of family and romantic partner conflict in destructive leadership. Stress and Health, 35(3), 304–317.

Gharibi, K.P., Panteha, F., & Gabriel, N. (2020, June). Assessing the Impact of Burnout Syndrome on Romantic Relationship Satisfaction: The Dark Side of Workplace Bullying," South East European Journal of Economics and Business, Sciendo, 15(1), pages 44-55.

Kinnunen, U., Feldt, T., Geurts, S., & Pulkkinen, L. (2006). Types of work-family interface: Well-being correlates of negative and positive spillover between work and family. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 47(2), 149–162.

Kornblum, A., Unger, D., & Grote, G. (2021). How romantic relationships affect individual career goal attainment: A transactive goal dynamics perspective. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 125, Article 103523.

McDonald, P. (2020). The male marriage premium: Selection, productivity, or employer preferences? Journal of Marriage and Family, 82(5), 1553–1570.

Özdemir, B., & Demir, A. (2019). Romantic relationship satisfaction, age, course load, satisfaction with income and parental status as predictors of instructors’ burnout: Evidence from a correlational study. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues, 38(5), 1083–1098.

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