‘Career choices’ is the No. 1 conflict among divorced people: Work is an ‘easy escape,’ says therapist

 According to a Forbes Advisor survey, the most common source of conflict among divorced individuals was not money or intimacy but rather work-related issues. Around 46% of respondents identified "career choices" as the primary cause of conflict in their marriages. Clinical psychologist Elizabeth Cohen suggests that the amount of time someone dedicates to work can often reflect their priorities and happiness in the relationship. It can also serve as a convenient distraction for those who are not ready to address the dysfunction within their partnership.

In a society where professional success is highly valued, it can be challenging to ask a partner to work less. The average full-time employee in the United States works 1,811 hours per year, significantly more than workers in countries like Japan or Germany. Additionally, the U.S. does not have legally mandated leave, allowing individuals to work long hours without taking breaks. This cultural mindset often justifies putting relationships on the backburner in favor of working hard. Work can serve as a buffer for deeper issues that individuals may find difficult to address. Requesting that a partner prioritize the relationship over their job can be perceived as needy or immature.

However, according to Cohen, if both individuals in a relationship are genuinely happy, one person working longer hours may not be an issue. On the other hand, in an unhappy couple, increased working hours can indicate underlying problems. The survey also revealed that the main warning sign of a marriage heading toward dissolution is when both parties lose interest in one another.

Conversely, the lack of employment or pursuit of a financially rewarding career can be another source of contention within relationships. Individuals working in creative fields might not experience immediate financial success, which can become problematic as financial obligations such as home ownership or raising children arise. What initially seemed exciting, like having a partner who is an actor, can lose its appeal when they struggle to find work and become depressed over time.

Furthermore, the trajectory of one's career often proves to be unpredictable. Getting married at a median age of 29 means that a person's career path will likely not be a straight, upward line for the next several decades. Individuals who worked long hours in their twenties may experience burnout by their forties, while others may decide to pursue a more demanding profession after being content with working less. Cohen suggests that when individuals marry at a young age, they cannot accurately predict the level of attachment their partner will have to their career in the future.

Overall, Cohen believes that "career choices" is often a way of expressing "I didn't feel like a priority." In relationships, one of the main struggles people face is effectively communicating their needs. It can be intimidating to tell a workaholic partner that you need more attention, just as it is uncomfortable to ask an unemployed or underemployed partner for more financial contribution or personal space. Both conversations are not solely about career choices but involve deeper emotional aspects as well.  

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