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work and relationships

Early in the summer, I received an opportunity to move to San Francisco for three months. Thinking that it would be a great professional move, I spent a week working out an elaborate scheme, where the kids moved back and forth between my spouse and me, as his work obligations prohibited him from joining me full-time.

Fortunately, the opportunity fell through, since despite my best intentions the plan felt messy and problematic for everyone, especially us as a couple. However, it did spark a discussion about the role our careers play in our marriage. Like many others, we support each other professionally and take nearly equal care of the kids, but those competing demands can squeeze a relationship out. What's left can feel like a strangely polyamorous relationship between a couple and their smartphones. It's something to think about next time you sneak a peek at your BlackBerry during an intimate dinner.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg once famously said that for women: "The most important career choice is who you marry." That sentiment superficially glosses over the thousands of decisions a couple makes throughout their lives that affect not only their career but also their relationship, and also continues to place the onus on women to maintain a successful relationship alongside a promising career. But that statement does younger women a disservice by glibly suggesting if they find the right partner, career bliss will follow.

Here is an average work day for many women I know: Get up early, prep the kids for school, spend a full day at work, rush home to spend a bit of time with the kids over dinner and once everyone's asleep, sit down to work for a couple more hours before collapsing into bed.

Next day, hit repeat.

And when those golden years arrive – after the kids move out and your professional lives plateau – you inevitably face that moment where you look at each other and say: Who are you?

In the discussion about work-life balance, relationships with your significant other get short shrift. According to a recent Ipsos-Reid/Randstad survey, three in five female executives in Canada find managing work and family their most challenging obstacle.

A recent Harvard Business Review post on the topic looked at the impact careers can have on romance and intimacy. It referenced a senior female executive who provocatively explained to a room full of the company's upper echelon of executives discussing travel demands that her spouse wanted sex once a week and it would happen with or without her.

"The smoking gun in the work-life debate is women's relationships with their partner – not so much their need or ability to care for their children," said Lisa Martin, a Vancouver-based women's leadership coach and author. Ms. Martin summarizes the relationships of women she coaches between the ones with "me" partners and "we partners." She sees those with a "me partner" – meaning his priorities trump yours – as facing a professional impediment.

But rather than acquiesce to a spouse's competing professional demands, many women are just saying 'no' to marriage and 'yes' to their careers. As recent statistics show, the trend of getting married is on the wane: Less than half of Americans are now married and new marriages declined by 5 per cent between 2009 and 2010.

Statistics Canada no longer even tracks marriage and divorce rates, which perhaps indicates just how much the nature of family relationships has changed. While a variety of social and economical variables contribute to these trends, it may be that for some women, when the battle between work and relationships rages, work sometimes wins. Rather than regard that as a failure on the work-life balance sheet, I think we need to commend women who feel personally and professionally satisfied by their choices.

"My focus and drive has always been about the company," explained Anna Moscone, partner and chief operating officer of Moscone Tile and Marble. She recounted how her second husband practically needed to make an appointment to see her. The marriage lasted two years but she accepts that it would have been difficult to reach her professional height had she stayed married.

"In retrospect, the company has been my pillar and strength and it's the one thing I can rely on … It has a persona all its own, and has been faithful, constant and provides a continual source of satisfaction," Ms. Moscone said. Her daughter also works with her at the family-owned and run company.

Others, still, feel it's important to reach for all your personal and professional ambitions – even if you risk failing.

"Can we realistically divide our time and effort into so many endeavours? In all honesty, I don't think so," said Andrea Gonsalves, a single mother and senior communications co-ordinator for a municipality in Ontario. "If some areas of my life aren't considered as successful as they could have been, I'm okay with that."

Follow Leah Eichler on Twitter: @LeahEichlerOpens in a new window

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