The New York Times has a column called “Unhitched,” in which a divorced couple is interviewed about their marriage, what led to their split, and what life is like now.
The most recent installment features a couple who started a bakery together and subsequently divorced. One part of the interview jumped out at me.
The ex-husband said, “The demands of running a bakery are extreme. If we had opened a children’s shoe store — another idea we had — there’s a chance we might be married today.” The ex-wife agreed.
The couple explained that the ex-wife’s mother would help out with their kids so they could both work long hours. The ex-husband would start work at 1 a.m. and work up to 14-hour days.
Still, I was surprised by the ex-husband’s admission that the marriage might have survived if they’d worked in a different industry. The marriage didn’t end because they fell out of love, or grew apart — it ended at least partly because of how they handled daily work stress.
But the bakers are hardly the only couple to see stress take a toll on their marriage.
A 2009 paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that spouses who experienced greater stress outside of the relationship — e.g. related to work or friendships — perceived their relationship more negatively. Results showed they were less close with their partners, less comfortable depending on them, and more anxious about the relationship.
Another paper, published 2007 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, looked at the factors that led to divorce in European couples and found that daily stress (not necessarily specific to work) was an important reason behind the decision to divorce in many couples.
Perhaps surprisingly, the authors found that “participants reported the accumulation of everyday stress as a more relevant divorce trigger than falling in love with another person, partner violence, or even a specific major life event that would have instigated changes in their private life.”
It’s always hard to pinpoint the specific reason(s) why a couple divorced, and we can’t speculate beyond what the bakers said in their interview with The Times. Still, it’s worth being aware of the way outside stress can spill over into a relationship.
That could, but doesn’t necessarily, mean choosing a different, less stressful career. Instead, it’s important to recognize when you’re frazzled and when it’s starting to affect your relationship. From there, you can take steps to reduce the stress, either individually or together.
Originally published at www.businessinsider.com
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