While there is some terrific advice on how to maintain a romantic relationship during law school, what about life after the bar exam?
My husband and I got married about 10 weeks before law school started for me. Has it been easy? No, we work at it every day. But it’s incredibly worth it.
Of course, general relationship tips can work for lawyers, but we are also a rare breed. Those who we share our lives with are uniquely positioned to see us at our best and worst as lawyers and individuals. When your most important relationship in life starts to sour, it can really impair you professionally as well.
When I coach lawyers individually or do trainings in law firms, it’s amazing the number of people who are extremely concerned about the status of their romantic relationships, but don’t know how or what to change. The legal profession is a demanding one, and, unless we take conscious action toward maintaining and feeding our most intimate relationships, they run the risk of withering and dying as we pound away trying to make partner.
Here’s the most frequent advice I give to my clients and lawyer friends:
1. Communicate frequently and honestly
While we are often strong communicators in the courtroom or negotiation tables, we aren’t always the best at communicating with those we care about the most. A few tips:
- Be honest/vulnerable, even when it’s hard. (i.e. “I’m really nervous about this case.” Or “I feel like you don’t understand how tough this is for me.”)
- Avoid blaming and criticizing by saying things like “You’re always doing ABC” or “You never do XYZ.” Rather, talk about how those actions impact you and make you feel.
- Speak words of appreciation often like “It means a lot to me when you do that.”
- Become a better listener. We lawyers love to talk, but in relationships, we can all stand to zip our lips and do more listening.
2. Get and keep your priorities straight
This is tough, as we are overwhelmed, over-busy, over-stressed, and over-worked. Yet if you really want your relationship to last, you must make sure your partner knows that they are vitally important to you. No one wants to play second fiddle to your career. You may think that your loved one knows where they rank in your priorities, but maybe their perception of that rank is very different than yours because they are on the receiving end of your words and actions (or lack thereof.)
3. Quality vs. quantity time
There are only so many hours in the day, so when you have time with your sweetie, make it count. Hours spent zoning out in front of the TV together not talking or checking your email from under the table while on a date don’t really count toward “quality time.” Create as much time as possible with your loved one, and, when you have it, focus on the person in front of you.
4. Get help if you need it
Relationships are tough. We aren’t born knowing how to be terrific life partners, and being a lawyer only makes it more challenging due to the time, mental, and emotional tolls our career takes on us. If the point comes where you feel you need some outside help (such as a marriage counselor,) do it! Don’t let pride or ego get in the way. Your relationship hangs in the balance, so get the help you need. Now.
5. Practice empathy
It’s not all about you, all of the time. Chances are good that your partner has a professional career as well or that they have important things going on in their own lives. They may be experiencing some challenges, too, so make sure they feel supported.
6. Take care of yourself
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in work that we neglect ourselves. We don’t make the time for exercise, and we forget to think about what we are eating. Needless to say, we gain weight, get out of shape, start to lack energy and focus, and generally become unhappy about the way we look and feel.
Likewise, if you don’t sleep enough and live on coffee and Red Bull, you’re likely not going to be the most pleasant person to be around, at work or at home. So take better care of yourself so you can be in better shape to take care of your relationships.
7. Laugh it off; Live it up!
Relationships aren’t easy, but (if we are in one) they are critical to our feelings of satisfaction, meaning, and happiness. Laugh at yourself and with one another. Go on dates. Find fun hobbies you can share, like dancing, hiking, or even trying new restaurants or wines. Whatever it is, just enjoy it and enjoy being together. Work can feel like it is sucking the life out of you sometimes, so allow your relationship to be a place where you have fun and recharge. Be sure you are helping your loved one do the same.
How do you keep your romantic relationships alive?