Your marriage or your job?
Published 05/01/2010 | 05:00
Having a dancer as your significant other might seem like a match made in heaven, says Susan Daly, but it's more likely to be a step in the wrong direction.
WHILE SOME folks might dream of marrying a dancer, it turns out it could simply be an invitation to divorce.
Personal relationships can take a hit when one partner is married to the job. New research, however, shows it is not just how much work you do, but what work you do that is important to your marriage's chance of survival.
According to a paper from the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, entertainers, those in high-stress jobs, and people working in the caring professions have the highest rates of divorce and separation.
Dr Michael Aamodt, an American industrial psychologist at Radford University in Virginia, made his findings after he set out initially to establish if police officers suffered a particularly high rate of marital breakdown.
It emerged that police officers were not the most likely to separate. Some 16pc of their marriages fell apart, about the same rate as that experienced by writers and travel agents; although slightly above that of teachers.
Dancers, however, had a 43pc chance of marital breakdown. We already know that when they gravitate towards a superstar spouse (entertainers have an almost 29pc chance of a split), it's disastrous. Think of Jennifer Lopez and her eight-month marriage to backing dancer Cris Judd, or Britney Spears and her two years with dancer Kevin Federline. Marilyn Manson's marriage to burlesque dancer Dita von Teese ended two years after they married in a castle in Co Tipperary. Country-pop star LeAnn Rimes has announced that her marriage to dancer Dean Sheremet is over.
But bartenders and massage therapists are not far behind, second in the split stakes at 38pc.
Next are many of the caring professions -- nursing, psychiatric and home health aides -- with almost 29pc of their marriages dissolving.
As the fundamental nature of these jobs doesn't change from country to country, one can imagine that they bear some relevance here. At last count of the Irish population two years ago, one in four married couples had separated so all of those professions listed above are above the average.
We can assume we know why entertainers, performers and sports stars have such a high rate of divorce (at 28.49pc) when we think of the lifestyle that takes them frequently from home. We may think of Tiger Woods and the raft of extramarital allegations levelled against him, many of which reportedly occurring when he was away on the golf circuit.
Last year, pop star Pink blamed the lack of quality time together for her split with her husband Carey Hart.
"It's such a cliché when you talk about a Hollywood divorce, but the scheduling did get very hard," she said. "I got tired of being the Schedule Woman."
But it might seem surprising that those in the caring professions should experience a rate of separation similar to a pop star.
It's no shock to Lisa O'Hara, a counsellor with 15 years' experience at the Marriage and Relationship Counselling Service. "People in those professions tend to have caring natures and it is natural for them to be the nurturers in their own relationships," she says. "They give and give -- but they may not get much in return."
When a marriage loses its initial passion, and even many years down the road, that unconscious resentment that has been building up within the nurturer can explode.
"In women in their 40s also, oestrogen levels drop, the hormone that makes them so nurturing," says O'Hara. "They might sit back and think, the kids are getting older and moving on -- what am I doing here now? I'm tired of giving so much and not getting back."
Tim Dunne, an organisational (work) psychologist, also says this finding is borne out by his personal clinical observation.
"I have found that many people who enter the caring professions can have a lot of unresolved personal issues -- they are often co-dependent people who are working out their own solutions. They can burn out very quickly in their personal relationships."
At the other end of the scale, chief executives have a relatively low level of marital discord - at 10pc. Again, not so surprising, says Dunne. The perception is that the higher up you go in the industry food chain, the more stress you expect to find.
"But research has found that in fact those at the lower end; telephonists, people on production lines, suffer higher levels of stress than CEOs," he says. This is borne out by Dr Aamodt's research which finds baggage porters and telemarketers lolling at the 28pc level of break-up. Waiting and cleaning staff are only a percentage point or two below that.
"The key aspect is that they have very little control over their work flow whereas CEOs would have a huge amount of control about how, when and where they work."
O'Hara points out the possibility that the foundations of a marriage to a CEO might be exactly the same as those that anchor marriage to a farmer (they suffer a break-up rate of just under 10pc).
"The expectations are clearly set out at the beginning," she says.
"Chief executives are very likely to be the go-get-em type even when they meet their partners in their 20s and the couple perhaps clearly define their roles at that point. I provide, and you nurture.
"The same with farmers -- they often marry people who have an understanding of the lifestyle and know what to expect so there is less tension later."
That's not to say that there can't be problems later in even these apparently stable unions.
Change, says Dunne, is often the catalyst for separation -- for example a chief executive's wife may find herself in her middle-age, children reared, wanting to do something more with her life and that might clash with her husband's expectations of her role.
O'Hara has also counselled some agricultural workers "who married townies, so to speak".
The relationship is fine until they marry or move in together and many of the more trying aspects of a farmer's life -- long hours, few holidays, mucking in together -- come as a surprise to a partner who is not aware of the culture.
"What people get caught up in," says Dunne, "is the Hollywood myth that a marriage is just two people against the world, when in fact you are buying into another family, an extended kinship, a culture. If you come from very different backgrounds, that (can) be a source of conflict rather than stabilisation."
There is some good news though. If you are a judge, a vet or a funeral director, you only have an 11-12pc chance of getting divorced at some stage. Pharmacists and dentists join farmers with some of the lowest levels of marital breakdown of all.
And, most importantly in this age of unsociable working hours, Dr Aamodt found that shift work, overtime and weekend work had no real effect on a marriage's chance of survival.
O'Hara says she has found that couples who do not work strictly 9-to-5 can actually be skilled at really finding quality time with each other.
"There is time apart but a couple for whom this variable schedule is a given seem to adapt to negotiate and prioritise time for each other.
"You'll often see it with guards and nurses: they will actually schedule time in for each other on a certain day so that it's not just collapsing in front of the TV and not talking as you might if you know you will see your partner at home every night.
"And if they know there will be two weeks where they won't see each other much, they tend to be great texters! It's all about not feeling disconnected."
The Marriage and Relationship Counselling Service are at www.mrcs.ie or lo-call 1890 380 380 l Tim Dunne's publications and contact details are at www.carlowpsychology.ie