Happy Employees Make Happy Spouses

There are lots of reasons why loving your job makes you a happier person. But did you know that job satisfaction also makes your marriage happier?

That’s one of the surprising findings from my landmark Early Years of Marriage (EYM) project, the NIH-funded study that has been following and observing hundreds of married couples for nearly a quarter century. The longest-running marriage study ever conducted, EYM set out to discover what makes marriages happy, strong, and long lasting–and what breaks them apart.

While other research has shown that job dissatisfaction can lead to unhappiness at home, this new finding, which correlates job happiness with marital happiness, is the first research to emphasize the positive spillover from work to marriage.

It makes sense that if you’re happier at work, you’re more likely to be happy at home too. When we asked the working married couples in my EYM study about their work life, we found that those who felt appreciated, challenged, and energized by their jobs were also more likely to report being very happy in their marriages. These happy employees had good workplace relationships, were more or less content with their pay, felt motivated to develop new skills, and were productive, success-oriented, high-achievers.

Sounds like someone you’d like to be married to, right?

Here are four ways to put my finding into practice so you can enjoy both a happy marriage and a happy work life.

Strategy #1: Seek support and help from your spouse.

If you’re having a problem at work, solicit advice from your spouse. Research shows that the “need for assistance” is one of the three basic needs of all people in relationships (the other two are intimacy and feeling valued). Seeking solutions to work-related problems together strengthens the marital bond and the feeling that “we’re in this together.” Moreover, because your spouse knows you so well, he or she is likely to come up with great insights and valuable feedback that you can use to improve your job situation.

Strategy #2: “Grow” in your job.

A recent large-scale study in Harvard Business Review found that the number-one factor that keeps employees happy and motivated in their job is “progress.” When workers feel they’re making headway in their jobs, or are receiving support that helps them overcome obstacles, they feel upbeat and motivated to succeed. Workers who are fulfilled and stimulated during the workday tend to be happier individuals, and much of that happiness gets transferred to their spouse at the end of the day.

Strategy #3: Practice behaviors that relieve stress.

Numerous studies have documented a link between workplace stress and poor health. The two most common workplace stressors are feeling as if you haven’t been heard or supported, and negative interpersonal work relationships. Find ways to express your needs, ask for assistance, and manage conflict at your job. Good health, lots of energy, and an upbeat attitude are sexy and attractive to your partner. You won’t have these attributes if your job causes you to gain weight, lose sleep, be chronically exhausted, and develop stress-related symptoms like bad gut and hypertension.

Strategy #4: Share your work life.

My study found that the happiest marriages were ones where partners felt their spouse regularly disclosed information about his or her life, and did not keep secrets–even details from work that might seem “boring.” The study also found that making communal collaborative concerns a priority over private psychological concerns is a determining factor in how well couples are able to blend lives and achieve happiness. Finally, when your work life becomes interwoven into your home life, it promotes a satisfying feeling of work-life balance and makes you happier overall.

The take-away? Work on boosting job satisfaction. It will help you live happily with your spouse.

Terri Orbuch PhD, known as The Love Doctor, is the project director of the landmark, NIH-funded Early Years of Marriage Project, the longest-running study of married couples ever conducted, which has been following hundreds of married couples since 1986. She is a research professor at the Institute for Social Research at University of Michigan, and a professor at Oakland University. Her new book is 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great (Random House).