Why Healthy Marriages Are Good for the Workplace

By:  Richard Marks, PhD

Now I assume that you are thinking, “Oh no! Not another one of those folks who is going to push marriage down my throat!” Actually, no, I am not. However, I can not ignore that divorce is having devastating effects not just on children but also on the parents. And furthermore, the effects of divorce ripple into the workplace. Recently, a Group Vice-President of a national bank contacted me. He was quite frustrated. One of his employees came to him and told him that he was struggling in the training seminars (which by the way cost BIG money to send this person) he was attending due to the inability to focus because the marriage therapy that this employee and his wife were attending didn’t help and they were seeking a divorce. This VP was bothered and informed me that had he known that this employee was having marital problems, he would not have invested the money for the training but in helping this employee and his wife work things out. This came on the heels of about three other divorces taking place in this VPs division. He then understood why their work productivity dropped. He contacted me because he wants to take a proactive approach to helping his employees and their spouses and or significant others by offering marriage education/relationship skills training in the workplace.

The effects of divorce and marital problems seep into the workplace on a daily basis. The number one loss to employee productivity is family and/or marital issues brought into the workplace. Employers spend thousands of dollars on providing employee trainings on topics such as stress management, communication, etc. but nothing on relationship skills and bonding skills. And as the lines between work and family life increasingly become blurred in today’s workplace, it is my opinion that the time is right for employers to take the lead for making family friendly workplace environments. According to information distributed by the Corporation Resource Council, “Social science research shows that marriage is an important social good that benefits employers, employees and their children. Most people value a happy marriage above satisfying work, large salaries or even good health. Divorce disrupts workplace productivity and is harmful to the people who experience divorce, and to their children. Most divorces involve marital infidelity, much of which arises from workplace affairs. Research shows that people can learn the skills necessary to build and maintain good marriages. Even most bad marriages can become good if couples are willing to persevere. Policies prohibiting a sexually charged workplace can have a significant impact on reducing opportunities for marital infidelity and other sexual relationships.” An employee with a strong, healthy, and intimate marriage is a better, more thorough, more productive employee.

The need to bond to another human being is a biological need just as water, food and air are biological needs. And, if the need to bond is not fulfilled then emotional and relational pain is the result. Biologically speaking, humans will always avoid pain and pursue pleasure. To better understand this dynamic lets take a look at what we call the Relationship Road Map. This road map helps us understand the logic of love and the logic of emotion and quite simply it is that mankind avoids pain and pursues pleasure.

The Relationship Road Map (RRM) is a key concept in the relationship skills program for the workplace known as PAIRS TEAMS developed by Dr. Lori Gordon and our team at the PAIRS Foundation. PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills) is one of the leading relationship skills programs with a long history and is researched based to show its usefulness for strengthening marriages and relationships. The idea behind the RRM is that if a person lives mostly on the pain side of the road map they tend to be unhappy, experience greater distress, distrust, and a greater sense of dis-ease. The symptoms of living on the pain side of the RRM are identified in the graphic above.

However, living life on the pleasure side of the RRM has different results. These individuals tend to be happier, have a greater sense of ease, are more trusting, and are not debilitated by stress, but see stressful situations as opportunities for growth and self-development. The signs of living on the pleasure side of the RRM are indicated in the graphic above. Which side of the RRM would you place yourself? What about your employees? Employees on the Pleasure side of the RRM make more productive employees.

What keeps most people on one side of the RRM as opposed to the other has to do with their relationship skills. And since the key to bonding is confiding, when we experience pain in our relationships we cease to confide in those in which we are in conflict. (What usually happens is that a person will confide in a co-worker of the opposite sex and then they will bond. This is how affairs begin) Skills for confiding are crucial for marital success and relational success. If one’s relationship skills are not healthy and simply don’t work then it will be expected that this employee will spend more time on the pain side of the RRM. One client of mine who had poor communication skills and problem solving skills found himself separated in his own home. Every attempt he made to reconnect with his wife was futile. What he was doing didn’t work. This hurt and pain was taken into the workplace where, over time, he found himself being confronted by his boss for behavior unlike the past. His ability to stay focused and get projects completed on time began to wane. His depression became noted at work. In teaching this client healthy relationship skills that would lead him down the road to pleasure with his wife, he and his wife were able to reconcile. What a wonderful opportunity for an employer to invest in marriage education relationship skills programs like PAIRS TEAMS programs as prevention and education.

Employers can make a significant difference in their “bottom-line” by investing in preventive maintenance of their employees. Think about this for a minute. Millions of dollars a year are spent on the preventive maintenance of copiers, vehicles, machinery, computers and other equipment. Yet, little to none is spent on prevention for employees. When it comes to human factors, we wait till the employee falls of the cliff and send them to an EAP. Marriage education in the workplace or relationship skills education is prevention and education that will go a lot further, and ensure that employees won’t approach the cliff. And for those that do, we already have a successful system in place.