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Double Trouble – How To Navigate Burnout As A Couple

 She's obsessed with helping Women of Color get back their spark so they can go set the world on fire. She is the author of Resilience: 10 Ways to Recover from Burnout and Exhaustion.

Executive Contributor Jolinda Johnson

In an era where professional achievements often take precedence over personal well-being, burnout has emerged as a growing epidemic. But what happens when burnout strikes both you and your significant other? This article delves into the heart of mutual burnout, exploring its symptoms, consequences, and the pathways to reconnection.

Stressed young couple.

“Maybe it’s time to break up.”

“What are you talking about? You’re the love of my life.”

“I don’t doubt that you love me, Alex, but we can’t keep going on like this.”

Alex and Cameron are two high achieving professionals: overworked, overstretched, and at an unexpected crossroads in their relationship. As a finance manager at an investment firm, Alex’s days are marked by deadlines, meetings, and constant demands. Cameron, meanwhile, is an art director at an ad agency, where creativity meets a relentless pressure to perform.

Lately, Alex arrives at work feeling negative about everything. The thrill of strategizing and closing deals has been fading for a while. And even with all of the external markers of success, the long hours and high stakes have recently led to a kind of exhaustion that seems impossible to shake.

Cameron feels like the joy of the creative process has been overshadowed by the need to produce and the desire to keep surpassing everyone’s expectations. For the past few quarters, each project has ended less with a sense of achievement, and more with a relief that it's over.

By the time Alex and Cameron return home and reunite as a couple at the end of the day, stress is running high and energy is running low.

Weekends, which should bring them closer, are instead filled with the inevitable errands, social obligations, and chores. They used to share a bottle of wine on a Friday, but by Monday they’ve inevitably gone through a minimum of three. Just like their drinking, their arguments have also been escalating, with attempts at conversation quickly spiraling into petty disputes.

Things are getting more and more desperate, but they’re not on the brink of a break up. They’re both on the brink of burnout.

What Is burnout?

Burnout is more than just feeling tired. It’s a psychological condition resulting from chronic stress without recovery, and it’s on the rise worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, it’s characterized by: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; feelings of negativity related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy (i.e. less feeling of accomplishment).

Recent studies suggest that more than eight out of 10 employees are at risk of burnout in 2024. While traditionally associated with occupational stress, burnout symptoms can permeate all aspects of life, affecting personal relationships, health, and overall well-being.

The challenge of mutual burnout in relationships

The stress and exhaustion that characterize burnout can lead to a vicious cycle of negativity, where partners eventually lack the emotional bandwidth to support each other, deepening the sense of frustration and isolation. Not surprisingly, couples experiencing high levels of stress report lower satisfaction in their relationships.

When both people in a relationship are struggling with burnout, some of the key challenges include:

  • A noticeable decline in patience: One or both partners may find themselves with a shorter fuse, getting irritated or angry over minor issues that wouldn't have bothered them before.

  • Communication breakdowns: High stress levels can lead to more frequent misunderstandings and conflicts, as partners may be more irritable or less inclined to communicate effectively.

  • Reduced empathy: There might be a decreased ability to understand or share the feelings of the other.

  • Diminished interest in shared activities: Activities that once brought joy and connection to the relationship may no longer interest one or both partners, leading to a decrease in quality time spent together.

Pathways to reconnection

In the face of mutual burnout, the significance of self-care cannot be overstated. Your commitment to managing stress not only enhances your individual well-being but also equips you to be a more present and supportive partner. That being said, there are also specific strategies that you can engage in as a team:

  • Set Collective Goals: This involves sitting down together and establishing shared objectives, both in the short and long term. These could range from financial targets, lifestyle changes, to personal growth aspirations. The process helps align your efforts and ensures you are working towards common ends, fostering a sense of teamwork and shared purpose.

    • What it involves: Regular planning sessions, creating a vision board together, and periodic reviews of your goals to adjust as needed.

  • Reallocate Responsibilities: Often, burnout arises from an unequal distribution of tasks or one partner taking on too much. By reassessing who does what, you can ensure a fairer division of labor that plays to each partner's strengths and preferences.

    • What it involves: Making a list of daily, weekly, and monthly responsibilities, discussing each partner's current pressures, and agreeing on a more balanced distribution of tasks.

  • Practice Open Communication: This strategy is crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship, especially during times of stress. It involves setting aside time to regularly check in with each other about how you're feeling, what's stressing you out, and how you can support each other.

    • What it involves: Establishing a weekly "check-in" ritual where you can talk about your feelings, stressors, and needs without distractions. It's important to listen actively and empathetically, without immediately jumping to solutions.

  • Explore New Activities Together: Discover activities or hobbies that you both enjoy or have always wanted to try. This could be anything from dancing classes, hiking, to volunteer work. Engaging in these activities together can provide a much-needed break from the routine and bring joy and excitement back into your relationship.

    • What it involves: Brainstorming sessions to list activities you're both interested in, scheduling regular dates or times to explore these activities, and being open to trying new things even if they push you slightly out of your comfort zones.

Experiencing burnout as a couple undoubtedly presents challenges, but also opportunities for strengthening the bond that you share. With the right approach, it can be a journey of mutual growth that ultimately leads to renewed commitment and love.

Have you and your partner faced burnout together? What strategies helped you through?


Jolinda Johnson, Resilience Coach

Jolinda Johnson (M.S.Ed., CHHC) is an award-winning Certified Life Coach and Holistic Health Coach who specializes in burnout. She's obsessed with helping Women of Color get back their spark so they can go set the world on fire. She is the author of Resilience: 10 Ways to Recover from Burnout and Exhaustion, has been featured on the cover of Inspired Coach magazine, and was the recipient of the Beautiful You Coaching Academy CEO Shine Award in 2021. She’s also taken to the stage as a corporate speaker and can be found on the popular websites Healthline and Yahoo Finance.



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