The Work-Love Triangle

The Work-Love Triangle

Katina Paron recalls the affair responsible for creating tension in her relationship with longtime boyfriend Will Turnage.

Instead of coming in late, flushed and reeking of cologne after a long dinner with "friends," Paron was hardly ever coming home at all. And when she found time to be with Turnage, she had another relationship on her mind: The one with her job.

The trouble started in June 2001 when Children's Express, the New York City-based nonprofit Paron worked for, went under. Paron made it her mission to resurrect the organization, a task that turned out to be overwhelming.

"That's when things really got crazy in terms of the million-hour days," she says. "I've always worked a lot anyways, but at that point it was really investing (my) lifestyle into what I do. Every brain cell in my head was focused on the organization."

Although Paron says her work never seriously threatened her relationship, life with Turnage became strained as she poured all her energy into the nonprofit. It didn't help that Turnage also volunteers in Paron's organization.

"It was hard in terms of setting boundaries," recalls Paron.

Turnage says he did his best to stay supportive as Paron immersed herself in her work, but he eventually encouraged her to set some limits. "It never got to the point that there was a big huge blowup about it, but it was always sort of just on the horizon," he says.

Signs of Stress

Such conflicts are all too common among ambitious professionals, says sex educator Dr. Laura Berman.

"I kind of joke that sleep is the sex of this century," she says. "Sleep often takes precedence over sex, because we're working so hard." A certified therapist by day, Berman also counsels people nationwide about problems like this on "Berman and Berman," the sex and relationship advice show she cohosts with her sister, Dr. Jennifer Berman, on the Discovery Health channel. The siblings also cowrote the book For Women Only.

"It's very common, and it's something that's very easy to slip into and not notice the effects it's having -- not only on your personal mental health but on your relationship -- until the stress really starts to show and crisis arises," she says.

Warning signs of a problem include loss of libido, trouble sleeping, moodiness and lack of nonwork-related conversation.

So what's a couple to do when one party submits to the advances of an attractive, exciting career?

"The first thing is to acknowledge it and talk about it," Berman says. "Sometimes it's something you can do yourself by instituting one or two evenings a week where you put the computer away, leave the kids with the baby-sitter, and just go out and spend time not discussing either."

Still, since couples often don't realize their relationships are suffering until a deep rift has developed, professional counseling shouldn't be ruled out as an option, she says.

Berman notes that if one partner in a relationship is constantly waiting at home for the other to return from the office, it's important for the one at home to pursue his own hobbies and friendships outside the relationship so resentment doesn't build.

Emotional Rescue

Turnage and Paron are two who have successfully been through it. Their relationship is intact and Paron's nonprofit has reemerged as Children's PressLine, where she is now program director. The couple offers suggestions of their own for work-besieged couples.

"A lot of (what helps) is when you do see each other, not only focusing on work," Paron says. "Hanging out with friends a lot helps."

The pair also set up occasional date nights when they made specific plans for more intimate time away from the office.

"The date nights worked well," says Turnage. "We're also big fans of weekend getaways," which helped take their jobs out of sight and out of mind. But driving a thousand miles won't help you unless you remember one key detail, he says: "Leave the cell phone behind."