How can lawyers navigate personal relationships?

Written by: Dr Catherine Sykes
Edited by: Aoife Maguire

It cannot be denied that a career in law is challenging. Unfortunately, the demands faced by lawyers do not only apply to their work life, but can also extend to their personal lives, impacting their personal relationships. Revered chartered psychologist Dr Catherine Sykes examines how lawyers can maintain both their careers and personal relationships.



How can lawyers balance their demanding careers with maintaining healthy personal relationships?


Balancing the demands of a rigorous legal career while also nurturing fulfilling personal relationships can pose significant challenges. However, once achieved, it can greatly enhance both performance and overall well-being. It is crucial to clarify that achieving balance doesn't necessarily mean splitting time evenly between work and personal life; rather, it involves dedicating the necessary time and mental energy to nurture meaningful relationships, as they require consistent care and attention. This entails the capacity to establish and uphold boundaries, as well as the ability to switch off from work in order to fully engage in personal connections. Given the often demanding and unpredictable nature of legal work, setting boundaries and disconnecting can seem daunting, but it is certainly achievable.


An "all or nothing" mindset can at times, hinder efforts to prioritise relationships. Instead of dismissing or neglecting our relationships because we are busy, we should consider how we can make time for meaningful connections. Even small moments of genuine presence can strengthen relationships more effectively than spending long periods of time together, without any meaningful interaction. It's important to recognise and prioritise moments when we can devote essential and non-negotiable time to our relationships. This can be something as simple as making tea or coffee for your partner in the morning, and wishing them a good day. When done with genuine intention of giving and a spirit of giving, even these seemingly minor gestures have the power to nourish and enrich our relationships. On the other hand, when performed without thought and seen as just another task to check off, or a burden, these gestures lose their ability to positively influence relationship dynamics.


What are the common challenges lawyers face in their marriages or romantic partnerships?


The irregular and extended work hours common among lawyers often put a strain on relationships. However, attributing this strain solely to long work hours does not paint the full picture. How couples communicate, negotiate, and compromise in managing these hours often determines whether they can survive the strain.


For lawyers, balancing their professional roles with their personal ones, as a partner or parent can be a difficult challenge. This can lead them to maintain a "lawyer" mindset even at home, potentially causing power imbalances or a feeling of competition with their partner. Alternatively, feeling guilt over long hours might lead to over-permissiveness and unrealistic promises, locking them into unproductive patterns of conflict.


After a stressful day, it's tough for lawyers to unwind and fully engage with their partners and children, leading to feelings of devaluation and hurt among loved ones. This can escalate tensions at home, making it feel like a place to avoid. Over time, justifications for staying away increase, diminishing opportunities for connection and presence, ultimately creating a significant emotional distance.


Tips for lawyers to manage stress and maintain strong family relationships?


I recommend that lawyers reflect on the various roles they fulfil in their lives and the benefits linked to each role. They should ask themselves "What purpose do I serve in these alternative roles?"


I collaborate with lawyers to examine the distinctions among these roles, as well as the mindsets, emotions, and behaviours required for each one. Additionally, we delve into potential negative influences from other role models in a lawyer's life that may impact their performance in these roles. Establishing structures to help a lawyer step into each role is crucial.


Is it possible for lawyers to maintain a work-life balance without compromising their careers or personal relationships?"


It is definitely possible for lawyers to maintain a work-life balance. However, achieving balance as a lawyer demands self-awareness, as well as adept communication and negotiation skills. While finding a balance can be challenging, a thorough understanding of the factors contributing to imbalance reveals that individuals have greater control than they may initially believe.


How can lawyers communicate effectively with their partners to navigate the unique challenges of their profession in relationships?


Effective communication, where both individuals feel listened to and understood, is key to navigating the complexities of personal relationships. Establishing a framework for discussing long hours can be a simple yet impactful step. Sometimes, it is evident early in the day that it will be a lengthy one, yet this information may not be communicated to a partner until the last minute, due to fear of causing upset or distress. However, what may truly upset the partner is not the long hours themselves but rather the feeling of being disregarded and left out at the eleventh hour. Agreeing on how to communicate about and handle long hours can significantly reduce friction within a couple.


Furthermore, creating mental space to build connections with a partner can safeguard the intimacy of the relationship. This nurturing of the relationship will forge positive memories, even during periods of physical distance resulting from demanding work schedules.



If you are a lawyer who is struggling with your personal relationships and would like to discuss this with Dr Sykes, do not hesitate to book a consultation by visiting her Top Doctors profile today

By Dr Catherine Sykes

Dr Catherine Sykes is a highly-regarded chartered psychologist based in central London. Specialising in the psychology of high achievers, Dr Sykes offers therapy and coaching for professionals in high pressurised careers. She provides in-person appointments but also sees clients across the globe via e-Consultation. Dr Sykes developed a solid reputation in the law and finance sectors due to her thorough understanding of how a demanding career comes with its own unique challenges to mental health, physical health, relationships, and performance.

When guiding her patients, she individually assesses each case and uses a range of approaches such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), hypnosis, neuropsychology and somatic psychology to provide patients with optimal therapy solutions. With these strategies, Dr Sykes helps patients discover the core reasons for their issues and provides the necessary psychological tools to overcome them. Dr Sykes prides herself on her ability to help clients make positive changes so they can be happy, healthy and enjoy and maintain their success. She uses an online brain health assessment service developed by Cambridge Brain Sciences that accurately measure core elements of cognitive function and mood, including memory, attention, focus, reasoning and verbal abilities. This brain health assessment helps to monitor and manage core areas of brain function that are key to mental health and wellness.

Much of her training was at the King's College Hospital. She has sat on NHS boards, worked as a trustee for the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support and lectured at City University, London for 11 years. She is a member of the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) register and she's an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS). She is a recognised provider with WPA, Cigna, Aviva and Healix.

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