Here's how to tell if you should prioritize work over love, according to a relationship coach

Heather Deffense | Twenty20

Work-life balance doesn't always come easy.

Imagine all the areas of your life that you've been trying to balance — family, love, work, kids, health, work, money, friends — as spinning plates on poles. It won't be long before something stops spinning and everything comes crashing down.

Here's the key: Forget about balance, strive for integration. This is especially important when it comes to our careers and relationships.

As a relationship expert who has worked with entrepreneurial couples for more than 20 years, people are often shocked to learn that I sometimes encourage couples to prioritize work first.

The secret, really, is knowing when and how to do it. In all my years of practice, I've found that these are the most acceptable reasons to consider investing in your career first:

1. Your career is just starting out

Making a good impression early in your career is essential if you intend to be on a serious growth trajectory. That might mean having to stay late at the office, working weekends, traveling for business and attending networking events after work hours.

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If you sense this may be the case, talk to your partner. That way, they know what to expect and won't be thrown off when they realize you haven't been spending as much time with them.

Let them know the situation is only temporary and how much this job means to you. Brainstorm ways to stay connected while you're working. Schedule date nights. If you end up staying late, suggest a 30-minute video chat.

Lastly, be sure to check in every few weeks or so to see if you or your partner's needs have changed.

2. Your career is on the rocks

Hard times at work is a sign that your career needs some extra attention.

If your company is struggling, step it up and take on more assignments. If you're simply unhappy at your job, start researching and try to pursue new opportunities. If you feel that you're underperforming, talk to your boss and ask how you can improve.

Again, it's important to keep your partner in the loop and put their fears to rest. Be honest and realistic about how much time you'll have to dedicate to the relationship.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from couples that they feel left out of the conversation and unsure when the other person will be available next. Providing that emotional support for one another can help to relieve any stress or anxiety.

3. You love your career, but you're single and want a relationship

This might sound like a downer, but it's actually one of the best case scenarios. When you're in a stage of your life where work comes first, any potential partner you meet should fully understand what they're stepping into.

But it's up to you to communicate that message clearly. It can be as simple as saying, "I'm very focused on my career at the moment. If that's not an issue for you, I'd love to see how things go."

If they don't accept the situation or make a fuss about your "unavailability," move on.

4. Your relationship is great, and you want to use those good vibes to uplift your career

When your relationship is off the charts, choosing to focus on your career is an excellent idea — only if you include your partner in the endeavor.

Start by sharing your career goals with your partner: How do you plan to achieve them? What are you most excited about?

These types of conversations are always healthy to have, but the truth is that most couples fail to initiate them. Once they do, however, both parties start to become more understanding, communicative and supportive of each other in excelling at work.

Marla Mattenson is a relationship and intimacy expert specializing in coaching entrepreneurial couples. She teaches couples how to uncover the hidden patterns in their relationships and work using a non-traditional approach from her background in neuroscience and mathematics. In her 23+ years of work, Marla has worked with more than 2,000 couples.

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