Leo: This is the most important thing I'll ever do, Jenny. I have to do it well. Jenny: It's not more important than your marriage. Leo: It is more important than my marriage, right now. These few years while I'm doing this, yes, it's more important than my marriage.
When a character's devotion to their career is such that it begins to seriously affect their ability to hold any kind of relationship outside of it. Perhaps they're spending too many hours at the office and not enough with the wife and kids, perhaps they've scheduled a business meeting at the same time as little Sally's birthday party or Tommy's athletics day, or perhaps their work is leading them into some very dark or dangerous situations. Either way, their spouse or partner isn't very happy with them, and is quick to let them know it.
This trope is one of the key reasons why Everybody is Single, why many characters find it difficult to make a relationship last longer than a week, and is one of the key causes of TV Divorce. As such, it's a major source of angst and relationship tension. This trope usually comes in one of two forms.
Type 1: In some cases, this concern is justified — the character genuinely is spending too much time at work and is neglecting their other relationships and commitments, and the complaining spouse is genuinely in the right to call them out on it. This is particularly the case if the character has a career that, whilst it may be important, is not going to result in any fatalities or the Collapse of Western Civilization if they take a break now and then. In these cases, the character might be neglecting their significant others and relationships out of a genuine desire to provide the best for their families, having completely missed the point that it'd probably be better for their families in the long run if they actually spend some time with them now and again. On the other hand, they might just be too obsessed with their career and the perks, privileges and powers they have, and have Forgotten What's Important. Or because they're simply a workaholic. If it's a happy story, then the character will gradually realize that they're focusing on the wrong things and resolve to make amends and spend more time with their loved ones; in a Downer Ending, the character will lose everyone who is important to her / him and quickly discover that it's Lonely at the Top.
Type 2: In other cases, however, the complaining spouse's position is a little less clear-cut and righteous. While they might have a point about their loved one's spending too much time at work having a negative impact on their marriage / relationship, the fact is that some careers genuinely are demanding and their partner really does need to put in all that time at work in order to effectively do their job. In certain occupations, like a doctor, a police officer, or a firefighter, people really do need to work long hours, be on call 24-7, and / or expose themselves to dangerous situations, and lives genuinely can be lost if they aren't attentive to their work to a high degree, even if this means neglecting their relationships or families. In these situations (whether the writer intended it or not), the complaining spouse may come across as selfish, whiny and unfairly demanding, especially if it should have been obvious from the outset of the relationship that their loved one's job was going to demand a large portion of their time.
A Truth in Television, as a common complaint these days is that the pursuit of success in climbing the career ladder is causing more people to work longer hours with less time to spend with their loved ones.
This is particularly common among military personnel, detectives, secret agents and doctors. Architects also seem prone to this trope (and usually fall into the first category) for some reason.
See also Salaryman, Workaholic and When You Coming Home, Dad?. Contrast the Crusading Widower, who loses his family through more violent means.
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Anime and Manga
Godannar: Both Goh Saruwatari and his "wife" Anna Aoi. His mother-in-law, Dr. Kiriko Aoi (Anna's mother), also happens to be his boss.
Kotetsu Jeeg: Hiroshi Shiba did not know why his father was always working and barely talked to his family, and after several years, he decided he did not care about it or his father. When he learnt his reasons, he kind of forgave Prof. Shiba, but his mother still called her husband on it.
Mazinger Z: The Professor Gennosuke Yumi spends most part of the time working in the Photonic Energy Research Laboratory or traveling to meet with other scientists. He is a widower, and his daughter Sayaka practically has to twist his arm to force him to go home and have supper. Although she never called him out on it, many times she felt neglected and regretted not only that she was motherless, but her father was too busy to be there for her when she needed him. It may be sort of justified since her Prof. Yumi was trying to save the world. Juzo Kabuto is another example: he hired a maid to take care of their grandsons because he was barely at home (due to be building Mazinger-Z).
Great Mazinger: Kenzo Kabuto was even worse in that sense. He devoted several years of his life to building Humongous Mecha to save the world, and training kids to pilot them. The result was his two biological children not even knowing he was alive -long story- and his adoptive son's huge issues never were addressed.
Monster: Both Doctor Tenma and Detective Lunge are so devoted to their careers that they have no social life outside their jobs. In Tenma's case it's less noticeable because he has a great social life on the job — he cares for his patients so much that he uses his spare time on them as well. Lunge's obsessiveness drives his wife and daughter away, and it only gets worse when he decides to put himself into the mind of the man he's chasing (Tenma), who was The Unfavorite and willfully isolated himself from his family.
Lunge really brings it to the point of being horrific as he not only does lose his family but nearly gets fired from the very job he's married to due to his obsession.
Criminal psychologist Dr. Gillen is another example, as his introductory scene has him explain that his wife left him because he listened more to his 20,000 tapes of observations on and quotes from criminals than he did to her.
This is probably meant as an ironic contrast to Johann who manages to balance his job (spreading chaos and convincing Tenma the world deserves it) and forming relationships.
In the Living Game manga, Tokiko's husband spends all of his time at the office or away on business trips, leaving her to complain to the main characters. In fact, his devoted (male) assistant Komada is referred to at one point as a second 'wife'.
Lloyd Asplund from Code Geass is a Bunny-Ears Lawyer who is wholly dedicated to the construction, maintenance, and development of the Z-01 Lancelot to the point where he doesn't even acknowledge his fiancée-via-Arranged Marriage as a romantic interest. He certainly doesn't seem to be interested in love, and his carefree attitude suggests that it isn't by lack of time. He probably simply doesn't care.
Oh lord, Sagara Sousuke from Full Metal Panic!. He is completely and totally socially inept because of living his whole life as a soldier. During one time, Kaname and Tessa hold a little bingo and concert party for soldiers to unwind, and Sousuke is shown very uncomfortable, showing disapproval of them relaxing on the job. It's only in The Second Raid that he even begins to consider the possibility of a life and a future with Kaname outside of the job - and that's only after Mao asks him about his plans for his future and then criticizes him sharply when his only answer is "follow orders."
His mentor Kalinin is implied to be as well. By reading between the lines of his nostalgia, it is apparent his wife was rather unhappy about his sense of priorities.
Fate of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, whose job as Enforcer requires her to travel around space most of the time. In the Megami Sound Stages, she laments the fact that she can't spend as much time as she wants with her adopted children Erio and Caro, and in ViVid, she was away so often that she was the last person to hear about her other adopted daughter Vivio's Adult Form (Nanoha kinda forgot to mention that little detail to her).
The problem persists in the 2nd Mother's Day one-shot, when Vivio teases Fate about how often she is absent from her life (prompting Fate to angst that Vivio will no longer consider her one of her mothers), such as when she canceled a parental visit day for school due to her Enforcer duties but still notes that she's her mother and dear to her.
Somewhat more literally, casual shippers who are sick of Nanoha's constant shipping debates often like to say that the only canon pairing in the series is Nanoha/Job.
Subaru, in the Movie Sound stage, laments not being able to see her family very often due to her job in the rescue team almost constantly having her on duty, but Teana reassures her that they're still her family, noting Fate as being close to her family in spite of where her job takes her.
Fate's adoptive brother, Chrono, being an Admiral who commands a ship like his mother once did, is noted in the Sound Stages as being away from his children fairly often.
Sosuke's dad (Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea) is a fisherman who spends most of the time away at sea and gets his wife plenty mad at him when he has to stay out a few more days. The family is intentionally analogous to the family of director Hayao Miyazaki, who suffered from the same problem; the Reality Subtext of the film is an apology to his son.
Captain Tsubasa: he's so married to football that boy-and-girl relationships are the rarest element to be found around him; considering this a Shounen genre, it's not very strange. Subverted slightly when he confesses his love to Sanae. Then he goes to Brazil and marries the job again, so that his girlfriend has to follow him there, love-struck and almost in tears before they finally get married for real.
Both Ryo and Asuka of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX use the "in love with dueling" line to let down attempted suitors.
Minako Aino of Sailor Moon is married to her duty as a Sailor Senshi, and will place it over both her dream to be an idol and her love life. Most evident in the manga (particularly in Code Name Sailor V where she did not hesitate to kill both the boy she was crushing on and her true love upon learning they were from the Dark Kingdom) and the live action (where she comes close to reject even her identity as Minako to have more time as a Sailor Soldier), but the first anime has it too, with an episode showing her choosing her duty over her love life and another having her placing her duty over the dream of being an idol (even if after getting confirmation that she could become an idol at any time).
Shogun Yoshimune in Ooku: The Inner Chambers may enjoy sex and have children, but make no mistake, she's too busy ruling a nation to bother with emotional attachments. When she's thinking about the country even during relaxing baths, hunting, and childbirth, it's clear she's this trope.
Hataraki Man: Hiroko dedicates almost all of her time to work, which causes the breakup between her and her boyfriend, who is also a workaholic.
Made explicit in an episode of The Batman. When Alfred talks to Bruce's latest stood-up-date (Selina Kyle), she asks if Bruce is actually married. "Only to his work..."
Harvey Dent in The Long Halloween struggles with his marriage because of the many demands of his job as District Attorney, in addition to his own mental problems. At the end, it's revealed that his wife Gilda may have been the serial killer who has been killing off members of the mob in order to help Harvey so that he "wouldn't have to work so much" and they could be together.
It was quite a staple in Silver Age superhero comics, used as an excuse to delay an otherwise inevitable progression of a romance where secret-identity issues did not apply, such as within a team of superheroes. Take this example from X-Men #9 (1965): Marvel Girl telekinetically holds ice-cubes to Cyclops' bruised head and thinks:
Oh Scott! My heart just breaks when I see you so pale, so shaken! If only I could comfort you with my arms ... my lips ... but I know I mustn't! As our acting leader, you've no time for thoughts of ... romance!
In Dykes To Watch Out For, Sydney, whilst researching polyamory, has the epiphany that she is in a polyamorous relationship already- her work is her primary relationship, while Mo is 'the other woman'. This also happens with Clarice and Toni, with Clarice's job as a lawyer almost immediately put a strain on the relationship.
In Watchmen, this leads to conflict between Rorschach's psychologist and the psychologist's wife, when the more Squicky aspects of Rorschach's backstory began to influence the shrink too.
You could say that Superman and Lois Lane are both Happily Married To The Job. Heh. There was, however, a period when Lois broke off the engagement because she couldn't handle being married to Superman, and wasn't sure Superman should be married when he had a world to protect. She said she tried thinking of it as like being married to a fire-fighter or a policeman... but even they can take days off. She came to terms with the situation eventually.
Judge Dredd has no life whatsoever outside of his responsibilities and duties as a Judge. Even when other Judges may recognize a perp or victim as a celebrity personality from a vidshow, Dredd will not, nor would he care if he did. Dredd is celibate and doesn't even celebrate his own birthday — not even when the Chief Judge and his closest associates at Justice Dept. get him a cake and gifts. The closest thing Dredd has to engaging in a leisure activity is reading the Book of Law.
Mayor Mitchell Hundred of Ex Machina avoids long-term relationships and dismisses questions about his sexuality as irrelevant to his job. This leads to a lot of in-universe speculation, but he still avoids giving a definite answer.
In The Addams Family Values, Debbie "Black Widow" Jellinsky says she killed her first husband, a heart surgeon, because he was so often late home due to emergency operations. But then, she was insane.
Nicholas Angel of Hot Fuzz has this as his defining trait. It's why his ex-girlfriend Janine broke up with him.
Nicholas: Wasn't too long ago we talked about getting married. Janine: You're already married to the force.
Die Hard. The stereotype of the 'workaholic cop and frustrated wife' was curiously inverted, however, as at the beginning of the first movie police officer John McClane's complaint was that the devotion his wife had to her job was killing their marriage.
The movie Click is about this; upon receiving the universal remote that allows him to 'fast forward' through his life, the character is initially delighted to be able to skip through the unnecessary things in his life to get his work done. Unfortunately, he quickly realizes that he's fast-forwarding the wrong things and the rewind button doesn't work...
In The Prestige both main characters suffer from this. Hugh Jackman's character Robert Angier even says out loud that he doesn't care about his deceased wife, but it pales in comparison to Christian Bale's dedication, wherein twins literally switch places from time to time, all so a certain magic trick's mystery is never figured out by anyone. This also results in a failed marriage, leading the wife to commit suicide.
It was implied in Taken that this was a contributing factor of Bryan's divorce. Although he did retire early to spend more time with his daughter.
In Heat, though on opposite sides of the law, among the things Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley have in common is that they are completely focused on their careers on their respective sides of the law to the almost complete exclusion of anything else. For Hanna, this means he's burned through two marriages and is currently on the downward slope of a third; for Neil, this means that he has absolutely nothing even resembling a personal life.
Walter and Hildy are both married to their newspaper jobs in His Girl Friday, though Hildy is trying to get out of it. Walter sets her up with one last story in an attempt to get her to come back to the paper.
The main character of Life Stinks, a businessman named Goddard Bolt, once mentioned he was married to a woman who complained he was too obsessed with money.
Discworld: Sam Vimes a textbook example. He's constantly running off on his wife, Lady Sybil, often in the middle of meals, to pursue justice and the people who evade it. In The Fifth Elephant he's so preoccupied with the central mystery it takes an entire book before he realizes that Sybil is pregnant.
Also inverted in the same book, when Sybil accidentally discovers the location of a secret room in the embassy while measuring the floors for carpets:
Sybil: Just stop thinking like a husband and start listening like a copper, will you?
Vimes does his best to defy this trope in Thud! where he makes it his duty to return home in time to read "Where's My Cow?" to his son, no matter what else job-related might occupy his attention at the time.
Kurt Wallander: Kurt is divorced and has only an on-off relationship with his Latvian girlfriend.
In the Temeraire series, most aviators are married to the job, if only because the bond they share with their dragons means that any spouse would play second fiddle (to say nothing of having to live near a dragon covert and seeing them less than possibly even a Navy man). There's no prohibition against it, but wise aviators won't subject anyone to it.
Scrooge's fiancée in A Christmas Carol twists his long hours and penny-pinching into "proof" that he doesn't love her enough. Originally the hard work came from Scrooge wanting to care for and marry a poor girl without a dowry, but he had passed the point where he had enough money and kept working anyway. He had allowed the pursuit of wealth to become an end in itself, a pursuit which he didn't even slow down after the reason (Belle) was no longer in evidence.
In the Flora Segunda novels of Ysabeau Wilce, Buck isn't so much married to her job as Commanding General of the Califan Army as she is its whipping girl.
In Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, Hari Seldon's friend and colleague Yugo Amaryl was only interested in developing psychohistory. He never married, didn't know any people aside from his colleagues and died early from overwork.
Used tragically in Aldarian and Erendis in Unfinished Tales. Aldarian is the Crown Prince of Numenore and is always sailing to Middle-Earth for long periods of time. This eventually breaks down his marriage with Erendis who influences their daughter Ancalimë to dislike men.
Marcia Overstrand in Septimus Heap is this, having virtually no life outside of her work as the ExtraOrdinary Wizard.
In the early novels of Jack McDevitt's Priscilla Hutchins series, Hutch finds being an Academy pilot a serious obstacle to long-term relationships. It's not that she doesn't want a relationship. Things just don't ever seem to work out. She's even contemplated quitting, or moving to a desk job, but somehow, that never seems to happen.
Legacy of the Dragokin: Lydia's life begins and ends with the military; she's estranged from her only family, rarely sees her only friend, and the possibility that her soliders will reject her leadership sends her into a breakdown.
One recurring character in the novels by Patrick Robinson is an Admiral whose secretary/girlfriend refuses to marry him because she understands that he's married to his work. She finally accepts his proposal after he announces his retirement.
Part of the reason that Stacey's parents, Ed and Maureen, divorce in The Baby-Sitters Club. Maureen accuses Ed of being married to the job; Ed counters that he has to be in order to support Maureen's shopping habits.
A recurring theme in the Heralds of Valdemar series is that all Heralds are so devoted to Duty (and to their Companions) that there is really no way to have an exclusive romantic bond with another person unless that other is a Herald as well and can understand.
Also Jack; although he eventually settles down, this is repeatedly brought up as an obstacle to his relationships, and Kenneth once inadvertently makes him question his priorities by complimenting him on his large number of birthday presents from colleagues and the "big empty house" he has to keep them in. When he has a Near Death Experience, he reflects on his life and takes away the message that he should have worked more, since it's clearly the only thing he's good at.
Captain Kirk in Star Trek is often said to be "married" to the Enterprise.
In "Elaan of Troyius", Kirk is dosed with a kind of love potion and falls head-over-heels for the titular Elaan. He is grief stricken when she leaves for her Arranged Marriage. Dr. McCoy comes up with an antidote for the love potion, but Kirk doesn't need it, because the Enterprise is his real true love.
Hilariously parodied in Futurama where Shatner is forced to read from a bad fan script:
Shatner: Alas, my ship, whom I love like a woman, is damaged.
In the first season of 24 it was mentioned that Jack and Terri Bauer's marriage was strained because Jack Bauer spent too much time at work and would often spend months at a time away from home.
And in season 7, President Taylor put her duty to her country over her family and sent her daughter to prison for ordering a hit on Jonas Hodges, which was a direct cause of her subsequent divorce from her husband.
Leo McGarry's divorce in The West Wing was a direct result of this trope, as demonstrated in the page quote, and it's implied that Toby Ziegler's marriage ended because of his duties in the White House as well. It's also suggested, however, the devotion required and long hours spent working at the White House took their toll on all the characters and their relationships to some degree, as almost all of them barring the President and the First Lady were either single or divorced.
Something of a Truth in Television, with one possibly significant note; many observers have noted that in Real Life few of the people who hold the positions in the White House that the characters hold remain in them for as long as the characters hold them, with one of the reasons being this trope; working at the White House for so long tends to result in burn-out.
In NUMB3RS, this seems to be true for just about everyone. David Sinclair and Colby Granger seem to consider this a badge of honor, or at least an excuse why they aren't in relationships, and Nikki is insulted when they imply she isn't her married to her job.
Hugh Abbot on The Thick of It doesn't see his family much. Considering what his only distraction is, one supposes he really doesn't do much beside work. He's not happy about it.
Malcolm Tucker shucked off anything approximating a life in order to be good at his job, but it's never mentioned or dwelled on until the final episode, when he gives a Tear Jerker of a monologue while handing it off to Olly.
On Arrested Development, Michael has this problem. His wife is dead, but he's always worried about neglecting his son because he spends so much time trying to save the family business.
And the ironic thing is, most of the family (save for Buster, Tobias, and Mabel) are a bunch of selfish jerks who don't even realize the trouble he goes through to help them.
On Grey's Anatomy Bailey's husband Tucker divorced her because she's spending too much time at the hospital, you know, saving lives. Jerkass.
In Stargate SG-1, this led to O'Neill's divorce, Landry's divorce and estrangement from his daughter, indirectly led to the death of Jacob Carter's wife and directly led to the estrangement from his son. In the case of O'Neill it's indirectly responsible, as the marriage also fell apart because of the tragic death of their son, who accidentally shot himself with Jack's gun. Jack was also retired at the time it fell apart, though it's possible that his wife recognised that Jack was likely pretending he didn't want to go back to military life for her sake, when it was what he really desired.
Stargate Atlantis, coming in with the military variety from "Outcast". In the day off episode "Sunday," it's established that Sheppard is divorced. In "Outcast," we learn that the frequent phone calls in the middle of the night, the inability to tell her where he was or what he was doing, and the constant worry that she'd get the 'We regret to inform you' knock on the door drove the marriage apart.
In Stargate Universe, his devotion to his career (and his affair with T.J.) lead to the breakdown of Colonel Young's marriage. "Human" reveals that Dr Rush regrets letting his workaholic tendencies keep him from spending wife with his terminally ill wife during her final days, yet copes with his loss by throwing himself even deeper into it. Later, his obsession with Destiny leads him to be the person onboard most dedicated to completing it's mission, even if he has to do it alone.
In Criminal Minds, SSA Aaron Hotchner eventually loses his wife, Haley, and young son, Jack, to this. A "Funny Aneurysm" Moment occurs in the Season 1 episode, 'Unfinished Business', as Hotch notes that "divorce is not uncommon in the BAU."
Dr. Claire Saunders in Dollhouse sometimes sleeps in her office, all so she could properly monitor and take care of the "Dolls."
Although this is actually because she herself is a Doll, Whiskey.
John Winchester in Supernatural was too busy hunting as a result of his wife's death in the hands of a demon.
Hunters in general tend to avoid long-term relationships due to the inherent danger in the job, the constant travel, and the tendency for their loved ones to get Stuffed into the Fridge. In particular, Dean's inability to maintain a stable family life with Lisa and Ben was a small subplot in season 6.
Law & Order: An occupational hazard for the detectives (and some of the lawyers) on all of the series.
Gibbs from NCIS, who has reportedly been married (and divorced) three times not including his deceased first wife.
A suspect who happened to be a psychology expert identified Abby as married to her job as well.
As well as, you know, everyone. Do they even have homes? And beds that they actually sleep in, other than their desks?
Gibbs doesn't sleep in a bed in his own house. He sleeps on the couch.
A number of Babylon 5 characters may qualify, but Dr. Franklin is the most obvious.
Catherine Willows of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - though she divorced her husband for several reasons of which this was likely one of them, it's still a recurring source of drama between her and daughter Lindsey.
Grissom was also this, until he married Sara-who was the trope to a point as well. Catherine once told Grissom to "take his head out of his micoscope" once in a while, and Grissom told Sara to get a life outside the lab in the first couple of seasons. Now they've married each other.
Mac Taylor on CSI: NY became this after his wife died on 9/11. It's often extremely difficult for his colleagues to drag him away for some actual sleep. It lessens, however, as he meets and courts Christine in seasons 8 and 9, and one presumes he'll get even better with marrying her.
The Closer: Fairly common amongst Major Crimes officers. Provenza and Pope both have had multiple divorces. Brenda has had one, and her devotion to the job strains her relationship with her boyfriend/fiancé/husband over the course of the series.
Provenza: I have a civil service job, and the only way that I am going to leave the Los Angeles police department is if I get shot, have a heart attack, and then you run me over. After which I will consider a disability position.
Pope: But you really still haven't told me why.
Provenza: When why my first wife and I divorced, I agreed to split my pension with her from the day I retire. I'll be damned if she gets a nickel.
Pope: That...I understand.
On M*A*S*H Hawkeye's complete devotion to his career as a doctor is the reason given for his inability to make relationships last. He finds it easier to remain single and sleep with a different Girl of the Week each ep (there are hints that this was the case even before he was drafted into the army).
When Olivia Benson was asked if she was a lesbian (her answer, "No", made plenty of Alex/Olivia shippers pissed), Elliot teases her that it would explain why she has had such rotten luck with men. Her reply is this trope, word for word.
Also, in her first episode with Casey Novak, she explains that being married to the job, particularly their job, screws with everyone's love lives, and then proceeds to list them.
Stabler loses his family for a while because of this trope. He manages to get them back and maintain a pretty healthy relationship, mostly because his wife Kathy accepts his second marriage. She even jokingly refers to Olivia as his "work wife".
On Glee, Terri views Will is this, though her point (and her sanity) are arguable.
Victor Henry is Married To The Job of being a naval officer in The Winds of War/War and Remembrance. This ruins his marriage. Sympathy is still with him - saving the world from Nazis would be a wee bit distracting.
The usual gender roles of this trope are switched in No Ordinary Family, in which it's the mother who is a job-fixated workaholic who is never around and the father who's a bit pissed about it. Although during an argument, the mother does rather bitterly point out that working for eighty hours a week to support her family wasn't exactly how she imagined living her life either.
Syd, Jamie's betrothed on Blue Bloods breaks up with him because he is too dedicated to being a cop and he is unwilling/unable to talk to her about what he does.
In contrast Danny seems to be happily married even though he tends to get obsessive about some of his cases.
In the first season, House's "marriage" is pointed out by a patient, who is himself "married" to his job as a musician.
John Henry Giles: I know that look. I know that empty ring finger. You don't save someone who doesn't want to be saved unless you have something... anything. One thing. The reason other people have wives and families is that they don't have that one thing that hits them that hard and that true. I've got my music; you've got... this.
Captain Blackadder from Blackadder Goes Forth. He's married to the army. The book of King's regulations is his Mistress. Possibly with the Harrods lingerie catalogue discreetly tucked between the pages.
Detective Beckett on Castle gets obsessive about her job, although she does find time for a life outside of it. This becomes a form of Character Development thanks to the fact that earlier seasons see her frequently depicted as intensely focussed on her job (although less-than-pleased about it) and later seasons see her come out of her shell a bit more. It's hinted that it's a result of hanging around with Castle.
Kate from Fairly Legal, whose devotion to her work partially caused the break-up of her marriage.
Dr. Jacqueline Wade on St. Elsewhere has her eleven-year marriage to husband Robert end because of this trope.
Cmdr. Ed Straker from UFO destroyed his marriage over building and maintaining SHADO.
The X-Files is this trope. Mulder is obsessed with his work, so much so that he can't even fathom a relationship or even many friendships outside of it. His one goal in life is to expose the Truth and find out what happened to his sister. Scully starts off with somewhat of a personal life and even goes on a date in the first season, but eventually becomes just as entangled in the work as Mulder. This is somewhat of a Justified Trope, however. The Myth Arc cases aren't something that can easily be left in the office each night, and the line between work and personal life is obliterated. Especially when Mulder and Scully start getting abducted, their apartments are bugged, and are almost murdered several times in their own homes. Scully once acknowledges this self-destructive lifestyle in season six, asking Mulder if he ever just wanted to "get out of the damn car and live something approaching a normal life?" Mulder's reply? "This is a normal life." Also, work/personal life get even more entangled when their son becomes the first gested human/alien hybrid, and thus all of the Big Bad villians from their work would like to kidnap him and/or kill him.
In Cold Case, this leads to Vera and Stillman's divorces. This is also another reason why several of Lily's relationships fail.
On Heroes, it's revealed that Bennet, when he first started working for the Company, had been so ruthless on his missions that the Company all but ordered him to get married and build a family life to temper down his ruthlessness. This may also be the reason that he was given custody of baby Claire when the Company saved her from a fire.
In Cheers, the final episode has Sam Malone come to the realisation that for all the women he's been involved with over the years, his true love and the one he'll always come back to is Cheers herself.
Carrie and Saul in Homeland are almost religiously devoted to their CIA work. The closest thing to a relationship Carrie has is with the man she suspected of being a double agent, while Saul's actual marriage is severely strained by his job. "It's my Achilles' Heel. Every time they call me, I go."
DI Hardy implies this about himself in Broadchurch. When his partner asks him about the reason for the divorce, he says it was "the job" and talks about how difficult it is to stay married as a cop. The reason for the divorce was in fact the job, but not in the way Hardy implies. His wife was also a cop, and Hardy found out that she was having an affair when she went to celebrate with her lover after finding critical evidence in a murder case and allowed the evidence to be compromised.
Heavily implied in Monk with Captain Stottlemeyer.
His second marriage to Karennote It's revealed in "Mr. Monk Is the Best Man" that Leland was married once before his marriage to Karen, but it was annulled after just a week is on the rocks throughout the first three seasons, culminating in his divorce in season 4.
In the start of season five, he does pick up a girlfriend in the form of a realtor named Linda Fusco, but it doesn't last. The first reason is that Stottlemeyer's police duties means that their dates are frequently interrupted, postponed, or cancelled completelynote to the point in "Mr. Monk and His Biggest Fan," Linda has to "buy" Stottlemeyer at a Bachelor Auction to secure a date with him. It's interrupted though when Stottlemeyer realizes at a rather awkward moment that Monk and Marci Maven are in grave danger and has to depart to save them from John Ringel. The second reason is that Monk and Natalie discover that she murdered her ex-business partner when he decided to break off and start his own agency.
His third marriage, to Trudy "T.K." Jensen, doesn't seem to suffer from this trope.
Natalie also observes this about Stottlemeyer in Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu. When she and Monk happen to notice Stottlemeyer sitting in his car outside Monk's apartment, Natalie notes that he's in the unmarked Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor that the SFPD has assigned him to use:
Here's something odd I've noticed about cops: They drive around all day in black-and-white and unmarked Crown Victorias, the standard vehicle used by law enforcement agencies nationwidenote Well, it was when the book was published in 2007. The Ford Crown Victoria was ditched with the Ford Taurus becoming the new 'standard' Ford police car model in 2011. So you'd think that when they bought their own cars, they'd want something entirely different, something less big, boxy, and official. But no. They don't feel comfortable in "civilian" cars. They want to be cops at home, too. Which may be why divorce rates among cops are so high. Perhaps if they ditched their Crown Vics, they would less likely be ditched themselves.
It is probably truth in television that any modern police force will have a lot of single and divorced cops in their ranks, but most of the strain in their relationships is because most police officers, especially someone in a higher rank of authority like Stottlemeyer, has to be on call at all hours of the day and again, risk their life every day when they are on duty. And this happens to be a job where you have to have an A+ grade thinking efficiency.
Nash Bridges: Mentions from here and there, conveniently recounted in "Live Shot", put Nash family-matters-wise to have left really poor impression on his ex-wives. Lisa has 'A' for "anniversaries missed due to all the work" in the "laundry list", Kelly remembers there being a week when she's seen him for mere 5 minutes between his days-long working marathons. In "Aloha, Nash", he barely cleans up one final case in time before his flight for the Hawaii trip, the first vacation in twenty years of service. In "Downtime", Betina tries to remove Nash for the time being by using the right as a superior officer to force Nash to go on paid vacation for all the accumulated period of time (it would total over 10 months).
In Rent Roger claims that Mark has deliberately married his job, and Mark...doesn't really deny it. He does offer a defense, though: Survivor Guilt, stemming from being one of the few of his circle of friends without HIV/AIDS. From the song "Goodbye, Love":
Roger: "Mark has got his work." They say Mark lives for his work, and Mark's in love with his work. Mark hides in his work. Mark: From what? Roger: From facing your failure, facing your loneliness, facing the fact you live a lie. Yes, you live a lie, tell you why: you're always preaching not to be numb, when that's how you thrive. You pretend to create and observe when you really detach from feeling alive. Mark: Perhaps it's because I'm the one of us to survive.
In The Adding Machine, Zero is so attached to the menial job he's held for twenty-five years that he still wants to go on adding figures even after he dies.
In Kevin & Kell, a feline friend of Kell's, Aby, is literally married to her job. They had a wedding and everything.
The 'marriage' is complete with an anniversary gift (a new sign for her shop) and concern that she might be cheating on it (by making supplemental income on Ninth Life). (And apparently franchises are their equivalent of children)
Redcloak, from The Order of the Stick. When his little brother sets him up on a blind date, Redcloak, despite being pretty obviously interested, bails at the last second to go recruit for The Plan.
Invoked but subverted in Narbonic. When Zeta realises Artie is attracted to ANTONIO SMITH, FORENSIC LINGUIST! (before Artie himself has even realised he's gay) she tells him "It'll never work, honey, he's married to grammar" before adding as an afterthought "And actually married."
Hiro is always working in ef - a fairy tale of the two.. His eventual girlfriend, Miyako, gets upset when he can't take a short break to go on a trip with her like he promised earlier. Of course, he outright states that his relationship is more important that his job so it's subverted.
Persona 4 deconstructs this with the Protagonist's uncle, Ryotaro Dojima. While he doesn't have a wife anymore, he does have a young daughter, and because he spends so much time at work because of the serial murder case along with trying to find the guy who ran over his wife, he worries that he doesn't know how to raise Nanako properly. And he's notentirely wrong.
One of the excuses Max uses in Sam & Max to turn down Mama Bosco.
Max: I'm married to my career. Sam: They had the ceremony in Canada because it's legal there.
Keldorn from Baldur's Gate2 is utterly dedicated to his duties as a Paladin of the Order of the Radiant Heart. So much so that he spends months at a time away from his family, to the point that his wife seeks comfort in the arms of another man. Even his own daughters are distant with him and prefer their mother's new paramour who at least spends time with them. His Personal Quest determines how he deals with this unhappy situation.
Cernd from the same game is just as bad — no, he's worse. His wife left him rather than tell him she was pregnant because she didn't want him to try and fail raising a child, the evil wizard who murdered Cernd's wife and who is about to sacrifice Cernd's son calls him out as a lousy dad, and, according to his epilogue at the end of "Throne of Bhaal", Cernd continues neglecting his son in favor of his job and winds up turning him into an anti-nature crusader who sacrifices his own life to kill Cernd.
Samara in Mass Effect 2. She was married with children once, but when she became a Justicar (her people's equivalent of a Knight Errant) in order to hunt down a serial killer (who is one of her three daughters), she gave up all ties to her old life. If you play a Paragon Shepard (of either gender) and try to romance her, she will eventually ask you not to make her choose between the code and you. Renegade Shepard is too Trigger Happy for her to even consider it.
Shepard cements this over the course of the second and third games. In the third game, Jacob, a former squadmate, even states his belief that he can't picture Shepard being anywhere but in command of the Normandy, since it's clear it will always be their first love.
Shepard: Doesn't mean I don't want to say "to hell with it" sometimes.
Jacob: But you won't. You can't.
A border case, when asked if she has family, Dr. Karin Chakwas says she's married with the Alliance and that all its members are her children.
Cave Johnson in Portal 2 mentions that his aide Caroline is "married to science." It's this workaholic tendency that allows GLaDOS to withstand the euphoric reaction to successful testing becoming less effective, noted otherwise to be "unbearable".
Carl Schiff, a psychopath and boss fight in Dead Rising 2, is absolutely devoted to finishing his routes. Not even a mall full of zombies and serial killers will stop him, though they do manage to make him a few minutes late. This makes him extremely upset, and when he finds out the man who he thinks is behind the outbreak (you), he pulls out a shotgun and starts throwing bombs. It doesn't help that the hero accidentally throws a bomb into his mail cart, rendering finishing the route impossible.
Before him, Steven in the first game refuses to leave his store as the zombies swarm on it, determined to protect it and its goods from looters and vandals.
Steven: I... do not allow vandalism... IN MY STOOOOOOOOOOOOORE! NOT ON MY WATCH!
Knuckles from Sonic the Hedgehog has complained about his boring life guarding the Master Emerald, but he takes his duty extremely seriously.
He did eventually figure out a way around it: rather than protecting the emeralds all the time (something impossible for one person to do; he needs to sleep, after all), he simply does what he wants. When the emeralds inevitably get stolen, he simply tracks down whoever took them, gets them back, and then goes back to doing what he wants.
Aveline from Dragon Age II — at first, anyway. After her husband Wesley dies, she throws herself into her job as guardswoman (and later Guard Captain) so fully that, when she does end up developing feelings for another man (Guardsman Donnic), she has no clue what to do. Her personal sidequest involves attempting to get them together despite Aveline's lack of romantic skills. To say that Hawke has his/her job cut out for him/her is an understatement.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The title character is very devoted to his job at the Krusty Krab. So devoted, in fact, that when he is forced to take a break in "Bummer Vacation," he goes nuts.
The Simpsons: When Bart claims that he has a girlfriend, Groundskeeper Willy proclaims that he does too. She's a... bikini model. From Switzerland. Yep. Right after Bart leaves she comes out of his shack and asks him to come to bed, to which he replies that she shouldn't try to compete with his job, because she'll never win.
Buzz Lightyear's first and greatest love will always be to Star Command and the fight against evil.
Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne. Ozzy's ex-manager, Don Arden, happened to be Sharon's dad. Now he was Ozzy's father-in-law too.
In an unusually literal form of this trope, Queen Elizabeth I declared herself 'married to the kingdom' and never married, laying claim to the moniker 'the Virgin Queen'.
The widow of Meiji revolutionary Katsura Kogoro supposedly lamented: "I may be his wife, but Japan is his mistress."
In Jung Chang's autobiographical novel Wild Swans, it's described that in China, in the early times of the Communist regime, it was explicitly required for Party officers (like her father) to put their jobs before their families.
Drill sergeants have markedly higher divorce rates, especially in Combat Arms OSUTs, which are much longer, more intensive and stressful than Basic Training. Due to the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act of 1982, the wife will get half of all pay, pension and benefits in the case of divorce unless found guilty of adultery, so some D.I.'s who fear they'll be unable to hold onto their marriage will attempt to catch their spouse cheating, putting additional strain on the relationship.
Renaissance-era Venice had a symbolic form of this. When a new Doge was installed, he would take part in a ritual where he would throw a wedding band into the bay. The ritual symbolized Venice's eternal link with commerce: the Doge, as representative of Venice, was wedded to the sea, which brought trade to Venice.