The Work/Relationship Tango
I recently had a friend ask me to do a presentation to college students on how to create balance between work and relationships. So, I figured this was a great topic to write about in February…You know…relationships…Valentine’s Day…right? Either way, I don’t need a specific reason to talk about relationships. Relationships are difficult and complex, and I enjoy helping individuals navigate their way towards a healthy relationship with themselves and with others. So here I am, talking to you about finding balance between relationships and work.
In creating the presentation, I did a little research. Yes…I did research. After I got my doctorate degree, I was so traumatized that I swore that I would never do research again. But, alas, you all were worth the effort. So, what did I find? The idea of finding balance between your professional life and your personal life first began to be examined in the late 18th century (Don’t worry I am not going to bore you with too many facts or statistics). Legislation was created to limit the number of hours worked each week. In the 19th century, laws were passed allowing for mandatory leave for certain events such as childbirth and illness. In the 1970’s, the topic of work-life balance became even more prominent and important. Can you guess why? Ok…I will tell you! Women entered the work force in greater amounts, and they changed the discourse. Yay women! Women needed to balance their child rearing and homemaking duties, and their work responsibilities in ways that men did not. Obviously, that dynamic has changed as our understanding of roles and gender have changed, but at the time it was women who made this idea more popular and more important in the workplace.
Why is this so important? Research has found that when you don’t feel like there is good balance there is higher stress, higher absenteeism, lower productivity at work (Hobson, Delunas, & Kesic, 2001), and more physical symptoms like headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, difficulty managing anger, and a weakened immune system (Hughes, J., & Bozionelos, N., 2007). Sounds ominous right? Never fear! I am here to bring you some possible solutions, things to try out, or consider etc. (Whatever verbiage you prefer!)
1. Blend vs. Balance: The Work/Relationship Tango
I read an interesting article that defined this as a blend rather than balance. You can read the article here. The article discusses how we should redefine this effort as it is not about creating a 50/50 balance in every aspect of your life. The separate parts of your life will seep into each other, even when you try to avoid it. The reality is that it is not possible to achieve an equal balance. If that is the end goal, you will always feel like a failure and always be striving for something that just is not obtainable. According to the article, finding “balance” also implies that either work or your relationships are negative and needs to be changed in some way. Being able to balance them should not be about choosing one or the other, rather, it is about finding how to have both in a way that works for you. It is about finding a way for the two to blend together rather than trying to maintain them as complete separate entities. I like to refer to it as a dance…a tango if you will (Tango just sounds more dramatic and interesting!) In all seriousness, ballroom dancing requires two people to come together, to work collaboratively, to be in sync with each other, to openly communicate, to be vulnerable. And no two dance partners or tango routines are the same, so they all require something different. It is a wonderful analogy!
2. Create a Life Audit
Social Workers and other mental health professionals will often use a clinical tool called the ecomap. Ecomaps help you identify family members and other systems (school, work, hobbies, religious groups, social services etc.) that you regularly interact with. Once you have listed all the individuals and systems involved in your life, you identify what kind of relationships exist with each one (strong, weak, negative, positive, tenuous), and then you identify the flow of resources. For example, do you have a job that you give a lot of time and emotional energy to? If so, you would show an arrow pointed towards your employment circle. Now, do you get something back from your job? Satisfaction? Feeling of accomplishment? A nice pay check? If so, you would put an arrow pointing towards you to show that the flow of resources is a give a take. Or, do you have a job that sucks you dry, is stressful, not fulfilling, and doesn’t pay well? Then, you would identify it as a system that takes resources but does not give any back. You do this for each system and then step back and take a look. What relationships and systems have a balanced flow of resources? Which ones do you give to but don’t get anything back? Do you have too many of those type of relationships? Are there relationships and/or systems that you can get rid of in order to have a more balanced life? I think at some point in our lives we all do an audit of our lives and decide that some people or systems just aren’t worth the time, drama, resources and we walk away. What better time than the present?
If you are interested in creating your own ecomap, you can go here to learn how. It is a wonderful tool!
3. Find Balance at Work
Finding balance at work is very important. First, it is important to determine if you are happy at work and in order to do that you have to determine what you are looking for from your work and what about work makes you happy. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Is the work you are doing engaging in nature?
Do you have the level of freedom that you want at work?
Do you have clear goals with a defined beginning and end?
Do you get feedback in order to know if you are doing well or not?
Do you help others with the work that you do? Is that important to you?
Are you doing work that you are good at? Do you get supervision or training to improve your skills?
Do you have supportive colleagues?
Does your job allow you to have the personal life that you desire?
Some other tricks to try:
Work on your time management skills
Learn how to be more efficient to create more time for yourself and your relationships
Stop glorifying being busy. Sometimes it is ok to just lay low and enjoy some quiet time.
Learn how to say “No.”
4. Work on the Relationship
The most important part of finding this balance or managing the blend, is to create appropriate boundaries around your relationship and utilize healthy communication. It is very important that you protect your relationship and that you nurture it so that it can prosper even when you are away at work or focusing on other priorities. When you are with your significant other it is important that you be as present as possible for the other person, and for yourself.
Focus on your partner and let them know that they are valued.
Plan special dates when possible and put aside time every week to be together, just the two of you, to show that you are making the relationship a priority.
Stay connected throughout the day. Ok… before you freak out… I am only talking about a quick, “Thinking about you” or “I hope you are having a great day” type text. This lets your partner know that you are thinking of them, missing them, and that they are a priority even when you are busy at work. It is the little things that help.
Really be there when you are together. That means…wait for it…PUT AWAY YOUR PHONES! *Gasp* Yes. I said it. Don’t hate me. You probably think I am crazy (or old), but there was a time when we didn’t have cell phones and we actually sat together and…talked. We paid attention to each other. We made eye contact. We held hands. We enjoyed each other’s company. None of this can happen if you are constantly checking your social media sites or checking your work email. The time you spend with your partner should be more about quality than quantity. Trust me on this.
Lastly, create small routines that allow you to connect as a couple. Eat breakfast together (if possible), set a weekly date night, schedule times to put your phone away, chat on the phone on the way home from work, go for nightly walks after dinner. Make sure that these moments are deliberate and consistent in nature. Make them a priority.
Show unconditional support for your partner and always give your partner the benefit of the doubt. If you and your partner make a plan on being more present and more connected and your partner messes up, be patient, talk it through, and give your partner the benefit of the doubt that the mistake was not done on purpose. Also, remember that there will be times when you will be able to give more than your partner and that is ok as long as, in hindsight, the give and take evens out.
Communication is also very important. I am always amazed by the lack of healthy communication in relationships. I have lots of thoughts on that to be discussed at a later date.
Make sure you discuss your expectations, wants, and needs as it relates to the relationship in general and your time together. Don’t assume that your partner knows what you are thinking. Much to your surprise, your partner is NOT a mind reader. The more you talk openly about your expectations the closer you will get to having those expectations met.
Don’t assume that your partner is happy just because you are. Make sure that you are constantly checking in with each other to discuss what is going well and what may need more work.
Talk openly about what is not going well. Share your concerns with your partner and try to problem solve when possible. Remember that not all problems have easy solutions or any solutions at all. Sometimes, one of you, will need to talk about hurt feelings and/or disappointment even if there is no possible solution available at the time. For example, let’s say that you have a big project due at work and cannot be home much for an extended period of time. Your partner may need to vent about how lonely it has been or how difficult it has been, knowing that there is no solution and that the problem is temporary in nature. And that is OK! They just need to vent, be heard, and validated.
Apologize when you have done something wrong and forgive when your partner apologizes for doing something wrong.
So there you have it! Easy! Right? No! There is definitely nothing easy about this, but your relationship is worth it. (If you find yourself disagreeing here, it is time to reevaluate your relationship…Just sayin!) If all of this is new for you remember to make one change at a time (see my last blog entry) and be forgiving when change does not happen right away.
Hobson, C. J., Delunas, L., & Kesic, D. (2001). Compelling evidence of the need for corporate work/life balance initiatives: results from a national survey of stressful life‐events. Journal of employment counseling, 38(1), 38-44.
Hughes, J., & Bozionelos, N. (2007). Work-life balance as source of job dissatisfaction and withdrawal attitudes: An exploratory study on the views of male workers. Personnel Review, 36(1), 145-154.