“It may not be another woman, but it sometimes feels like it.”
Are there late night texts, phone calls that are “just a quick minute” during meals, and long late hours at the office? I’ve had a number of female clients through the years express their sadness, frustration and even loneliness because they felt their husbands and partners work too much. “How can I compete or complain about that?”
On one hand, you’re proud of your partner for being so determined, hard working and dedicated to their work. After all, their job is (contributing to) keeping a roof over your head, food on the table, bills paid and the lifestyle to which you’re accustomed.
But on the other hand, it may be a detriment to your relationship.
And before you think that I’m gender biased, Lyn Craig, co-author of a recent study on Australian families and a sociologist at the University of New South Wales says, “The job demands of men affect women, but we didn’t find any evidence that the opposite was the case…I think it’s because women have the responsibility to make the family work around the male job.”
Yes, when your partner’s not home you are responsible for most of the household chores and children, if you, as a woman, have a job or not. And that can be stressful. And while men are certainly doing more at home these days, in most cases women still carry the majority of the load.
So before the long lists of resentments build up or we meet in my office, here are a few thoughts on how to address this issue with your partner.
Have a conversation about priorities
Of course, your relationship is important, especially if you’re committed for the long term. However, sometimes priorities may need to shift in the short term. The point is you need to talk about them to determine if working a lot is a short-term strategy that has its own rewards or if this is the new normal.
For example, when I decided that I wanted to go for my Ph.D., my wife and I sat down and had a long talk (actually, a series of conversations) about how my studying for my doctorate would impact our family and relationship. I had to be really committed if I was going to succeed there would need to be sacrifices that both of us would be making for a few years.
I wanted her to know what all of this could look like. The picture I laid out told her that I wasn’t going to be around much, and from what others had told me when they went for their advanced degrees, that I probably wouldn’t be available very often. So much of my time had to be dedicated to my studies, in addition to my practice. But we talked through our fears and concerns about all of this and we both agreed that despite the inevitable hardships, this was in the best interests of our family.
The important thing is that we chose this together. We talked about the future that we wanted together. We discussed what my getting a Ph.D. would allow for, what it could do for our growing family. And we agreed that for a few years, I would hunker down and make it happen with her partnership.
If it weren’t for her unwavering support, I wouldn’t be the therapist that I am today.
You may find yourselves in a similar position. Your partner may be fast-tracked for a senior position, there may be some uncommunicated goal, but the point is to have a conversation about priorities and where the relationship fits into that.
Maybe there are dreams that need to be shared between the two of you so that the sacrifices now will lead to the payoff you both want. But talk about it and be clear of what it’s going to cost (emotionally, financially, spiritually) to make it happen. Which leads me to the next way of keeping the dream of your future together alive…
Make date nights non-negotiable
Decide together how often you have date nights and agree that they are non-negotiable. This is the time to kindle that love, commitment, and the future you’re creating.
Make these nights a priority. It’s your special time together. I would recommend that you honor this time as sacred. It’s a time to reconnect, hold hands and look into each other’s eyes. What would it take for you two to step in close to each other and really kiss – have a make-out session even?
Consider some hands-on time together and be close. Snuggling, flirting, whatever it takes to reconnect with your partner can always be a part of date night even if it’s once a month or once a quarter.
Plan something to look forward to
Plan something to look forward to – a vacation, a getaway weekend, time off and togetherness. Let that be the beacon in the future that helps pull you through this “rough patch.”
Do you and your partner know each other’s love languages? This would be a great time to (re)discover what each other needs to express and receive love. Even during the stressful times of relationships, and especially when your together time is short or strained, there’s nothing better than to aim and hit the love target.
The last thing you want to do is make efforts to express your love and appreciation and it is in a love language your partner can’t understand, especially when they are stressed out at work. That would create a downward spiral for both of you!
You may think that your partner should know that work is interfering with your family life. However, sometimes it’s important to point it out (sometimes repeatedly), but it’s also important to make requests rather than assume they know what to do or what you need.
Some requests may be:
- At least one night a week is spent at home without work interrupting
- At least one full day during the weekend is designated as a non-work day
- Come kiss and hug me when you walk in the door
- Shut off your phone at dinner
- Don’t work in the bedroom
- Exercise before you come home to distress and be more present
- Take the kids to school
- Do the dishes (or any household chore)
- Plan and cook one meal a week
Give your partner the opportunity to participate more and express how important this would be to you. Sometimes the little things can make a difference, but it’s important to share what those little things would be.
Mother of Invention
You’ve heard the saying “necessity is the mother of invention.” Maybe change is necessary. Consider this a wonderful time for you to shake things up a bit. Instead of feeling lonely, find activities that take care of you physically, emotionally and spiritually. Maybe this is a time to reinvent your own career, reassess your own priorities, find a way to give back to the community, take up yoga, and find ways to renew your commitment to each other.
If you and your partner are making significant sacrifices for the sake of what you believe is a worthy goal, continue to assess and reassess that you both continue to share your common vision. I think that this is always a smart thing to do. My wife and I stayed pretty current with each other during my graduate work. It helped to remind us both that there was light at the end of the tunnel and the rewards would benefit us as a couple and as a family. And that turned out to be very true for us so, remember your vision!
I hope you found these tips helpful in communicating and reconnecting with your partner. If you need further support either individually or as a couple, please feel free to give me a call for a free 15-minute phone consultation.