Navigating a work/life balance can be challenging. Here is some advice from a marriage counselor and life coach on how you can prioritize both your career and your relationship.
Rachel Harder, M.A., LMFT-C is a positive, solution-focused “change agent” with a fun, empowering approach to personal growth and couples therapy. Rachel helps couples achieve a more balanced life both in their personal and professional lives.
Working it out
As a relationship counselor and life coach, I have had the opportunity to work with couples who both value their career and their relationship, yet do not know how to properly balance the two. Understanding this work/life balance is essential for not only individuals looking to cultivate a happier life, but especially for couples in long-term committed relationships.
For many of us, we become aware of how off balance our priorities are in unexpected moments. For me, I was typing furiously on my computer one evening, multi-tasking (or more attempting to multi-task). I was trying to carry on a conversation with my partner and tie up loose ends from the work-day when my partner said, “Work isn’t our whole lives.” I often revisit his words during moments of overwhelming stress or when I struggle to find balance. This little statement took me by surprise. Mainly, because this really hadn’t occurred to me.
I’d spent years in school to foster a career I could be proud of. In fact, many components of my life have revolved around the idea of creating success. In living this way, I had fallen into the trap of working long hours and forgetting to devote quality time to my other values. I was treating work like it was my whole life.
Now perhaps you’ve had a moment like this, where you’ve noticed you derive a sense of worth, value, or even freedom by focusing on your career. Perhaps, you’ve done this at what might feel like a cost (your social life, time with loved ones, less time doing hobbies, etc.).
What if I told you that you didn’t have to pick between a successful career or successful relationships? In working with clients (and based on personal experience), I’ve found a few tips to be very helpful in creating balance.
Take Stock of Where You Spend Your Time
Dr. John and Julie Gottman describe this conundrum (balancing work and relationships) as a “simple” numbers game. If you and your partner both work 60-70 hours per week, this means there are simply fewer hours available to devote to your relationships. In these situations, they recommend maximizing the time you do have together (make that 10-minute break count) and to also evaluate what is sustainable for your relationship, long-term.
Crunch the Numbers!
Look at how much time you and your partner actually have together and discuss if this will be workable over the long haul. If the answer is no, this is an opportunity to really evaluate your goals as a couple (which I’ll talk more about next).
In the meantime, establish routines and rituals that allow for you to create meaning with the limited amount of time you do have together. For example, if you have 10 minutes together before heading to work, try putting your phones away and take the first few sips of your morning coffee together.
Identify What’s Truly Important
Certainly, it’s positive to derive satisfaction from your work, but what are your priorities in the “big picture?” Typically, most people don’t wish they’d spent more hours at the office…but we do often remember and, maybe even regret, the missed moments with loved ones or doing the things we love.
So, what’s important to you and your relationship? Take a moment to write out a list and prioritize it according to what YOU feel is best and then discuss it with your partner. How do your priorities line up? Are there opportunities for growth both in your personal priorities and the priorities of your relationship?
Discuss With Your Partner Your Long-term Goals & Values
Talk openly about what you have in common (and what you don’t have in common). From there, you can identify ways to support one another as well as longer-term plans that will allow both you, your partner (AND your relationship) to have their respective needs met.
Often our relationship to work is rooted in what our work represents to us. For some it might symbolize a paycheck, a means to an end. For others, it might represent self-worth and validation. Understanding what work means to you will be a critical component in not only communicating with your partner or loved ones but also better understanding yourself.
Find Other Outlets That Assist You With the Same Goal
What I mean by this is, if you rely on work as your primary outlet to feel validated or accomplished, it may be helpful to find other avenues that meet these same needs. In doing this, you will have more flexibility to set healthy boundaries around work and you won’t need to rely so heavily on work in and of itself. Put bluntly, you’ll start feeling better!
My hope for you is that in evaluating these different pieces, you’re able to put your career into context (what’s the big picture and what matters most to you?). In doing this, it doesn’t mean that you value your job any less but instead, you may find you’re able to let go of unnecessary pressure and devote time to the relationships you truly value.
To sum it all up, by fostering open communication with your loved ones and by being clear in your values and goals, you certainly can have a satisfying career and satisfying relationships. You might even be able to find that tricky “balance” everyone is talking about.
Wishing you success,
Rachel Harder, M.A., LMFTC
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