Striving to obtain balance in life is a goal many of us struggle to actualize. When we think of balance, we think of harmony and alignment, of just the right amount of “this and that” to make life meaningful, interesting and comfortable. When our life balance scales are tipped too far in any particular direction, our internal balance becomes misaligned and we end up feeling emotionally off in some way.
But this golden goose of balance isn’t just an individual pursuit. Whether they’re aware of it or not, couples often struggle to achieve balance between the many different (and often competing) roles they occupy in life. For couples, life imbalance usually impacts both partners (how they feel about themselves) as well as the relationship (how they feel about each other).
Meet Lindsey and John (A Relationship out of Balance)
When they first met, Lindsey and John were drawn to each other’s non-traditional aspirations. John wanted to be a stay-at-home dad (which he is, in addition to having a small Internet business), and Lindsey wanted to pursue her career as a graphic artist. She loves being a mom to their six-year-old twin boys, and she also loves her career (which is highly demanding and time-consuming). Though exhausted at times, Lindsey thrives in the the high-pressure world of advertising where twelve-hour days are the norm.
John believes that Lindsey is working too much, to the detriment of herself and the marriage. He’s the one that feels an imbalance exists, but it’s an imbalance of his wife’s creation. And because of this imbalance (in favor of Lindsey’s work), the relationship feels lopsided to John. And while John supports his wife’s career and has encouraged her throughout their relationship, John now feels lonely and under-appreciated. As he shared, “It’s gotten so bad that Linds will be home on the weekend, but she’ll have to spend hours finishing work projects in her home office. And when one project is finished, another is waiting in the wings, pulling at her.”
The Work-Life Balance of Couples
John and Lindsey’s situation is complicated by the fact that Lindsey loves the demands of her job and has requested bigger projects at work; if it weren’t for John’s complaints, she’d continue working at her current pace. (While she acknowledges that her work schedule is frenetic at times, she doesn’t feel her life is out of balance.) Couples frequently face this dilemma: Each partner must work toward personal life balance while also trying to address their spouse’s/partner’s particular rhythms and needs. The challenge for all couples is that what works for you (in terms of balance between your work and non-work life) may not mesh with what your partner needs.
Part of this relationship challenge requires open communication about what your expectations are for the relationship, while also acknowledging that your partner’s expectations might not always be in alignment with your own.
Here are a few questions I frequently ask the couples I work with in order to raise consciousness about issues relating to work-life balance:
- Does your work/career bring meaning and fulfillment to your life? Or does being consumed by work act as a distraction from other, more painful realities you’d rather not face?
- Does your work-life meet your affiliation needs for socialization and connection? If so, does your spouse/partner have a similar social outlet, or does s/he depend more on you for emotional connection?
- If you work a great deal, might your all-consuming focus on work reflect unresolved issues in your relationship that aren’t being properly addressed?
- What is your ideal vision of work-life/relationship balance? Does your vision align with your partner’s vision? If not, what compromises and adjustments can you each make?
When working with Lindsey and John in couples counseling, it became apparent that Lindsey had anxieties about money and an underlying fear about the security of her job. We traced her fears to the financial instability and hardship she experienced as a child, and how these fears now push her to over-work. Lindsey never shared these worries with John (“I wanted to protect him from this”), but once she did, John was able to emotionally support his wife and help her gain a more realistic perspective about their financial future. This support enabled Lindsey to pull back some of her energies at work and redirect them to herself and her family.
When it comes to life balance, it’s best to keep in mind that this is a lifelong work-in-progress for most of us, a journey with twists and turns along the way. And as with any journey of self-growth, don’t forget to be patient and kind to yourself in the process.
Is Work-Life Balance An Illusion? Tips on Finding YOUR Balance
You may want it ALL…a perfectly balanced amount of time for leisure, family and career.
Is attaining the work-life balance an illusion?
Instead of trying to balance time equally between work and the rest of your life , I think it is more appropriate to spend your time where YOU find the most happiness.
One person may enjoy working longer hours and spending less time with family. Perhaps the family time will be of the highest quality. And this same person may value personal time even higher than family or work, therefore choosing to spend plenty of time participating in activities that relax, rejuvenate, and add to a healthy lifestyle.
I personally started my own business so that I could have the flexibility to spend more time with my children, because they were at daycare more than they were with me and their dad. It really bothered me. However, I probably would not have been as content and happy with life if I didn’t spend time doing something else, besides filling the mother role.
Some of the women I’ve worked with have husbands who work long hours. They support each others’ goals in preparing for the future, among other life dreams. Many women and men are independently securing their futures and focusing time and energy on their own careers. And of course, there are couples who both contribute to fund their lifestyles.
I believe we do have the choice to balance work and life.
However, the “balancing act” isn’t what I believe you should focus on. Instead, spend as much time as you need – long or short hours – keeping yourself in a state of feeling a normal happiness while going after life and career goals.
Here Are Tips on Finding YOUR Balance
- If one part of the work-life balance is feeling overwhelming or stressful, then pull back and start spending more time connecting to a part of your life that makes you feel better.
- If you experience feelings that you are sacrificing time in one area of your life to fulfill satisfaction in another area in your life, then take that as a cue to start spending some of your time differently.
- There may be times that you spend a lot more time working than you’d really like, especially if you know that the end result will bring you more work-life balance freedom in the future. Just be careful not to sacrifice too much of yourself or your loved ones in the process.
The bottom line is…
It’s your life. It’s your work. However much time you need to spend in each area of your life, so that you are indeed living an emotionally healthy, well-grounded, happy life, then that’s YOUR perfect balance.
Otherwise, you may find yourself dissatisfied, stressed or overwhelmed. Which leads me to say…If you’re not a happy camper, then everything else can become a struggle – work AND life.