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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.

Comments welcome!!! 

 

Resources

 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.

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/work-life-balance.htm

https://mswcareers.com/the-ecomap-a-social-work-assessment-tool/

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Beginning (Again): Changes, Resolutions, and Shame

I’m going to lose weight.

I’m going to start going to the gym.

I’m going to eat healthier. 

I’m going to work less.

January is the time of year when we renew our promises to ourselves.  February is when we recognize…again…that we failed to make significant changes.  This time felt different.  This time I swore I would follow through.  This time I planned out my map of success.  And yet…here we all are, the same as we were in December, engaging in the same behaviors.  Only now, we feel a bit more shame.  But so what….right?  What difference does it make? What’s a little more shame?

I guess the bigger question is, why do we keep doing this to ourselves?  Why do we set ourselves up for failure over and over again?  I don’t think there is one universal answer to this.  I think this sense of failure has a different function for each of us. For some it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  For some, it is due to a fear of success or fear of happiness.  Perhaps, some of us believe we deserve the experience of shame.  I think it is important for each one of us to determine what we accomplish by continuing to set ourselves up for failure.  What purpose does it serve?  How does it help us, even if it is not in a healthy way?

You are probably thinking to yourself that I am all doom and gloom right now. Well, never fear, there is a bright side to all of this.  After all, this is January and I promised myself that I would have a more optimistic outlook on life. (HA!  See what I did there? Just Kidding!)  While you are figuring out the function of shame, there are things that you can do towards making positive change in your life.  The key is to make the changes small, manageable, and concrete!

Create Your Beginning

There is a reason that everyone makes a promise to change in January.  January is a clear beginning, a new year.  There is something about a fresh start that makes change feel more possible.  For some, a new year is not necessary. Monday constitutes a new beginning.  For example, have you ever been on a diet and then “cheated” on the diet and figured you would just keep cheating until Sunday because “well I already messed up the week. I might as well start over on Monday.”  I know I am not the only one to have had that thought. (Yes, I am looking at you! Don’t leave me standing here all on my own)!   So, yes, beginnings make it seem easier to make change.  But what if they are also a way to put off change?  The reality is that beginnings are whenever we set them to be.  Every year school starts on a different day in August or September.  It is a manufactured beginning and yet it feels like a fresh start because someone told us that it was a beginning.  With that in mind, it is possible for us to decide that a beginning is whenever we choose it to be.  If I cheat on a Tuesday morning, theoretically, I can tell myself that my next beginning is Tuesday afternoon.  Right?

Manufactured beginnings are not a new concept.  A gym that I belonged to has ten-week challenges throughout the year.  It is a small, time-limited, challenge/change that doesn’t feel too unsafe or unattainable.  After the ten weeks, there was a party to celebrate the accomplishments of the challenge and then a new challenge began.  It was an opportunity for everyone to reset, make new goals, celebrate the goals that they accomplished, and try again if they failed to meet the goals they set.  This seemed to be a great success and it makes perfect sense.  You choose your beginning.  A beginning could be the next hour, the next day, the next week.  You get to define when you start anew.  How great is that?  An infinite amount of beginnings allows for a whole lot of new chances.  Doesn’t that feel so much better?  Not yet?  Give it time!

Make the Goal small and attainable

On New Year’s, I have noticed that we all, myself included, come up with these grand ideas of change.  The reality is that we are all creatures of habit.  Don’t deny it!  We like when things are predictable and stable.  Change is scary and it makes us want to avoid it, especially when it is large change that we are aiming for.  Again, we set ourselves up for failure.  So let’s try something new, shall we?  Did I just hear you say yes?  Perfect!  How about we make small, incremental, changes rather then the large ones?  Small change is more manageable and less intimidating.  Small changes also don’t require a complete lifestyle change!  You want to eat healthier, maybe try cutting out one particular kind of bad food at a time (Ice cream? Did I lose you?) until you are at your desired eating pattern.  You want to go to the gym after not going for a few years? Why not promise yourself once a week and then build up from there?  You want to get more sleep?  How about promising yourself that you will go to bed early one night a week? You want to work less, well…yeah…as someone who works way too much, I am still working on that one and will get back to you on that one shortly! (I crack myself up! I hope you are laughing too because change requires a sense of humor!)  But seriously, maybe promise yourself that you will go home on time (whatever that may be) one time a week and then progress from there.

Small, attainable changes allow for real, lasting change.  But they also allow for mistakes.  If you don’t eat well on the one day you told yourself that you would, guess what, there are six other days that you can try again. 

Ask yourself who the change is for

Many of us decide to change for the wrong reasons.  If you are changing for anyone but yourself, I am here to tell you that you WILL fail (There I go being a fatalist again! But the truth hurts sometimes).  You have to make a change because it is something that you truly want. I have worked with so many people who lose weight for their partner or go to the gym because someone told them that they should.  Change is hard enough when we want the change to happen.  It is almost impossible when the motivating force is to make someone else happy.  And guess what, when you fail (and you will), you not only feel shame for failing but for letting the other person down.  A double whammy! (Anybody else remember that show? I digress)! 

The other question you have to ask yourself is: what will this change accomplish?  So many people think that losing weight will lead to happiness.  I am here to tell you that it won’t.  Harsh I know!  But the reality is that you will be an unhappy person in a healthier body.  I guess you could argue that that is at least a step in the right direction.  However, most people will never get to that point.  Want to know why?  Because they are unhappy!  Because they know that being thin won’t fix everything.  And/or they are scared of being happy (it’s a thing) or don’t believe that they deserve it.  So before you decide to make change, make sure you are doing it for the right reason!

Forgive yourself when you inevitably fail

Guess what!  We all fail.  Some of us even schedule our fails…ahem…did someone say cheat meals?!  It is part of the change process.  But the key to all of this is not allowing shame to seep in and derail you.  Life happens.  Change is hard and when you fail you have to find a way to forgive yourself, make a plan, and move on from it.  If you don’t, you are bound to continue to repeat the same bad patterns/habits that you are fighting so hard to change.  And frankly, you deserve so much more than that.  Don’t believe me?  Well…that’s for a different blog entry!  In the meantime, try to have compassion for yourself!  Remind yourself how hard change is and how far out of our way we go to keep things status quo.  Try and remove the shame and celebrate the small changes you do engage in.

Final Thoughts

January is a new beginning.  But, so is tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.  Change is there when you are ready to embrace it.  I am so excited for when that year, month, week, day, moment happens and I hope you will allow all of us to celebrate it with you!

Cheers!  Here is to an amazing year, month, week…you get my point! 😉

I have a lot more thoughts on the process of change. Please stay tuned for my next blog entry!

In the meantime, I would love to hear YOUR thoughts on this!

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