Finding a healthy work-life balance can feel impossible when you’re trying to juggle time with your family against all of your responsibilities.
But the best way to assure you get the quality time you need from both is to establish boundaries by using time management to figure out what tasks you need to complete in a given day or week.
There’s a ton of relationship advice and marriage advice out there about how to speak your partner’s “love language” by spending quality time with them, but knowing how to balance that against everything else you need to get done can be difficult.
“Work-life balance” has definitely become a favorite buzz-phrase nowadays. It was first coined in the UK in the 1970s, then migrated to the U.S. in the 80s, and now any savvy prospective employer will assure you that you’ll have the perfect dose if you work for them.
You can also call it work-life integration, blend, or harmony. My personal favorite is Adam Grant’s “work-life rhythm.” He says, “Work-life balance sets an unrealistic expectation of keeping different roles in steady equilibrium. Instead, strive for work-life rhythm. Each week has a repeating pattern of beats — job, family, friends, health, hobbies — that vary in accent and duration.”
Of course, there are plenty of lists extolling the best careers for work-life balance or the “highest-rated companies …” or even tips for organizations who want to encourage it for their employees.
However you label it, it all means the same thing — work-life balance is the ability to manage your professional workload and obligations in a way that doesn’t negatively impact your personal life and relationships.
And if you’re married, the commitment to creating a healthy rhythm between your working and playing hours takes on an even wider perspective.
Now it’s not just your own values and priorities you need to consider, but also those of your spouse as well … at least if you’re committed to making your relationship as successful as your career!
Many couples are on the verge of crashing and burning because one — or both — of them has lost sight of the vows they made on their wedding day. Loving, honoring and respecting your beloved does not mean routinely coming home late or working every weekend.
Of course, that’s bound to happen occasionally, but a steady practice definitely erodes your connection to the other important parts of your life … first and foremost, your partner and family.
Here are 5 simple tips for creating a healthy work-life balance that will strengthen your relationship and keep you from feeling overwhelmed:
1. Set boundaries at work.
This is first because it allows you to better manage all of your other commitments to maintain a positive work-life rhythm.
The first step is to simply say no. Obviously, if your boss has a big project for you, you can’t turn it down, but be clear about how full your plate is and what you’re able to take on. Don’t become the go-to person who says yes to everything … you might make everyone else happy, but you’ll end up miserable.
Make a promise to yourself to leave work at a reasonable time. Even if you can’t manage it every day, you’re establishing a precedent for yourself and your co-workers.
Another great time management tip is to plan your day in “chunks.” If your boss does hand you that major project, chop it up into manageable one- to two-hour pieces.
That way, you won’t feel like you have to complete it all at once and can leave work at a decent hour, knowing you have another block of time to work on it tomorrow.
And you get to have dinner with your sweetie!
2. Manage your digital connections at home and at work.
This is certainly part of setting boundaries, but it deserves a spot of its own simply because of the role that all of your various “screens” play in your lives!
How much time do you spend responding to personal texts or emails during the workday? Remember that’s time you’re not spending getting work done so you can leave on time.
Let your friends know you may not be getting back to them immediately — schedule short breaks to handle personal stuff in bunches so you’re not constantly interrupted.
All those minutes you spend getting re-focused add up to one big time-eater.
Likewise, at home, turn the notifications off on your phone! Be fully present for your partner … maybe even put it in another room when you’re having a nice dinner or even just watching your favorite show.
If you have any doubts about how your addiction to your smartphone is affecting your lives on every level, read Manoush Zamorodi’s Bored and Brilliant — it’s a fascinating read and it’ll blow you away.
3. Schedule date nights (not just for couples with kids!)
It’s all about quality time with the one you love. You’ve both got busy schedules, so don’t leave it to chance. At the beginning of each week, pull up your calendars and see what’s best for both of you.
Obviously, you’ll want to see friends after work, or get a massage, or take that cool cooking class you’ve been eyeing for a while, too. The “life” part of the work-life balance equation includes all of that, but you want to be sure to keep your marriage at the top of your priority list.
For instance, you could have your Friday nights set in stone, but then also try to come up with at least one other night during the week when you’re both home to make dinner (or order out) and hang together.
And remember to get rid of your phone during those times.
There are a ton of articles about how your cellphone is negatively impacting your brains and your relationships — even when it’s face down and turned off!
4. Create meaningful rituals to anchor your day.
A marital ritual is really just a conscious, intentional commitment to support, nurture, and re-connect with your partner. It can be a simple one, like making sure you kiss each other goodbye in the morning, and greet each other with a hug when you come home at night.
Some ideas may take a little extra planning … like breakfast by candlelight, or scheduling a monthly couples’ massage. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages can give you some great ideas for ways to connect more deeply with each other through your individual love languages.
Other regular rituals might be to make dinner together, to check in by phone or text during the day, to make a lunch date once a week, or to shower together. (You might want to plan that last one for a Friday or Saturday night so you can segue into the bedroom!)
Focus on creating a consistent, loving, mutual self-care practice with your partner. That way, when work is particularly crazy, you’ll still have a solid foundation to fall back on in your marriage.
5. Watch how you communicate, both in the office and at home.
If you work in one of those environments, where it’s the norm to gripe about your spouse, don’t engage!
It’s tempting to want to fit in with the crowd, but find another way to connect with your co-workers that doesn’t involve wife/husband-bashing. It’s an insidious way to undermine your own marriage, and frankly, disrespectful to the person you promised to love and honor.
And on the home front, while you don’t want to bring your work stress home with you, you also don’t want to stonewall your partner when they ask about your day. Share your frustrations and let them know what you need from them — cheerleading, advice, or just to listen.
One fun coming home ritual that can help diffuse work stress is to share your day like a weather report.
“Sunny skies this morning when I got a compliment from my boss, followed by a rainstorm when a deal fell through. But that created a tailwind, and I made a bunch of good sales calls after that.” Definitely a little corny, but it gets the information across and can open up to a deeper conversation.
Even with the best intentions and a passionate commitment to creating a healthy work-life rhythm, there will be days when everything just all falls apart. The perfect storm happens when both you and your partner have bad days and you haven’t had a chance to really connect in a while.
There’s not much you can do about the bad day, but if you’ve been compassionately ruthless in following most of your work-life balance hacks, your marriage won’t take too much of a hit! And maybe it’ll be a wake-up call to get back on track if either or both of you have fallen off the work-life balance train.
Deborah Roth, M.A., is a life transition guide, relationship coach, and interfaith minister who loves blending all of that expertise together to support spirited women and men through life’s big changes with joy and ease. You can visit her website or email her to schedule a 20-minute introductory coaching session.
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