Fighting about Work

I'm blogging this month about issues couples fight about. So far we've talked about money and sex. The next topic to tackle is "work" . I wanted to write about this earlier, but my work has taken up so much of my time I haven't been able to write.

Not really. But you get the idea. Work is the bully that elbows out the other important things of your life. Work can suck the life out of your marriage quicker than a power vacuum cleans your carpet. Work is demanding, exhausting, intrusive and time consuming.

Yet, most of us have to work. In fact, God has ordained for us to work. He gave Adam and Eve jobs even in the Garden of Eden. Work can provide us with the satisfaction of a job well done. Our work can help people. It can provide us the income we need. So while work has a definite downside it has a decided upside as well.

But work is a tiger to be tamed. Uncontrolled and unleashed it will rip relationships apart. That's why it's the source of many marital arguments. One (or both) spouse lets their work become more important than family. When work takes top priority suppers are left cold on the table, conversation goes extinct, and ball games or recitals are forgotten. Whether you are a one or two income family, your job must be viewed for what it is: something that is important, but not as important as your spouse and children.
Here's a quick check list of things that may help tame the beast called work:

1. Give your spouse permission to tell you (diplomatically!) when your work/life balance is out of whack. Don't be defensive and offer excuses, just listen and brainstorm ideas together about how to restore some sanity to your work life and home life.

2. Decide on your priorities, then talk about them to others and live them. In one of my first job interviews a potential employer told me his firm was considering going to mandatory Saturday hours for associates: "How does that strike you--working 6 days a week?" I told him it wouldn't align very well with my priorities. "Well, what ARE your priorities Mr. Priest?" I told him my relationship with God was first, my relationship with my spouse was second, and my job was third. "That doesn't mean I won't work hard and do a great job--it just means my job isn't going to be the most important thing in my life." Not surprisingly, I didn't get that job. But I did get another one--a great one--one that aligned with my values. I'm not perfect in always putting my job in its proper place, but I have tried to consistently remind myself about what's most important, and then make decisions based on those priorities.

3. Years ago a friend gave me this great advice: "Put your work related appointments on your calendar in pencil and your family commitments in ink." Even though most of us now use computers or blackberries for our calendars the advice still rings true: If you say you're going to make it to dinner with your spouse, make it; don't let the job push him or her out. If you commit to going to your kids ball game, be there; don't let a customer or client take their place.

4. Finally, if you find yourselves, as a couple, unable to talk calmly and rationally about this subject, try using the Speaker Listener technique. See this link to an NBC Today show story about how to "fight fair" with your spouse using the Speaker Listener technique.

So remember, as a counselor once told me: "Your job is not your life. It's an important part of your life, but it's not your life." Keep your relationships as your priority. Because no one, on the death bed, ever said "I wished I'd spent more time at my job."

By Jim Priest

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