What to do when work gets in the way of your relationship

Let me open this post by saying this is not a Lesbian thing..this is a relationship thing, but I do feel that the balance between work both inside and outside of the home can be different between two women. This difference can throw up some unique challenges. See this interesting academic paper for more highbrow chat on that topic.

The difficult thing about work is that we have to do it. Unless you have been born into money, or have recently won the lottery…you have to work. I’m sorry to break it to you. We have to work to make money to live. Sad but true. If you are lucky enough to have a job that you love…congratulations. If you are like the rest of us who don’t mind our work but would rather be doing something else such as walking the dog, playing squash or masturbating (not all at the same time), then join the club.

In a long term relationship work can get in the way of a harmonious partnership in a number of ways.

Division of labour

So as the article above alludes to long term lesbian relationships are all equal and fair….. right? Well the evidence does suggest that traditional roles of breadwinner and home-maker are less common in lesbian households, but its still possible for housework arguments to occur. If partner A  usually works longer hours than partner B, A may feel that B should pick up more of the household chores. B may feel like they work 2 jobs, a financial one, and that they take care of the majority of home stuff as well. This can lead to tension. I have a few suggestions here;

At a time when you are not arguing sit down and make a list together, or separately of all the things that need doing to run a house. You could start by taking the Chore Wars test (ignore the heterosexist assumptions on the opening page…it does become more inclusive in the test itself). Then separately put your names against the tasks that you each feel that you currently do. TRY to avoid getting into a fight at this point, let a few disagreements go about the details, try and get it broadly right. Think about how you both would like the list to look. Redraft it. Then look at what is left over. Depending on your income you could think about buying in some help to cover the bits that neither of you like. Paying for a cleaner once a week is almost always cheaper than getting a divorce. If you are working a lot, ask yourself if you would prefer to subcontract your cleaning, or work less and do it yourself ( if that is an option for you). If you end up with a list of nasty jobs that neither of you want to do try to trade  ” I’ll do the laundry, if you do the paperwork”. etc. Some of this avoids talking about the issue of who works outside of the home more. I work less than my partner, but I also study..should I do more of the housework? Agreeing  a division of labour that suits you both will save you years of heartache. If you are doing the lions share, consider suggesting that you therefore should move to part time  economic work. That way you both get your weekends and evenings free. Two frazzled and fried people will rarely make a happy home life.

They are always working and you never see them

This is an emotionally charged issue because the chances are that if they are working all the time, they are also under stress and feeling pressure to do so. They feel that they can’t work less or they will …..lose out on a promotion, let other people down, get the sack, fail in some way. You may feel that they are putting work before you, they feel they are doing it all for the good of both of you, and possibly your children (if you have them).

If you are in the first five years of a relationship this might be the first really tough pressure point you have experienced. Over the course of a long term relationship the stress/pressure pendulum will swing back and forth, so a little bit of patients goes a long way. What can you do to make their life at home easier and more pleasant whilst they are experiencing this stress? All that you do in this respect will come back to you over the course of your life together. Discuss what is behind the stress, it might be that they need to reflect on the work-life balance that their work is affording them and consider if this is a situation that they want long term. If it is a temporary situation (a colleague is off sick, a deadline is looming, cut backs are coming), then discuss how long this period is likely to last….are you putting up with a less than optimal personal life for a month? Or is it likely to be a year? Try not to diminish the pressure they feel they are under, but realistically talk about how ‘temporary’ it really is. No-one wants to live a life of “It’ll be better when” but on the other hand you can’t expect to live totally free from  pressure or stress ( if you discover how, then let me know).

If the situation is permanent then division of labour becomes even more important.  A while ago it became clear that my partner was on a upward trajectory in her career, and we made the decision that we couldn’t both be at the top of our game professionally and also have a happy life. I am aware that what I am saying is controversial, but it really works for us. I have a great job (which I enjoy and is at the right level for my experience and skills) but it is part time which gives me time to pursue other things in my life such as studying, spending time with my family and volunteering (occasionally). I also take care of most of the big jobs around the home both in a DIY sense and also housework. This means that evenings and weekends are free for both of us. When work is tough for my partner I can ease the pressure at home. I have often wondered if lesbian couples who both work (and often also have children) are not so much ‘having it all’, as ‘doing it all’. The modern work place can quickly set itself up as the most important element of fulfilling your ‘potential’ and self worth…I guess I am just saying that this can be achieved in a number of different ways which don’t involve a boss…and still allow you to make time for the important relationships in your life.