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.

Differences in desire

HEALTH WARNING: This is a really tricky one, and takes commitment  to solve, but it can be done, and it isn’t the sort of thing that should split up a long term relationship if you love each other and want it to work. Are you ready?

Meaningless graphic to illustrate Are You Ready

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Firstly let me clear up what I mean by differences in desire. To put it bluntly one of you wants to have sex more than the other. I am not going to deal with sexual tastes very much in this post…I will save that for another post as I think it is a slightly different but over lapping issue. This post will just be tackle the issue of differences in desire.

If you are reading this, you probably already have a problem. Differences in desire usually lead to some level of built up resentment for some or all of the following reasons;

  1. You both feel like the problem is being caused by the other person
  2. One of you feels rejected
  3. One of you feels pestered and/or manipulated
  4. You both feel like you have sex when you don’t want to
  5. Your sex life has become less satisfying for both of you
  6. You both feel like what you want is ‘normal’
  7. You cant see a way out of this problem.

If you are feeling very resentful to your partner, or if your partner does not acknowledge that you have a problem, my advice would always be to seek some professional help. Find a sexual/relationship counsellor in your area and go along together for an initial chat. Either go privately or contact RELATE, I am not going to give advice on finding a counsellor, as I am not qualified to do that. I will say that counselling can seem expensive, BUT it is a lot cheaper (and more fun) than trying to split up and divide the assets of a relationship. Most relationship counsellors will work with Lesbian couples, and most will help you work through sexual problems but if you are in doubt drop them an email first to check out the kind of service they provide.

I know it seems obvious, but I am going to put your mind at rest, sexual counselling does not involve the counsellor helping you to have sex….It involves the counsellor helping you to communicate about sex. This does mean you will have to talk to the counsellor about your sex life, but not normally in any sordid details. They are usually very good at respecting your privacy whilst still allowing you to discuss the things that are bothering you. In my experience LESBIAN COUPLES ARE CRAP AT SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP.This drives me nuts. These people are professionals for a reason, they are good at breaking down the resentment and getting you to communicate again.

O.K…so lets say that you are not going to go to counselling because you want to try and sort it out yourselves first. Here are something to think about (these are just my opinion, so read critically;

It is O.K for someone to not need to have sex very often. It is also O.K for someone to want to have sex every day. Try no to use sex as a way to relax, for most people relaxation needs to come before sex. Don’t use sex as a way to validate yourself and your own attractiveness (if this is an issue for you, seek some help with working through those kind of feelings). Stop trying to change the other person, because you are very unlikely to succeed with that. I hope this goes without saying, but It is also never O.K to put pressure on someone to have sex with you when they don’t want to. So with all of that in mind, it can be helpful to agree a menu of sexual activity which you can do together and apart. Here are some suggestions

Masturbate separately.(One-way)

Masturbation can be a really fun and useful way to help someone with a higher sex drive feel sexually satisfied. It is totally healthy, fun and free…how many things can you say that about? Its O.K to want to masturbate every day. This isn’t weird or excessive. The person with a higher sex drive may want to do this privately.

Masturbate in the other persons company.(One-way)

This can be a good way to allow the person with a higher level of sex drive to let off steam, without putting pressure on the partner to ‘perform’. If you are the person with a lower drive, and you can get comfortable with this, it can help to pace out your life together. It can be nice to just watch, or just stroke and kiss while they do it, or ‘help’ a little, if you like this. This can be really intimate and a nice relaxed way to spend sexual time together.

Vibrate (One-way/ or two-ways if you feel like it). 

When time is part of the problem, a vibrator usually gets to the point much quicker than any other method. So if you are the person that doesn’t fancy it tonight, why not watch them vibrate, or if you feel like it, vibrate for them (I have never mastered this technique…its really tricky to feel what is going on).

Touching one-way

This is only appropriate if you are both in the mood for some sexual contact, but can be good if only one of you feels that you want to work up to orgasm. I know this sounds funny, but orgasms take energy on both parts, and someone who is less sexually active might be happy to give more than they receive. THIS IS TOTALLY FINE, it doesn’t make you a greedy lover. Feeling like you have to reciprocate to be having ‘proper sex’ can just be about your ego. Let it go, let her give you pleasure, be happy.

Anything two-way

O.K, so this isn’t a sex manual, but really once you get into anything two-way then both of you need to be in a similar place in terms of having sex. If this is a time when the less sexually active partner wants to have sex it can feel a bit like the pressure is on.

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Like you have to give her the most amazing orgasm ever, or she won’t want it again for a while. My advice here is, take your time. See my other post on making time for sex. The truth is, neither of you are going to enjoy it when you are stressed. Try not to get into a ‘tonights the night’ mentality, try to think, ‘she is ready for some intimate contact…it might happen tonight or it might happen in the next few days’. The best way to relax is to not get too goal centred. Make some time, turn off the phone and lock your door. Get naked (or not) and just enjoy each others bodies, see where the time takes you…don’t get too hung up on orgasms…they will come if you are relaxed and in tune.

Get realistic about your expectations. 

If your partner has a lower sex drive than you you will need to adjust your expectations. Rather than thinking, ‘ I want to have sex every week’, you may need to think, ‘ I would like to do something off of the sexual menu every week’, and I would like play in a two-way fashion at least once a month. You may find when you add some of the other activities into the mix you are satisfied with the frequency.

Don’t get too hung up on frequency

This diagram shows the frequency that couples are having sex ( full reference in the Lesbian Bed Death: part 1 post)

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So this shows that according to one survey, 90% of lesbians are not having sex more than twice a week. This also true of my experience of speaking to people. Lesbians are having sex much less frequently than this but when they are having it, its great. (See LBD:part 1 for more research results.

So in summary, enjoy each other in lots of different ways, don’t try and change each other, but be flexible to your different sexual needs and try to think creatively of ways to enjoy being together without having to compromise on what you want. Lose your ego as much as possible and deal with any built up resentment before it suffocates you both. Make time for your life together, including your sex life.