In my last post I dealt with the fact that achieving work-family balance is a problem for both men and women. Today I want to deal with specifically how to achieve this balance.
Men and women both begin achieving work-family balance by listening to their spouses.
If you married a person of good will, your spouse is not a bad person and isn’t telling you you are out of balance just to make you feel bad. In fact, your spouse is telling you your work-family balance is off because he/she is feeling bad! Your spouse loves you and wants to have you around. This is a good thing. After all, don’t you want to be wanted? If your spouse is complaining that you are not available to your family, chances are good that in some critical way you’re not. This means that listening, not arguing or defending, is what is called for. What is it that your spouse is seeing in you that you’re not seeing in yourself? If you’re the complaining spouse, be gentle. If you are receiving the complaints, do your best to listen non-defensively. The more open and gentle you can both be, the better. This is difficult work, but it is connecting work — the most important work you do in relationships.
Men achieve work-family balance by understanding their basic tendency toward selfishness
Most men (not all) are basically selfish. That is, we have to grow into sacrificial love, whereas for most women this comes more naturally. Male reader, your wife married you because of your awesome qualities. She probably even loves that part of you that is still a little boy and likes toys (video games, big tools, pick your poison). Unfortunately, part of this little boy in you is still selfish, still looking for mommy to do everything for you.
Not only are you inclined to be a little selfish, but this can be very hard for you to see in yourself. My basic selfishness became crystal clear to me in that “have to pee” moment I wrote about in my previous post, where I realized that in a substantial way I was “holding out” on my wife — that on a very deep level, I always placed my own needs before hers. Brother, there’s a very good chance you are doing this too, and you will not be able to achieve work-family balance unless you are able to see this and confront it honestly.
Women achieve work-family balance by understanding their basic tendency toward martyrdom
As I said above, women, most of you are naturally loving and giving, at levels many men will never be. This is deeply ingrained in you. Not only is it a socialization thing, but your brain is wired to be better at relationships than most men are.
The way you serve and serve and serve is astonishing, and your husband probably takes it for granted sometimes. The flip side of your serving nature, however, is martyrdom — that sense you sometimes get deep down that says, “I do so much around here — I work so hard, and no one ever helps me. I’m all alone. All I do is work and no one cares.” What you need to know is that as much as your husband loves your serving and giving heart, he’s not asking you to be a martyr. Most men (again not all) would rather have you in the living room with them and the kids than down in the laundry room. Most men wouldn’t mind a few less things done around the house if it meant more time with you in the evening.
Let’s face it, women. What is the one thing you want most from your husband? More of his time! Of course he has a problem coming home when he’s supposed to. But when he is home, are you available? Are you glad he’s home so you can be with him, or so you can hand the kids over to him and busy yourself with chores the rest of the evening? You have heard that voice inside a thousand times that says you must work harder, do better, be more things to more people. Every women has. What you need to know is that most of the time, that voice is not the voice of your husband, and you don’t need to keep saying yes to it.
Men and women both begin achieving work-family balance by learning the art of availability
Here’s what it comes down to. He wants her and she wants him, but he wants her when it’s convenient for him and she wants him when it’s convenient for her. This will never work, and until this is confronted and worked through, neither spouse will get what they want from the relationship. Each will be perceived by the other as out of balance, because when she wants him and he’s not available, she’ll be frustrated. When he wants her and she’s not available, he’ll be frustrated. So each must learn the art of availability. He must learn that when he’s sitting in front of the computer late in the evening and she says, “I’m going to bed, are you coming?” she is beckoning him. Maybe for sex. Maybe just to talk. Maybe just to read together, who knows? The only way to know is for him to make himself available to her. If he says, “Sure, be there in a minute,” then stumbles into bed two hours later, she is asleep and the moment for connection has passed. If he goes with her to bed, what may happen ranges from relatively little to the greatest spiritual and emotional sex they have ever had. Connection is mysterious and is only made through presence. Most of us say “no” to connection with our spouses a dozen times a day and don’t even know it.
She must learn that when he’s outside painting the house and asks her to come out and be with him, he is beckoning her. Maybe to have what turns out to be deep, fulfilling conversation. Maybe to just be in each other’s presence. Maybe to enjoy some iced tea together. Maybe to ravage her in the garage! Who really knows? The only way to know is for her to make herself available to him. If she says, “Nah — doing laundry right now” the moment will pass. If she goes out for a while, what may happen may range from relatively little to that deep conversation you always want, women, and often feel empty because you never get. Women really are the relational experts in most relationships and because of this often times they do not realize that they, too, pass up opportunities for connection every day.
Your spouse beckons. Your spouse desires and needs your company, and married you thinking he/she would have a lot of it. Men and women both struggle with wanting their spouse to be available only when it’s convenient. When it’s not convenient, we want to do our own thing. Learning to listen — learning to realize when we are being beckoned, and responding to that call whether it’s convenient or not — that takes time. This is spiritual work. Learn to do this with your spouse, and you will learn to do it with God, and with everyone around you.
So that is it. It all comes down, finally, to availability. Learn to listen to your spouse, realize when he/she is beckoning, and respond to that call, and work-family balance will take care of itself.