Carolyn Hax: Resolving work-life conflicts

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 22, 2012

Dear Carolyn:

Partner A works long hours outside the home. Partner B is a stay-at-home parent. Weekend rolls around. Partner A wants to spend one day on a personal hobby/activity that would involve interactions with good friends, but not family. B wishes A would spend time with family instead.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Partner A deserves time to unwind after working so many hours during the week, but B also deserves a break from near-constant single parenting.

Obviously this is not a unique situation, so why does this feel like such a battle with us, repeated ad nauseam?

Weekend Duties


Because Partner A is apparently insistent upon blowing off family, that’s why.

Yes, P.A. deserves time to unwind, but: not for an entire weekend day; not at the expense of P.B., who also deserves unwinding time from working crazy hours; and not at the expense of the kids, who will soon see right through P.A.’s absentee parenthood, if they don’t already.

So, to meet all needs: Partner A gets one weekend day a month for the hobby. That, plus one weekend morning sleep-in, one weekly night out with Partner B courtesy of a standing arrangement with a sitter, and, where possible, a few hours solo each weekend. Partner B gets a similar weekend-day off once a month, once-a-weekend sleep-in, plus a few hours off every weekend — with P.A. on kid duty, so they can all get acquainted.

Tweak to suit. Deal?

Yes, it’s oh-so-bean-countish, but, sadly, that’s often what it takes when one partner thinks it’s just fine to abscond with all of the beans.

Dear Carolyn:

My spouse hates his/her job and I have no idea how to be patient. I don’t enjoy mine, either, and it seems all my spouse wants is for me to listen to constant complaints. I find myself getting more and more angry. Help.

How to Deal

The first and possibly hardest step in a situation like yours — which, if it’s any consolation, is one I hear about almost daily now, thank you economy — is to stop seeing this as your spouse’s failure to suck it up. Instead, try seeing it more constructively, as a difference between your spouse’s coping method and yours to the same problem.

That way, you won’t have to say to Spousie, “I am so sick of your constant complaints. I’m miserable, too, and you don’t hear me yammering on about it all night.” You get to say the much cooperation-encouraging, “I hear you, and I get that you want to unload all of these bad feelings at the end of the day. The problem is, I have the same bad feelings about work, and I want to get away from them instead of dwelling on them. Since we’re at least temporarily stuck here, is there some way we can help each other manage?”

The ultimate goal is lofty — mutual respect and empathy — but don’t be afraid to get there by a distinctly earthy path, such as a daily, 30-minute get-it-out-of-your-system complaint window, or a whine-and-cheese first course followed by a dinner where work talk is banned, or just a your-turn-my-turn understanding. Life at the end of your tethers is hard for you both, yes, but those other three little words — “I get it” — have magic in them, too.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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