I have a new theory on relationship success. Here goes. What couples do for a living is a significant factor in how well they get along, certainly over the long haul.
Not so much. Don’t we still instruct our daughters to marry a good provider – a doctor or a lawyer, for example, without anticipating time away from the home front?
And by the way, are we now advising our sons to do the same?
Do we assume that financial means trumps the need for time spent connecting, for time dedicated to domestic operations, for fulfillment of commitments as a (socializing) couple – aware that certain professions involve demanding schedules? Do we pretend that crossing paths is sufficient? That Saturday night sex will keep passion intact?
Are We All Workaholics Now?
Of course, these days, we’re all workaholics – at least to a degree. More precisely, many of us are juggling a variety of jobs, projects, and freelance relationships in order to put food on the table and money into the Offspring Educational Coffers. Yet there’s a difference between working a variety of jobs or multiple jobs – presumably a temporary situation – and professions with structural constraints (or freedoms) built in. In other words, careers can clash when hours worked and scheduling are a source of conflict.
A physician in his early years of practice may do very well with another physician with an equally crazy schedule. Will they see each other? Hopefully – perhaps for a romantic rendez-vous in the supply room (or a quickie in the stairwell) – but challenging though this may seem, there is no disconnect in understanding the requirements or rotation of hours.
And that’s my point – the challenge lies in the disconnect in expectations, the difficulty in understanding the nature of a different working rhythm, the inability to bridge this conflict. What can help?
Naturally – communication and, to the extent possible, revisiting even a modest shift in priorities.
An Apple for the Teacher…
So what about the teaching profession? Certainly not a 9-to-5 job, teaching comes with potentially significant workloads and pressures, not to mention relatively low pay. Sure, we might offer an apple to a favorite teacher in Pre-K or elementary school – and that life, while stressful, doesn’t invoke “publish or perish.”
Move up to middle school and high school, and depending on school districts, private versus public education, subject matter and other factors – suddenly it’s another ballgame. 40-hour week? Try 60 or 70.
For the college instructor we have politics and tenure tracks, the need to research and publish, and if not already acquired, possible pursuit of the PhD. There’s flexibility compared to other professions, but again, a hefty work week.
And yet… There are numerous breaks throughout the year, and summers that are typically “off.” Sure, there’s work to be done on those breaks, but the white collar worker may be putting in 60-hour weeks as well, without Spring Break, Fall Break, three weeks at the end of the year and eight weeks off in summer.
So what happens if you pair a nurse who works rotating 12-hour shifts with a nine-to-fiver? What if you pair a teacher with a total of 13 weeks off a year, despite 70-hour work weeks during “on” periods, with a creative who works 12 hours/day for six or seven days a week?
How does this function? Catch as catch can? Schedule be damned?
There are countless ingredients that make relationships “work” – or not. Some we can put our finger on, and others are more mysterious. But time together – the right amount of time together for both parties involved is certainly significant to relationship success.
As for me, the man I’m seeing is a high school teacher with a heavy load. During the week, his hours are as long as mine, but he’s off during the summer, for several weeks at the holidays, and a few days here and there throughout the academic year. It’s a struggle – for both of us. He wants me to spend time with him and my employment circumstances don’t allow it.
Mixed feelings and occasional pouting? You bet.
Two Career Couples With Kids
We might think these issues are only a problem for couples with children. The added responsibilities would quickly send one (or both) over the edge, but more likely, one partner will compromise her career, though ideally the partners will negotiate an equitable arrangement in which compromises are shared.
But it isn’t only couples with children that may find their schedules are constantly clashing. My situation is a case in point. And so I ask: What do you do when you’re “off” and you’re partner isn’t?
Not one to say that there’s no solution (to almost anything), I would suggest that ongoing discussion and negotiation in any disparate combination of schedules is going to be necessary. That, and a “room of one’s own,” along with mutual respect for necessary boundaries.
Then again, in a dual-career work arrangement, some means to synch up and focus on each other is essential – or you’re left with two careers, and very little relationship.
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