Dear Dr. Batya,
My girlfriend is never around when I need her. With her hi-tech, high-paying job, we are only able to get together on the weekends. Sure, she makes more money than I do, but that's not what is bothering me. I want a woman I can actually spend time with, not someone I need to make an appointment with a week in advance. When we do finally intersect, we have a great time. We can talk about anything and she really listens to me.
We have talked marriage, but how can she be a mother to my children if she doesn't have time to be with them? How can we be together if we don't share the same space? - Frustrated Suitor
Dear Frustrated Suitor,
You raise many issues. First, look within yourself and make sure you aren't jealous of your girlfriend's success. Is the fact that you feel like you have to take second place to her work the real issue? I agree with you that there is nothing more precious than time together, but life is a balance - sometimes a very precarious one. There are many reasons she may "need" her job. Her priorities may differ greatly from yours. Staying at home or not developing her career may cause her frustration. She may feel trapped by your idea of "togetherness."
Life is a balance and compromise is essential. She may need her space, but a relationship requires togetherness in order for it to grow. As someone who does premarital counseling, I strongly endorse sorting out these issues prior to marriage as they will not go away by themselves. This becomes especially true when children are involved. Talk about role expectations and division of labor.
Quality time is more important than quantity, but you must be able to share your dreams both individually and as a couple. A good relationship must be based on excellent communication and you two need to book some time to talk! That means go out on a "date" together to a quiet place and really listen to what your partner is saying. Are your value systems so different or do you just have two different ways of getting there? If neither is willing to compromise and negotiate, you may be in for a rough ride.
Let's face it, our lives are really hectic and putting balance into our lives can feel next to impossible. However, without it, things that should take priority get minimal attention and we get side-tracked by the little things that take far more time than we thought. This spells disaster when we rush, run out of time and still don't get the job done. The concept of balance is essential to good time management with respect to work, play and especially maintaining a healthy relationship.
The first step in achieving this balance is an increased awareness of how you individually and as a couple spend a typical day. Note just how much time you devote to leisure, work, personal care and of course what you do with your free or unscheduled time. When these four areas are in balance, your stress is much lower. The less in balance, the more stressed one becomes. When that happens, you may feel torn in many directions and you or your partner will feel empty-handed and neglected. No one's needs seem to be met. Sadly, I see this in my office on a daily basis.
This is not a complicated problem to solve, though you may need some outside help. Write down how you spend your time each day. Some things you won't like, but can't change for now. Put those aside! Look at the other areas and see what you spend too much time on and what receives too little attention. Now, realistically assess what can truly change with a little planning and what can't, and begin to implement these changes one step at a time. Pick one area, clearly define what needs to be changed and think of one way to make a change that can alter how you both will feel. Operationally define what you'll do, such as "today we will schedule lunch together. I'll make sandwiches and you pick where we'll eat, making sure we get time in for both exercise and a good chat." Assess how you did and what you could do better. Once you have refined this to your liking, move on to the next area that is out of balance and do the same.
Be kind and caring with those you care about while meeting your individual needs as best as you can. Be realistic in your expectations. If you find that in spite of all of your hard work, your stress level is still too high, seek professional help. Lots more may be going on than you realize. If the two of you can work together to balance your lives, you'll feel more content, less stressed and have a better relationship.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ra'anana. This column offers general psychological advice and is not intended to replace treatment by a mental health professional. firstname.lastname@example.org