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For Your Marriage

Balancing Family and Work

The Symptoms

Joe has been married for four years. It’s pretty clear that in order for him to advance in his profession, he is going to have to work 60 hours a week for the foreseeable future. That’s the minimum. Joe recently discovered that the pension plan is only for partners. If he doesn’t become a partner in the firm, he considers himself a failure. As Joe says, ” There are no lifeboats for those who don’t make it to the top. I’d have to start over somewhere else. I’m doing this for my family – for my wife, and for the children we hope to have, so we have a good financial future. But we want to start a family soon, and I’m apprehensive – we don’t have enough time for each other as it is. I want to be a good husband, but I also want to succeed at work. What do I do?”

A Prescription

We have a dilemma when we hold two values that are seemingly in conflict – “I want to be a good husband or wife, and a good father or mother. But work seems to suck everything out of me. How do I do justice to both?” When trying to solve a dilemma, we have to look more carefully at the values we are trying to protect, and see if we understand these values correctly.

Especially in uncertain financial times, it’s easy to get very anxious about work, even if one has a good job. We can be tempted to make any personal sacrifice in order to maximize our work opportunities. But it’s important to remember that giving up everything for work is no guarantee of success. You may sell your soul to the devil, and the devil may still downsize you. Better to work to balance your life now. Then, if work lets you down, you’re still left with a solid base of love and support.

Avoid getting into either/ors: “Either I put in incredible hours at work or my career will be a bust.” The true answer is somewhere in between. There may be some positions that you will not get, some contracts you won’t sign, some honor you will never acquire. Also, there will be some cars, vacations, or colleges that you won’t be able to pay for. But in this life we pay for things we value, and, regarding family life, the question is not “Is it worth it?” but “Am I willing to pay?”

Having said that, balancing your life can “pay off” in the work setting, too. I’ve seen many people (and I’m one of them) where marriage and children cut down on their workaholism, forced them to set limits on their work, and – lo and behold – their work life improved. They became more effective and more productive, because there were boundaries to the time they could spend at work.

It’s time to have a heart to heart talk with your spouse. We often assume that we know what the other person wants, so we give it to them before they ask. Later we might say, “But I did it all for you!” Is partnership in the firm primarily a personal goal or is it a goal you share? How do we balance “us time” with the work time necessary to achieve a certain lifestyle? Does your wife support your devotion to your job or is she already feeling neglected and fears for the future? It’s important that decisions about how each spouse makes major time commitments be mutually acceptable since presence is a measure of marital commitment.

Couples have to work these things out for themselves, but not by themselves. Go to men and women you admire, who have achieved balance in their lives between family and work. Ask them to tell you about the choices they made, and the challenges they faced – perhaps even the mistakes they made. Then in prayer ask the Lord to guide you as you make your own decisions.

You may find that you can modify your job expectations in order to leave more time for family. You may also find that certain jobs or positions are incompatible with the other values you hold regarding family life, and a change is warranted, possibly with a accompanying change in lifestyle.

Most problems in life don’t get “solved,” they get managed. We make corrections and adjustments as we go. When asked what it took to be happy, Sigmund Freud said, “to love and to work.” In this case, he wasn’t far wrong. Only, keep them balanced!

About the author
Dr. Jim Healy is a counseling psychologist and Director of Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois. His marriage resources can be found at

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