“I don’t have time for a relationship.”
Flashback six years, and I remember how 80-hour work weeks aren’t conducive to relationships. Clients tell me, “I’m still single because I’m focusing on my career.” This saying reflects a myth that exists when it comes to entrepreneurial women. The myth goes like this: We have to choose.
Do we choose a successful career, or a healthy relationship? I don’t think we have to choose at all. I think women can balance both, if we learn to balance the tension.
This morning I woke up early to write. Not long after my alarm rang, a distraction scratched its way in to sabotage my goals: My husband. He had a story he wanted to tell. While I had discipline on my side, I also had a deadline. My inner achiever begged me to tune him out, but my inner wife told me to set my work aside and be present. You might be thinking, if I were a good person I would listen to him and love it. But, what happens when the story lasts 30 minutes, and then a friend stops by for a surprise coffee date, and then mom calls and wants to chat?
If I choose relationships over my career, my work falls to the wayside. I wind up bitter. If I choose work over the relationships, my partner might complain. I feel guilty. Researchers have found that women struggle with this balance more than men. We have a biological tendency to choose relationships over achievement. Many of us even have a voice that says, “always put others first.” This voice can be healthy in moments, but only when it is balanced with another voice: “My work needs deserve to come first too.”
What is the right way to respond to relational distractions? When the loquacious friend calls do we send her to voicemail? Or, do we pick up and feel resentful when she steals 50 minutes of our work day?
When I met my husband, I had a job that kept me up until midnight and woke me up at 5 am. If he tried to talk to me while I was in the zone, my selective hearing would usually win. This scenario happened so many times that he turned it into a joke that he uses to this day. After his third time attempt to engage with me, he quietly utters, “Never mind, I’ll call back later.”
When he says this, a large part of me feels guilty for not pausing to chat. I worry he will think of me as a workaholic, or worse, a narcissist who always chooses my agenda over him. Another part of me wants to tell him that if he valued my career he wouldn’t interrupt me.
The fascinating part of balancing loving well and working well is that it becomes harder when we don’t have a boss.
A boss won’t allow us to steal away for an hour to chat with a partner. But when we are the boss, we let that boundary slide. On the other hand, a good boss rarely demands that we ignore our partners to meticulously market the business. When we are our own boss though, we cross this boundary without thinking twice.
Good bosses enforce codes of conduct that let us focus on work and have healthy personal time. If we are the boss, we can achieve balance with similar boundaries. As an equal fan of my business and my marriage, I am practicing four codes of conduct to ensure I work well and love even better.
#1 Respect my boundaries and my partner’s equally.
My boundary is that when I’m writing I don’t want to be interrupted. If my husband walks up to me and tries to chat I tell him I want to listen, but I have a deadline. On the other hand, he needs to feel appreciated and respected. Telling him I don’t want to listen feels like a slap in the face. While vocalizing my boundaries is important, I must be willing to honor his as well. This leads to the second code of conduct:
#2 Be willing to compromise.
My husband will never like being ignored and I will never enjoy being interrupted. If we want to stay happily married, compromise is key. When he starts to tell a story, I swallow the urge to keep writing, make eye contact, and tell him I will listen in 7 minutes. I’m getting better at being more realistic with how much time I’ll need.
Do I ever feel guilty for putting my projects before his feelings? Yep. But I remind myself that he’s man enough to tame his excitement and wait. Does putting my needs first sometimes annoy him? Yes, but I have a trick.
#3 Celebrate Success Together.
When my book was published (because I stuck to deadlines!), I didn’t host a solo book launch. We collaborated to celebrate both of our recent work. Celebrating success together eases the tension of long-hours, distracted conversations, and the stress of planning an event alone. The launch party felt like a moment to cheer each other on as individuals and as entrepreneurs. Relationships that celebrate each other end up having more to celebrate.
#4 Value relationships like the bottom line in my business.
When my relationships are healthy, my business benefits. When work gets tough, I need a solid foundation I can trust. My relationships, however distracting, love me more than my clients ever will.
If you’re dating or married, treat your relationship like your bottom line. Will there be tension? Yes, but the lessons you learn in relationship will eventually serve your customers and vice versa. If you’re single, prioritizing your career doesn’t repel future partners. In fact, healthy codes of conduct attract partners who support and respect your work more than they ever could distract.
We have the honor of being the boss. We create the code. When we’re working, we can politely say no to distractions. While on deadline, it’s okay to tell partners to wait until dinner to tell us the news. Then when dinner arrives, we have permission to turn off technology and nurture our relationship.
There is always room for both. Or as my entrepreneurial and PhD-laden mother-in-law puts it: “There is no either-or , there’s just and.”
Photos by: Andrea David