Advice from the Trenches: Out of Time

notimeDear C;

I work days, from about 8:30 in the morning until 6 at night. My boyfriend doesn’t have to get to his job until mid afternoon so he gets up late and then doesn’t get home until after 10pm. It’s really becoming a problem because we hardly ever see each other. We got a cat a month ago and the cat gets more time with each of us than we do with each other!

I have been staying up way later than I’d like to, just so I can hang out with him for at least a little while. But I’m getting sleep deprived and starting to feel exhausted. I think things could get off track between us if we don’t figure something out. Got any ideas?

BTW — a lack of time seems to be the biggest problem we have; other than that, we get along great.

Frazzled

Dear Frazzled;

Problems are the litmus test of every relationship. Most couples get along great when everything is fine and the living is easy. But when a problem comes along, you really start to see what you, and that other person, is made of. Can the two of you work together to find a solution? Or does dealing with a conflict just push you apart? If this is a serious relationship and you have plans for the future, this is a good opportunity to test the waters; in life, you will always have problems.

Lack of time can just plain wear out the best of us. My son told me that when he was in law school, every student he knew who was in a relationship ended up getting divorced or breaking up, mostly because they couldn’t pay any attention to their partners; university gave them too much work. And just imagine what the addition of a baby, a major illness or financial catastrophe could do! This is good practice.

Now for some practical pointers. The number one rule of solving problems in any partnership is this: Don’t approach it from an emotional angle. The person who whines the most and can act the neediest does not deserve to win. If more couples ran their relationships like they’d run a business, there’d be far fewer divorces. You need to use both common sense and consideration. First, make sure you are on the same page. Do you both agree as to what the problem is? Do you both want to solve it? Good. Now start negotiating.

First question: Is this time crunch situation temporary? Or is it for the long haul? Sometimes, jobs are negotiable and can be changed without sacrificing goals. A time crunch might simply be a rough patch you are both passing through on your way to your real careers. But if this situation is permanent, ask yourself if you really want live with it. Many doctor’s partners don’t see their significant others for years on end because that’s the kind of time such a career demands. Same for truckers who drive long distance for a living. If you want a relationship with more sharing and togetherness, this question really matters.

Next, some practical considerations. Do the math, same as if you were an administrator planning office schedules. Who has the most flexibility? Are you both willing to negotiate? And do you want to do the same things in your down time or do you want to sit and watch a movie while he wants to go out dancing? It’s important to plan stuff you both enjoy in those moments of togetherness.

Let’s face it: Having everything you want, whenever you want it, is NOT the best way to learn and grow in a relationship. Dealing with difficulty teaches you a lot more. Real life throws a lot of crap at couples; if you are not of the same mind about where you want this relationship to go, it will become apparent. Sometimes one partner starts to realize that the person in the bed next to them is going to get cranky and selfish whenever a situation calls for compromise. And sometimes two partners realize they will both do anything they can to work out problems and stay together. The thing is, you never know what is going to happen until you start trying.

Do you two have what it takes for the long run?

I think you are about to find out.

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