My work-together-live-together relationship, how it works (and sometimes doesn’t!)

So, I skipped ‘sitting down and showing up’ at this blog last week as I was sitting down on a beach on the Isle of Wight instead!

Three nights away was a ‘good start’ to heal the overwhelm and near-burnout the last few months has brought.  

Our lovely beach retreat on the island

Our lovely beach retreat on the island

There’s a way to go though before I feel completely recovered from the long hours and big changes. Since returning, I’ve decided to set some pretty strong boundaries around my time and energy, to get myself back on an even keel again.

This is not easy when I live with my business partner!  Bik and I are linked not only by a shared home and shared caring for Missy the parrot, but we also run a business together and play in a band together.

In fact, there’s not a whole lot we DON’T do as a pair! I have to be really honest, this doesn’t sit well with my very independent nature, and I think it’s fair to say Bik feels the same.  We are both solitary beasts and like to do things our own way.  It leads to some interesting balancing acts in the home, and it doesn’t always work – although mostly it seems to.

What a silly pair!

What a silly pair!

We work in very different ways:  He works steadily and slowly pretty much all the time – he’s checking emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and everything in between, but he’s good at pacing how he works.   Me?  I work in short, high-powered bursts and get LOTS done in tiny spaces of time.  Then I stop, completely, and step away from the work.

If I try to work when he does, I burn out fast.  If he only works when I do, he doesn’t get everything done and the stress sets in.

So, we can’t always synchronise work and play schedules, and that’s fine – it has to be.

Giving myself permission to spend time reading, or in my studio, or outside on my own is important.  I need to make my own plans for downtime and NOT make my relaxation dependent on him relaxing, too.

So, in all this doing-things-together-ness, we need to make space for doing-things-on-our-own.  I think everyone does.

Relationships are challenging for all of us, if we’re totally honest here.  

Absolutely all your nonsense comes out in the space created between you and another person.  Relationships, especially living together, is HARD.

I hate writing that word ‘hard’ – but it’s the truth.  Domestic bliss does not come easy to this lady.

I love my own company, need a lot of time not interacting with anyone to keep my energy levels up, and I’m REALLY strong willed about how I like to live.  I also put my art and life’s work first, always have done.

Basically, my loved ones have to amuse themselves when I am working on something, because I am simply not available for anything else. 

Woman at work - do not disturb!

Woman at work – do not disturb!

In a way, sharing a lot of work-stuff with a partner is a good way around this.

On the other hand, it means that we’re ‘in each other’s space’ a whole lot more than I’ve ever been used to.  I’ve had to get really good and holding my own space for what I need, regardless of where Bik is at any given point with HIS work and stress levels. I took the few days after coming home quite easy, then, even though Bik dove head-first into event planning and promotion pretty much right away.

Every time I was tempted to get dragged into work ‘because he’s working’ I just didn’t.  I’m working when I can, right now, and I’m taking it slow. It’s taken me a long time to be able to be in a relationship, especially a live-together one, and hold my own space too. It’s safe to say that it’s taken more than 40 years to be able to be in my own space, in the same space as somebody else.

The key to it is making *me* the centre of my universe instead of expecting the other person to make me the centre of theirs.  It’s contrary to what we are taught about relationships, but boy, does it work!

Full disclosure: there are still more days I don’t manage it than days I do.  Social conditioning is mighty hard to resist – but every day I step up and try, and that’s all any of us can do.

When I manage it, here’s how:

1) I don’t make it about me:  not taking on another person’s feelings as your own is a trick worth learning.  It also makes you a whole lot more supportive as you don’t get sucked into a doomy-spiral-of-doom with them, but can stand safely on the shore with a lifeline, so to speak.

2) I *do* make it about me:  when I’m feeling cranky or upset, I remember that I own that stuff, it’s not how somebody else ‘made me feel’.

3) I take care of my own needs:  this is a game changer, make no mistake. Instead of making it somebody else’s job to magically sense what I need and give it to me, I parent myself. I am my own butler, my own PA, my own 1950s wife (she’s my personal favourite).  If I need help or support, I ask for it, sure, but it’s ultimately MY job to look after Jani.

She brings me lemonade, she's a GOOD wife!

She brings me lemonade, she’s a GOOD wife!

So, I make my bed because I like to come home to a made bed.  I plan my meals so that I eat properly.  I take myself off for a nap if I feel like I need one.  I give myself the care and devotion I need, and it really works.

Here’s the thing: nobody really likes a martyr.  A person who is well rested, balanced and happy is a lot more fun to be around and a million times more effective than a burnt-out-husk.  This means never sacrificing my own basic wellbeing for anyone on a regular basis (obviously there are extreme moments when it may be required, but I don’t make a habit of it!).

4) I don’t play comparey-tennis:  it’s not my business how productive Bik or any of my colleagues is on any given day.  I work at the pace I need to, find my own rhythm and don’t worry about what other’s are up to.

5) I try not to blame others when I’ve let the above slide:  if I have been silly and overworked, skipped meals and not had enough sleep it can be REALLY easy to blame it on something external (usually Bik – as he’s closest!).  It’s much better to take full responsibility for my actions and choices.  Nobody ‘made’ me do anything, I made my own choices – and I can make different ones from here on in.

How do you balance the need for your own space with the needs of your loved ones?  Please do share!


My work-together-live-together relationship, how it works (and sometimes doesn’t!) — 6 Comments

  1. Love this….really resonates with me…goal for this month not to compare my work to others 🙂 x

  2. I am working on this too.

    It is quite a brain strain.

    One of the things I am insisting on at the moment is that MY projects come to the top on a fairly regular basis.

    I do most of the things that you do but sometimes there are projects that I want to achieve that need help.

    For the majority of time I am happy to modify my activities to our joint priorities or Nick’s priorities as he has less available time/flexibility than I do.

    I found though that the things I needed help with were slipping further and further behind, often other people’s priorities. IMO that was just wrong. I stomped, I stropped, I cried! As you do. Then I applied my intelligence and just laid it out plain, rationally (always works with Nick, female emotion just freaks him out, poor boy, makes him into a jelly. Horrible to watch and I try not to do it unless entirely unavoidable! Usually we address things before it gets to that state but unfortunately it often takes several emotional outbursts before my rational self pops up and says “hold on there, we need a solution, not just a reaction!”)

    Its only a few weeks into this new approach but it is working better than the previous ones. We have been distracted by other projects that have arisen as a consequence of already planned work and needed to be addressed in a shorter term than my priorities. That is real life and although I don’t like it and my inner child would like to stomp, my rational self is doing a better job of balancing her whilst being firm and insistant that my priorities will be addressed before we start any new projects.

    Its a harder attitude than I am used to putting forward but it is neccessary and fair. So, nearly 2 years after the intial intention and committment, my car is on EBAY! Yay! result!

  3. I have lived with and worked with my husband for thirty five years now and I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment about such an unusually intense ‘in-your-pocket’ relationship. When we started a family, fate decreed that we should have two children on the autistic spectrum which has been a huge challenge over the years, combined with running our businesses. We’ve not allowed much in the way of ‘me time’ so it’s been tough for us but, with the children now grown up and settled happily elsewhere, we’re currently enjoying some pleasant ‘apart’ time. In fact, he’s gone to visit his mother and I’m at home looking after the businesses. I feel guilty because I find it so peaceful while he’s away – no TV on, no radio on, just chilling out and going about life slowly. He’s much more dynamic and driven than me and actually unwinds by watching (and usually falling asleep in front of …) some fairly mindless TV. I simply can’t do that! I shall be back to the ‘real world’ on Monday but it will be lovely to have him back 🙂
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post XX

  4. We certainly do have to learn to parent our inner child, it makes things so much easier doesn’t it 🙂