Gregory K. Popcak, Ph.D., MSW.
Finding a balance between work and relationships is a challenge for everyone, but what if you and your partner disagree on what the balance is? It is not uncommon for one partner to feel like everything is “just fine” while the other partner feels more and more that he or she is chasing after a mate who is having an all but adulterous relationship with a job.
How a couple handles this conflict is dependent in large part upon whether they in a dating relationship or they are already married.
The dating couple is still in the process of evaluating whether God has truly called them together to be each other’s best hope for becoming everything he wants them to be in this life and to help get each other to heaven. When the dating couple experiences conflict around work, they have to ultimately decide whether God is asking them to make work sacrifices for the sake of the relationship, or if the relationship is a distraction from work God has asked them to do.
Once a couple has taken the step for marriage, however, they have made a covenantal commitment to each other to “forsake all others” that threaten the primacy of the marital relationship–including work. From a Catholic perspective, marriage is a vocation. That is, it is the primary way a person works to become who God wants him or her to be in this life, and works to get ready for heaven in the next. In other words, love—not work—is the ultimate purpose of human existence and our vocation (which, for the married person, is marriage) is the place where we learn the most about what it takes to love God and others in the deepest and most perfect way. Work exists to support the vocation, not the other way around. Because of this, spouses have the right to claim the best parts of each other, not just what’s left over when they finally leave the office.
This can be a difficult problem to negotiate when one spouse thinks everything is “just fine” and the other is angry about how much work is taking his or her partner away. In these times, the partner whose work ethic is being called into question has to resist the temptation to hide out behind the, “I’m happy and you’re not, so you’re the one with the problem” excuse. If your mate is unhappy in the relationship, then there is a problem that you are both responsible for attending to. Often this will mean that the spouse whose work is causing conflict will need to scale back.
Sometimes, though, it is not so clear-cut. If you are confused about the best way to organize your priorities and whether it is your work ethic that is out of order or your spouse that is too needy, you will probably need to seek counseling to learn new tools for meeting your own needs while making sure your mate’s needs are being met as well.
Finding real balance means displaying both the humility to admit you don’t have it all figured out and the willingness to learn how to make sure you and your mate find everything God wants you to have in this life—a deeply loving relationship and rewarding work.
Dr Gregory Popcak is the author of 8 books integrating Catholicism and counseling. He is the Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute that provides marriage, family, and personal counseling for Catholics nationwide via the telephone. For more information, visit their website at www.CatholicCounselors.com