Part IV: Taking Care of Your Relationships

The last three articles gave you suggestions on relaxation and self-care. Both of these are key ingredients to achieving work-life balance. These two things relate mostly to the way we treat ourselves. While this is foremost in our lives, the relationships we have with family, colleagues and friends play a big part in our ability to be at peace and feel balanced.

If we spend all of our time working, or engaged in activities that don’t nurture our most important relationships, we slowly find that we lose the connection we value. Ironically, this happens most often in our closest relationships with our partners or family. We believe these people will always be there, so we let other things get in the way. Ask yourself who is most important in your life. Then consider how much energy you put into that relationship vs. your work, hobbies, or other activities.

When it comes to maintaining our relationships we must ask ourselves two key questions: 1) Which relationships in our lives should we nurture, and, 2) How exactly can we maintain and build those important relationships?

Let’s start with knowing which relationships deserve your time and energy. The obvious answer is the ones that are most important – family, partners and friends. All of these deserve your attention, but so do some of the relationships that seem less important, and in fact, drive you crazy. Many of us struggle with difficult colleagues, for example, but we don’t want to spend the time putting any effort into them. The problem, however, is that we spend at least eight hours a day dealing with them. That fact alone makes them an important part of our lives, even if we wish they weren’t.

So, who has the time to do all this investing in relationships? That’s where the second question comes in to play.

How do we give to our relationships in a world that already demands every bit of our time and attention? The first, and most important thing to remember was covered in the last two articles: Start with yourself. The more you give yourself, the more you have to give to others.

Once you have given to yourself, (daily), it’s time to think about those who matter most. The good news is that you can give to people in many ways. Start with two simple things: Listening and appreciation. The most important gift you can give to anyone you care for is to listen. For example, when you ask about your spouse’s day, don’t multi-task while he or she answers. Being present for someone for a few minutes is more valuable that being with them half-heartedly all day.

Appreciation is crucial. Express in whatever way you choose what you value about that person. It can be a short hand-written note, a hug, a thank you, or a compliment. It’s not enough to do this once in a while. If you are grateful for these people every day of your life, they should know it every day.

Remember also that the relationships that are hard for you need maintenance as well. The way to begin is with understanding. Try to understand what they need and why, and do what you can in small ways to give it to them. If a co-worker has a weak ego, pay her a compliment, and be gentle with constructive criticism. A little effort can go a long way.

There is not definitive goal we reach called balance; it means something different to each of us. The point, however, is to be cognizant of it; to define it for ourselves in different stages of our lives, and to strive for it so that we live our lives as fully as we can.