Ask the expert: Hectic work life is causing rows with my wife

Stress of reduced income and increased job insecurity can take its toll on family harmony. Photograph:Getty Images

Stress of reduced income and increased job insecurity can take its toll on family harmony. Photograph:Getty Images


Q Both my wife and I are working parents and, like many, we are struggling to keep working, pay the bills and be good parents to our three children (three, six and seven).

My business has taken a nose-dive over the past few years and now I have to work longer hours to make the same money. My wife works part-time and is busy minding the kids which is hard work.

I tend to be much later home these days and am usually tired – this has led to lots of rows with my wife as she feels lumbered with all the parenting.

I am not totally happy myself either and would like to have more time at home with the children like I used to, but it does not feel possible.

I also realise that I am relatively lucky to have a job and we are not on the breadline at the moment. I just wish my life could be a bit less hectic.

A I think your situation reflects the position of many families in these challenging economic times.

The stress of reduced income and increased job insecurity, not to mention the pressure to meet the many demands and responsibility of being a parent can all take its toll on family harmony.

Sadly, these problems can easily
increase your stress levels and have a negative impact on family relationships and particularly put pressure on a

During these times, the key is to work hard at keeping these problems at bay and to rediscover a new balance in your life that keeps you focused on preserving what is most important to you.

Pausing to review
When life is stressful and busy, it is easy to get caught into continuing on the same treadmill, even though it might be increasing your stress. You can feel that you have no choice but to keep going or you can think that if you can just get through this period, things will be easier.

In such stressful situations, the
important thing is to pause and take a step back to consider your options.

Rather than simply keep going on the same path, notice the early warning signals (for example, of your increased stress and the strain on your marriage) and consider what changes you can make.

No matter how difficult a situation is, you usually have more choices than you realise and you always have some potential to choose how you respond to a situation. In addition, it is important to act soon before stress gets a hold and your
relationship suffers further.

It is always easier to make changes at the early stages rather than later when problems are entrenched.

Discover what is important to you
Take a moment to consider what is most important to you in your life. What matters most to you? In working with people, I suggest they identify the key areas/roles in their lives that really matter to them such as running a business, being a parent, being a good spouse, personal goals, and so on.

Then I get them to rate how much time they spend on these key roles. Frequently they discover they are out of balance and neglecting things that are really important to them.

Many parents work extremely hard in their careers for the sake of providing for their children, but miss out on spending time with their children and enjoying them growing up.

Personal satisfaction and happiness flows from achieving balance between the important areas in your life.

Focus on positive choices
Once you have a sense of your key priorities, the next step is to focus on the choices you have.

Some of these are hard choices that present you with having to let go of some things which, though attractive, are not aligned to your personal values.

For example, establishing a business may be of course an important area of your life both in terms of personal satisfaction and providing income for your family.

However, on close reflection you may discover you could spend less time in the business or delegate some of the work, though this could result in you earning less money.

Could you reorganise your life and live on less money, if it gave you more family time?

Some choices can be less challenging and just involve good organisation. For example, you may be able to make a
choice to always come home between
5pm and 7pm to be there at the most important time for your wife and children and instead do some work at home in the evenings.

Or, if possible, you may choose to involve your wife in the work of your business and you can choose to do more household chores (so it is less a source of conflict in your relationship).

Focus on self-care
Whatever choices you make, you need to prioritise your own mental health and wellbeing.

If your stress levels continue to rise, you are in danger of reaching “burn out”, which is much harder to recover from.

As you review your life, take time to include times of relaxation and

When prioritising self-care, always aim for “win-wins” that have benefits in other areas or your life. For example, prioritise a daily walk or a kick around in the park with your children which is not only important to your parenting but also affords you some exercise and fresh air.

Or make sure to have a weekly special meal with your wife, where you can cook and care for one another as well as plan the coming week together (which can avoid lots of problems and stress).

Such a weekly ritual can be a boost to your relationship. When dealing with challenging times, the key in intimate relationships is to not let these problems drive you apart but instead be a spur for you to work closer together and to support one another more.

Dr John Sharry is a psychotherapist and director of the Parents Plus Charity. He will deliver an Irish Times Saturday morning workshop ‘Creating Work Life Balance’ on November 9th in Wynns Hotel, Dublin 1. See

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