That’s Men: Making time for the people who matter
A psychologist once said that your personality can change between the time you open your front door and the time you step over the threshold.
The street angel may become a house devil; the stern disciplinarian may become a warm human being.
But it isn’t so for everybody. We are all shaped by our experiences of work and by the demands our work puts on how we behave – but we don’t all manage to cast off the work personality when we land in the bosom of the family.
I was reading some research recently on doctors’ marriages which underlined this point but I think its lessons apply in many professions.
For instance, if your work demands that you maintain calm objectivity in the face of suffering, can you switch on warmth and excitement when you get home?
If your job demands high levels of achievement, both in terms of the quality and amount of work done, what’s left over for your family if you overdo it?
As an article in Humane Health Care put it some years ago, a doctor may return home from a demanding and stressful job “to recuperate from exhaustion rather than to contribute energy and life to the marriage”.
This doesn’t just apply to doctors. Such conflicts exist across a range of professions. And it doesn’t just apply to men; both genders find themselves in this trap.
Self-employed people, I think, are especially prone to conflicts of this kind. With no end to the list of tasks that need doing, it’s all too easy to neglect to put boundaries on the work.
Intimacy suffers in all these scenarios. Intimacy includes letting the other person see your own weaknesses, without the usual social masks that protect from rejection. It’s scary stuff and can make us fearful at the best of times. But if your job requires you to be strong all day, how do you make the switch to being vulnerable? If, on the job you have to keep a tight rein on your opinions, how do you switch to being an open book at home?
Other dangers include avoiding dealing with relationship issues by escaping into the job. And in some professions – the Humane Health Care article suggests this happens to doctors – a couple may, in effect, postpone intimacy until the exams are done and the future secured. That takes years but the secured future may be as busy as the preparation that led to it and intimacy may never make it to the priority list.
What’s to be done? Perhaps to stop assuming home life will sort itself out by itself. All of us in demanding or absorbing careers need quite deliberately to plan how to give family and relationships the attention they deserve. And most of us in such careers are probably good at figuring stuff out – we just don’t apply it to that part of our life that occurs outside the workplace. But we need to make a start because that may be where most of the meaning of our lives resides: let’s not wait until the job gives us the carriage clock and shuts the door behind us.
Addendum: At this time of year we naturally become so fixated on the GAA hurling and football championships that we forget the extraordinary role played by sports clubs in bringing a community and social life to people throughout the country.
A reminder of this role is the launch of the GAA-supported “Sport Your Mind” programme in Portlaoise tonight as part of Laois Mental Health Week. The programme promotes positive mental health for young people and suicide awareness for all.
The week includes many non-sporting events too but I think it’s important we acknowledge the huge importance of flourishing sports activities for our wellbeing. Go to laoiscommunityforum.ie for more information.
Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind - Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email. Twitter: @PadraigOMorain