People used to feel sorry for Rich and me because of our work schedules. Now they're envious.
If only they knew.
While we dated and when we were first married, I was working a normal eight-to-five office job. Meanwhile, Rich worked 4 p.m. until midnight or later, but with Saturdays and Sundays off, although our weekends didn't start until he awoke around noon. And that was the extent of our time together: from his rising until my retiring on Saturdays and Sundays, for a total of about 24 hours per week to do everything from housework to socializing to just plain relaxing.
Then several years ago my office job ended and I decided to go freelance, working from home.
Most people looking at this situation might say, "How nice that you get to see more of each other now!" and they'd be right except for one thing: We went from 0 to 60 in about five seconds, and nearly blew out our marriage motor. With our previous schedules we'd lived for the weekends. Now we were thrown together nearly 24/7 except when Rich was at work.
The conflicts piled up quickly. He couldn't check his email because I was using the computer. I couldn't watch what I wanted on TV. At lunchtime, there had to be a discussion on what we'd eat, who'd make it, and who would clean up. I nagged him incessantly about leaving his clothes on the floor. He insisted on listening to the stereo—at high volume—while he was on his stationary bike even though I was just feet away trying to work.
It was like we were … married.
Even though we'd been together for several years, we finally had to face one of those conundrums of married life: How do two people get along in such close quarters? What's the right amount of time together and time apart? After much trial and error, here are the conclusions we came to, and how we applied each theory to our marriage.
1. Everyone has different personal space needs. Some of us are introverts who gain energy from being alone, while others are extroverts who are happiest being around others. Because opposites attract, many couples are mixed—introverts married to extroverts. Extroverts need to understand that their introvert partners' space needs are not an attempt to shun them.
What we did: I plan my work schedule to have a few hours alone before bed. When Rich gets home from work, I'm usually asleep and he can enjoy his space for a couple of hours before bed.
2. It's okay to get away from each other occasionally, whether for an hour or a day. When you're newly married and finally with "the one," it's easy to become so wrapped up in each other that you never part. Give the together time a rest every once in a while.
What we did: I accepted a part-time position that provides an office away from home for several hours a week so I'm not in Rich's way every day before he goes to work. On days I'm home, we sometimes have lunch dates with friends instead of each other.
3. Plan activities with other people. Again, it's easy and fun to be alone with your spouse. But after awhile, that alone-time will get stagnant if you don't mix it up by socializing with friends and family.
What we did: We made more of an effort to entertain and go out with friends.
4. Spend quality time together. Watching TV snuggled up on the couch is comforting sometimes. But if all your couple time includes a third party—the remote—then it's time to reinvent your relationship. Take a walk and chat. Go to a coffeehouse and listen to some music. Bake cookies. Paint a room. Whatever it is, do it together.
What we did: We bought a membership to the zoo near our home for quick evening jaunts, made a policy that we'd do something active on at least one weekend day, and planned a series of inexpensive getaway weekends.
5. Understand that you will have disagreements. There's no way a couple can live together every minute and not fight or at least have words.
What we did: We agreed early in our marriage that we'd stay together no matter what. Having that assurance makes our arguments a little less earth shattering.
Remember the old saying "Absence makes the heart grow fonder"? When you find the right balance with your spouse, you'll see how a little time away and a little time truly together will grow your marriage.
Oh, and buying a second TV wouldn't hurt either.
Christy Scannell, freelance editor and writer, is co-author of Katt's in the Cradle (Howard Books/Simon & Schuster). She and her husband, Rich, live in Southern California. http://www.ChristyScannell.com