The French Impressionistic painter Henri Matisse once said, “What I dream of is an art of balance.” How many times have I looked at my own life and thought the same? Probably more times than I can count.
In today’s American culture, it seems we are constantly bombarded with things that push us toward imbalance. Our pursuit of wealth and success keeps us constantly on the move. We tend to say relationships and people matter the most to us, but our actions often show otherwise.
For many of us, work, school and sometimes both take up the biggest chunks of our days. When we do actually venture away from the office or classroom, technology creates a way for work and the constant demands of media to follow us home, stealing more and more of our time. Beyond that, we have to figure out a way to fit friends, family, hobbies, errands, chores, sleeping, eating, exercise, church and time for ourselves into our crowded schedules.
Finding balance between all these things can create quite a challenge for us as individuals. But balance becomes even more of a difficult task when a significant other enters your life. All of a sudden, you have another person to consider when making decisions and they have a completely different definition of what it means to be balanced.
In their book, Married to Distraction, Edward and Sue Hallowell write, “How a person spends his or her time is often more contentious in a couple than how a person spends money.”
Before I go too far and provide some thoughts about how to find balance, I start with a warning: Achieving perfect balance in your life and in your relationship will be impossible! This is because we will all have our good days and bad days.
Life balance coach C.J. Liu says: “The error is in thinking that perfect balance is a state that lasts forever. Linguistically, we treat the phrase ‘perfect balance’ as if it is a noun. Really, a more helpful way of thinking about balance is to imagine ourselves perfecting a constant process of balancing. Think of all of the above as verbs and as processes. It’s not about perfect, it’s about perfecting. It’s not about balance, it’s about balancing.”
So, with that in mind and within the context of relationships, how do we begin to figure out what balance looks like?
Part of bringing balance to your relationship starts with an understanding of each individual’s idea of what balance looks like (e.g., expectations). Many relationship problems stem from couples ignoring their differences. Both parties tend to just assume they know the correct way to live. They push their own view, often subconsciously, onto the other person, which leads to arguments.
In many cases, neither person’s view of balance is “right” or “wrong” but simply based on their upbringing, personality and needs. Balance for introverts, consisting of a great deal of time alone, is going to look very different than for extroverts, who fill their time with lots of people and excitement. Neither way of living is a universal definition of balance, they are just different. To have a healthy relationship we need to work with those differences.
Here are some helpful questions to generate discussion:
- Do you feel our quality relationship time has been enough?
- How do you feel about the quantity of alone time you have?
- How much time do you need with your friends?
- How do you feel about our calendar and pace of life?
- Are you getting enough exercise and sleep?
- How do you feel about the amount of time technology has in our life?
- How do you feel about time spent with God and church?
The goal of these conversations should be to understand each other’s priorities and needs, then to discuss how much time and commitment should be spent on each. The result should be some sort of ongoing compromise that creates a healthy balance of life for both of you.
As you enter into this process, here are some thoughts to consider:
Ask yourself what you can learn from your significant other and their view on balance. The way we choose to balance our lives communicates something about our priorities—what we find most important and what our greatest needs are. Having these conversations will teach you a great deal about the person you are with, but they will also provide great opportunities to learn about another way of living and evaluate why you define balance the way you do.
Also, sometimes our significant others can see areas of weakness that we overlook. My wife, Melissa, can pinpoint areas of unbalance in my life much easier and more readily than I can. We’ve had a number of conversations about schedules and balance where I stubbornly disagreed with her view, only to find out weeks or months later that she was right. By that point I am usually sick or exhausted. I am beginning to learn to trust her when she brings up a concern.
If you’re being challenged about balance in a certain area, try not to get defensive. It’s hard, I know! Instead, try to really listen and hear what your loved one is saying. Then perhaps you can work on making a decision about how to handle this area together, armed with wisdom and cooperation.
Lastly, observe that it might be wise at times to say “yes” or “no” to activities based on your partner’s needs for balance. In relationships, our focus needs to shift from looking solely at ourselves and to consider our significant other and their needs for balance. We should be watching out for them, willing to sacrifice and serve their want for balance. This shows our love and our desire to honor them through our actions.
I tend to be a “yes man” and fill my schedule with as many activities as possible. Melissa, on the other hand, needs a lot of down time and time alone. I have had to learn to sometimes turn down good things and good people for her sake because I knew she was on the verge of burning out. On the flip side, she has learned to say yes to events and other activities at times because she knows my needs are different than hers. It is still something we wrestle with—remember, perfect balance is impossible—but we do our best to watch out for and serve one another.
Though these conversations can be hard and louder than we’d like at times, we have found them invaluable to not only our relationship, but also to our individual well-being. We have heard it said, “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not break.” This is the kind of attitude needed to be in a constant process of working toward balance in your life and relationships.
Jake and Melissa Kircher write about marriage and relationships at holymessofmarriage.blogspot.com.