Happy Together 24/7
By Alicia Fortinberry, MS
Seven Rules for Couples who Live and Work Together
My husband Bob and I celebrated our anniversary recently. For over 20 years we have lived together and most of that time we have also worked together.
I look at those words on the page and it strikes me, again, how lucky we are and how precious this life we have together is. Many people come to us because they are unable to overcome the obstacles that modern society throws in the way of effectively living together, let alone being with each other on a 24/7 basis.
With an increase in the number of small (often franchised) businesses being set up on the back of redundancy payments, and with a growth in the numbers of people who telecommute from home, more couples are living and working together.
This trend echoes an earlier time, when, for most of human history families worked and played together. The concept of leaving home to work would have seemed absurd to a hunter-gatherer. It would have seemed equally absurd to go anywhere without your loved-ones.
Even after we became farmers we still retained the idea that the family was an economic as well as social unit.
Only with the arrival of the industrial revolution a few hundred years ago did we become a people to whom "home" and "workplace" were really different, each with it's own set of relationships, rules, taboos and conflicts. With this division, and the strains that it produced, came separation and the terrible isolation of those left at home.
So how do we get back to happily being a family as we were designed to be?
Here are a few basic ground rules that must be followed to have a really happy long-term full-time relationship:
- Don't separate work from the rest of your life. Work should be part of a continuum, something that the group shares together. With Bob and me life is equally about writing a book together, seeing clients at home, walking on a beach or visiting friends. The idea that "work-time" and "time-off" are separate is a false distinction.
- Work with other people. Bob and I have a number of friends, colleagues and students whom make up our "tribe." We not only work with them on various projects, they and we stay periodically in each other's homes. In this way we get support, fresh ideas and company. The nuclear family was never meant to be an isolated unit; that's one reason why half of all couples divorce. And it's one of the reasons that intentional communities are becoming so popular.
- Maintain a nexus of friends outside of the core relationship. One of the common traps into which 24/7 couples fall into is not having the time, inclination or mutual trust to go out and make external friendships. One person, however supportive, cannot meet all your needs. Nor can one adult and some children. Women need other female friends and men need other male friends. This, too, is very hunter-gathererish. Men needed the hunting band to bond with (replicated at the sports stadium or the sports bar), and women needed the gathering group (nowadays perhaps looking to dig up bargains at the local shopping center) for support.
- Explore and maintain shared beliefs. Common belief systems are humankind's chief bonding tools. The old adage that "a family that prays together stays together" has a lot of truth to it. In our experience few relationships survive where there are really basic disagreements as to ultimate values and matters of faith. Bob and I have developed out own pantheistic set of spiritual beliefs and this shared metaphysical conviction is a tremendous bond between us.
- Develop relationship rituals. Rituals are things you do by mutual agreement and with awareness. These are different from habits, which you may not even consciously know you're doing and can be divisive. Cuddling before sleep or getting a babysitter and going out to dinner once a week are rituals. Yelling at your mate when he or she forgets to put the cap back on the toothpaste tube and watching TV when your partner is trying to talk to you are probably habits. Rituals renew your sense of being a tribe and your commitment to each other. Bob and I have a ritual of standing on one leg with our arms outstretched when we feel like a hug. We make a ritual of going for a walk at lunchtime every day and using this time to debrief what's going on at work and in the relationship.
- Work out mutually agreed roles. Who does the cooking, the grocery shopping, the finances (some of Bob's roles), who contacts clients or is the front person (my job)? More relationships fail because roles are not agreed or given respect than for almost any other reason. And this is particularly important when you work and live together.
- Be honest and concrete about what you need of each other. Never second-guess what the other person wants; it's a recipe for disaster. Never be forced into the position where you have to manipulate your way into getting your needs met. Ask outright for what you need and ask your partner to do the same.
I believe that if you use these tools any relationship can be an ongoing romance, and a 24/7 relationship with someone you love can be a wonderful experience. It has allowed me to be free of the depression I had suffered from before I met Bob. It has allowed him to develop in ways that he wouldn't have thought possible.
If ours is the way of the future, thank God for it.
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About the Author
Alicia Fortinberry is an award-winning health writer, and expert on emotional health and optimal relationships. Together with her husband and long-term collaborator Dr Bob Murray, she is founder of the highly successful Uplift Program, and author of Raising an Optimistic Child (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and Creating Optimism (McGraw-Hill, 2004).
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