Rules for when seasonal work strains a relationship

by DGO Web Administrator

My boyfriend and I moved in together two months ago. We’re very much in love, and I feel comfortable discussing issues and feelings with him.Although, I have always struggled with bringing up things that make me upset (I’m working with a therapist on this).His job is seasonal, and fall is exceptionally busy. This is the first fall we have been together, so I was not emotionally prepared for the long amounts of time we are spending apart. He takes a large amount of pride in his work and making sure his customers are satisfied. I love and respect this about him.Coupled with his commute – he moved farther from work so we could live together – he’s gone from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every weekday, and they will be adding Saturday hours, too. He’s exhausted when he gets home (which I understand) and not in much of a mood to talk and reconnect.However, I’ve been home for a few hours at this point and miss him and really want to chat. When he’s not wiped out, we can talk for hours. What advice do you have for getting through this hard time of year?Chatty and Wide Awake

Treat him like he’s deployed. He’s gone for the fall except for some bonus quiet-evening-togetherness visits. You’ll get him back in full soon enough.

Try to make it work by finding other productive, interesting or just fun things to do with the time you’d normally spend with him. Do this till the season ends.

When you’ve had him back for a while and gotten some distance from the emotions you’re feeling now, reflect on the whole experience – including his sacrifice in extending his commute. If at this point you decide you don’t want to live like this indefinitely, then you talk to your boyfriend about the future – goals, dreams, realities.

Then you decide accordingly whether this relationship is where you really want to be.

You’ll be happier about this whole answer, though, and happier in general, if you come up with it (and others like it) on your own.

So, here’s a rough set of commandments to get you there:

(1) Do not take personally what isn’t personal. He is driving, working, driving and resting; he is not purposefully avoiding you.

(2) Do not confuse desires with expectations. You want to chat after a long day, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair to expect him to chat after a long day. Expecting it introduces disappointment and blame, intimacy-killers both. Don’t dismiss the wanting, though; it can tell you what matters to you.

(3) When you don’t get what you want, try liking what you actually have. Each fall, you have the security and promise of a shared love plus the freedom of “found” time. What good ways can you use that? And, how can you make your couple time both restorative for him and satisfying to you?

(4) Put away any preconceived notions of how a relationship “should” be and let your contentment, or lack of it, tell you whether it works. Don’t fight your reality – be patient, live it, and listen to it. See what will and won’t change – not because you want it to, but because it does. Then trust the answer you get.

My girlfriend and I have been together for almost a year and are moving in together at the end of the month. She’s not perfect but neither am I, and she’s awesome at understanding and supporting me. She’s younger (27 to my 33), but because she’s A LOT more mature than I was at 27, I’ve overlooked it – until now.We started the move-in process at the end of summer, after I was stressed because of repeated family visits. She understood, but instead of offering to wait a few weeks, she kept pushing to look at apartments. I wonder if she did that because she’s really eager to move on to the next stage of her life – move out of the row house she hates, get a dog, keep developing a social network beyond loser, alcoholic roommates. That’s all great! But I worry she’s so eager that she’ll ignore my needs in doing so.And now I’m still stressed and slated to move in with her. ARGH!!!! All I want is a few weeks of hikes on the weekend and eating right during the week, not scrambling to pack and find movers. I worry that once we move, we’ll have to unpack, decorate the new house, and then the holidays! She’s generally good at compromise, but if we got this far with me being stressed 24/7, can I trust future compromises? And if I can’t trust her and am so nervous about this move, should I be in this relationship at all?Butterflies or Warning Signs?

The person you need to trust at compromising is you. You’re the one who agrees to the terms, or doesn’t agree and holds out for what you need.

You told her you were stressed, she said she understood … and didn’t offer “to wait a few weeks,” OK. But did you ask her to? Did you articulate what you needed, or did you stop at saying how you felt? And did you take her (non)response as the last word?

This is the core of every compromise you will make in your life – not just the one you were looking for now in this situation with this girlfriend. You need to decide on the minimum you will agree to; think of what you’re willing to offer (if anything) in exchange for that; speak for yourself accordingly; and then not accept less than your minimum – with the full understanding that it might cost you in other ways.

So in this case, that would have meant, for example: deciding you were not ready to undertake a move, and needed a few weeks to catch your breath; committing to be all-in as soon as the rest time was up; and stating these two points clearly to your girlfriend.

Then, if she kept pushing you, you would have: kindly but firmly acknowledged her urgency and her reasons for it; asked her to respect your needs nonetheless because you wouldn’t be asking if it weren’t important; and refused to give in on your baseline request of waiting until X date to start apartment-hunting with her.

In a relationship, that is the way you keep your priorities and sense of self from being swamped by your partner’s – any partner’s.

If the price of holding the line where necessary is a breakup or, worse, a soul-sucking, peace-of-mind killing, good-time erasing, endlessly recurring argument, then that’s your indication that you two don’t fit, because you aren’t able to give each other what you need while getting your own needs met.

Note, while I don’t endorse her “pushing” and would tell her so if she were the one writing to me, none of this is about her maturity or trustworthiness in forging a compromise. Each of us is the author, ultimately, of any arrangement we agree to just by virtue of agreeing to it.

So if you’ve found yourself caught in a rush to move against your will, then, yes, that could be a sign you shouldn’t be “in this relationship at all” – not because of your girlfriend herself, per se, but because you’re not (yet?) willing or able to stand up for what you need and invite the consequences, whatever they may be.

My friend is going through a rough patch. Some of her friends have tossed her aside. She’s having problems at work and then trying to juggle things with a new guy. She turns to me and I’m happy to try to help or just be there to listen.But she often demurs on plans and always prefaces things with how no one else was available or how someone bailed. I want to be there for her, but how do I explain to her that minimizing my friendship like that hurts? I don’t want to add to her anxiety, but always knowing you’re the second choice is dispiriting.Second Choice

Her anxiety is not your problem to solve, it’s hers. Certainly you can be sensitive and not, say, belabor a topic that is obviously uncomfortable for her to talk about – but when you start suppressing who you are and what you feel because she’s anxious, you’re crossing the boundary into making her problems your own. So stop.

Codependency alert: Other friends “tossed her aside”? Maybe instead they made a reasonable calculation that she’s using her new man and her work-ouchies as an excuse to be inconsiderate.

So, be there for her by being YOU for her. Explain that when she repeatedly blows you off because the other people canceled, you feel slighted and demoralized. Her actions have consequences, and unless she is clinically depressed and/or the “rough patch” is life-and-death serious, it doesn’t give her license to treat you like crap.

And even when it is life-and-death or major-depression serious, the license is limited to, “She is in no position to think clearly,” and whatever that fact can reasonably excuse.

I met a guy at a bar from another state. We hit it off, met for drinks a couple of days later, and the potential for a relationship was born before he headed home.That was two months ago. We met up in a third city about a month ago for a three-hour dinner date while I was on a work trip, which was quite pleasant.Another month has gone by. I can’t travel to him for one more month due to additional travel, and he hasn’t fully committed to visit me yet. We talk on the phone twice per week with a small smattering of texts in between. I’m starting to be over it due to the limited communication.There’s just not enough there to maintain interest in between cross-country flights and it’s starting to feel uninteresting, despite the fact he still seems excited about me.Do I give him a chance to visit again before killing it? Or does the slow two-month build up to not much speak for itself? Friends are telling me to give it time, but my ex-boyfriend texts more often than he does and that feels telling.Long-Distance

Friends, timing of next visit, ex’s text frequency — these are all clutter. You have lost interest. That’s all you need to know.

I recently found out my sister-in-law shares everything I say about my mother with her – including screenshots of texts and exact quotes from phone conversations. My mother is a difficult person, and my sister-in-law and I have spent years commiserating over her overbearing and trying ways.I’m completely shocked by this, I thought she was my sister! We were so close!I asked for an apology, but she says she did nothing wrong, and that my mother deserves to know anything that is said about her. I asked my mother for an apology for spying on her adult daughter, and she said I should apologize for the things I’ve said.This has made me feel like an outsider in my own family, and I don’t really want anything to do with any of them. Can I hold out for an apology? Or is this basically where I have to decide between an apology and ever seeing my family again?Overshared by Sister-In-Law

If this is exactly how things transpired, then your sister-in-law is a monster. That is a jaw-dropping abuse of trust, and I’d be as devastated as you are.

I can’t imagine anyone who would betray you that thoroughly and profoundly would also ever apologize sincerely or change her ways — not without a personality transplant or a full-on Dickensian epiphany.

So no, there isn’t much promise in holding out for an apology, but you can accomplish quite a bit on your own just by accepting the reality of the people you’re dealing with.

Your sister-in-law – “Silvia” – used you to gain favor with your mother. That she did this over years, without detection and apparently without remorse, makes this an extreme case, but otherwise it’s actually a common form of family dysfunction. The moment you say something negative about someone, an opportunist can use that to forge an alliance with your target. If the target then trashes you, the opportunist can share it with you to burnish the appearance of intimacy between you. I’ve seen entire families use this tactic on each other over years and years of petty infighting.

With no realistic chance of an apology from Silvia or your mom, you’re looking at a decision between having nothing to do with your family again, or remaining a much wiser, arm’s-length participant in its activities. You could choose both, certainly, at different times, depending on how you handle it. For example, you can decide you need a break from them as you process this, and then reintegrate yourself later on with a different set of mental ground rules. Maybe you’ll work toward getting along with your mother again, but remain conscientiously estranged from Silvia.

One thing to consider: You can also give your mom a sincere apology, but not the one she thinks you owe her. Apologize for airing your complaints to someone else and not to her directly. She won’t like it, I expect, but it’ll help you get right with you.

This week, a co-worker died in a motorcycle accident. I didn’t know her well but she was very well-connected and her death directly impacts many people in our office. I wanted to go to the funeral to show my support for the family. The victim’s brother works in our warehouse and I see him frequently.When I told my girlfriend I was going to attend the funeral, she did not understand why and was even offended that I would even consider attending. She tragically lost her mother five years ago. I lost my aunt three years ago, also very tragically, and a childhood friend this year to what seemed to be an opioid overdose. My girlfriend compared the death to these and is critical of the fact that I would consider this death tragic in any way when people die all the time and it’s a fact of life. In her opinion, it’s insulting to attend this person’s funeral because I did not have a personal connection with the victim.My moral compass (and the consensus of my co-workers) is telling me I SHOULD be there. My girlfriend is highly offended that I would consider this, and I am torn between attending the memorial and offending my girlfriend. What do I do?Torn

Check your girlfriend’s brain for loose hardware?

Attending a funeral does not commit the deceased to your inner circle of intimacy. Therefore, going to the funeral of a colleague you didn’t know well does not devalue your presence at the funerals of the people you love most, or cheapen your (or her) feelings for these people or your (or her) grief at their deaths.

I assume that’s her objection, but I freely admit I’m just groping around for some interpretation of her fury that makes the remotes
bit of sense.

I also feel compelled to type out loud that I find it bizarre and surreal that anyone would require you to justify your impulse to be there, and that you’d actually comply. Funerals honor the dead but also comfort the living, so it’s perfectly customary to go to a funeral when you know the survivors better than you know the deceased. Yet she is “highly offended” that you would make this extremely common, utterly unexotic gesture of decency and goodwill?

To quote my then-toddler: What the fox?

The funeral will have come and gone by the time this column sees daylight, so attendance itself is a moot point. But you can still get to thinking, please, the sooner the better, about the broader implications of being with someone who feels as entitled as your girlfriend does to wedge herself into your professional relationships, public gestures and “moral compass.”

How often does she use these outsize emotions – or just the threat thereof – to influence your decisions? What other parts of your life does she presume to control in this way? What other things that aren’t (even a little bitty bit) about her does she take personally? How routinely does she lasso your planets and anoint herself the sun?

I think the terrible news of your colleague has exposed your girlfriend as bad news. But don’t take my word for it; use the Mosaic Method. It’s a threat-assessment tool to help spot dangerous or controlling people:

I have this job. I really, really love this job. Sometimes I resent how consuming this job is, but I do love it.My husband stays home with our toddler, which works well for all three of us.We had been planning to try to get pregnant again next month. But some work deadlines shifted, and from a work perspective it’s suddenly better to wait a few more months. Not “or I might lose my job” better. Just “to maximize my performance” better.So, part of me wants to wait. It’s just a couple of months, right?But another part feels guilty and ashamed for prioritizing work ahead of family … and I know for sure my husband will resent having to wait. So much of our household already revolves around this job.Yes, I do know nobody can ever really plan these things — we might start trying next month and try for a year. And yes, I do know this “problem” emerges from extraordinary privilege. Still, I gotta decide, and I feel really, really stuck. Any suggestions for an approach?Congenital Overplanner

It is just a couple of months, yes, and it’s better for all of you not to be stressed — so wait. There’s no need to let the principle of the thing ruin some perfectly good pragmatism.

And, at the same time, address your husband’s resentment and your choices as a couple.

When you’ve reached the point of “guilty and ashamed” – not over a trivial 60 or 90 days or whatever you’d be waiting, but instead over (BEG ITAL)who you are(END ITAL) – that’s your hint that you’re overdue to get stuff aired and figured out. You love your job, you are a “congenital overplanner,” you care about maximizing your performance. This isn’t stuff you should be denying or apologizing for or fretting about admitting to your life partner. It’s you.

Instead, you need to own these things and work with your husband on how they come to bear on his quality of life, how you plan your family, how you and he divide the domestic workload. If his needs aren’t being considered or met, or if he isn’t getting a full say in how things are done, then it’s time for him to be heard.

Someone who does feel invested as a full partner, however you divide the responsibilities, is not going to feel resentful over something so minor as pulling the goalie Feb. 1 instead of Nov. 1. Invested partners work together toward joint goals, and therefore will agree your focusing on work till X and then trying to conceive starting on Y serves you both and makes complete sense.

And invested partners also aren’t fearful that admitting what they prefer will drop a spark on dry tinder.

Come to think of it, even if you didn’t have a new work deadline to manage, there’s still the issue of bringing another child into a situation that actually isn’t working “well for all three of us.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with a household running around any particular thing — a job, a hobby, a sport, a health issue. What matters is that the family co-chairs agree on how things are run. So please set aside time to get frustrations out and addressed.Carolyn Hax is a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post. She started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. Email her at [email protected]. Can’t get enough Carolyn Hax? Read more every week at


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