How I Find Balance In A Relationship When My Partner Has Responsibilities That Never End

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"Two’s a company and three’s a crowd: is as old as proverbs come — but spot-on for describing the long-term relationship I’m in. And the third entity happens to be none other than work.

Anticlimactic, I know, given the day and age we live in but there are some people, like my boyfriend, who take their work to the next level — because they want to make a difference, and change the world.

That motivation is powered by a ton of passion and hard work, most of it unpaid, for the greater purpose.

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My boyfriend and I are passionately involved in working with nonprofits.

While I work for a non-profit in a writing capacity, my boyfriend, a medical doctor, started a non-profit order to provide crisis support and counseling for the local community.

Not too long ago, we were in conversation about the work he was doing for his organization, which is essentially offering assistance and emotional support to those who are grieving, and I found myself saying “Hold up. What about me?” 

“Very funny,” he replied effectively ignoring the elephant in the room.

Yes, my boyfriend works to benefit those who may not otherwise have access to resources or are not aware of the availability of such resources due to financial limitations, and yet, I feel hurt that he freely offers his time while I constantly have to remind him of how we need “our time” as well.

I love him, no doubt about that. He is kind, rarely loses his cool, is motivated, and is heavily invested in helping others. But the operative word here is “others” — as in his patients and his community and that leaves me feeling conflicted.

Am I selfish for craving his attention when he is busy doing selfless work that could very well be saving lives? Why can't I be the supportive girlfriend instead of harboring feelings of frustration and jealousy?

Some of my friends have been pretty vocal about telling me that if he loves me, then he should be spending time with me, too.

I've also read relationship advice suggesting partners of busy doctors become uber-busy with their lives so that there's no time left to brood. My best friend, on the other hand, is a 20-year veteran of being married to a hardcore workaholic and advised me to keep up with gentle reminders to my boyfriend of the importance of setting aside for us.

And yet, his intense work schedule still rankles me — he always has time for others but no time to actually sit down and listen to me?

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In her article, “What To Do When Your Crazy-Long Hours are Ruining Your Relationship,” author Elizabeth Grace Saunders refers to this as the “Expectations Gap.”

Part of the reason for this gap in expectations is when one partner needs more quality time with the other partner in order to feel cared for, like me. She offers a few suggestions to remedy the situation such as committing to a 30-minute one-on-one conversation each evening, calling during your commute home, planning a weekend getaway, or doing a weekly date night. 

She adds that the time and interaction, even if short, should be deliberate, consistent, and meaningful to both partners.

Another important point Saunders makes is that having a partner who is unable to come home most nights doesn't meant you're a broken relationship, contrary to popular belief. She suggests having a conversation with your partner about what your needs and expectations are and having your partner do the same — that way you have two baselines to compare.

Perhaps what struck me the most is when Saunders reminds us that even though I may feel hurt because my boyfriend's grueling work schedule means less time for me, it in no way means I'm any less worthy of love.

Another article I found helpful by Coach Natalie, a love and relationship expert, offers advice on finding balance in a relationship: “It’s all about making the effort to express your needs and expectations in a productive way, setting aside time to spend with each other, and making sure that you’re being met halfway. While you’re doing all of this, make sure that you’re busy too! It’s the best thing you could do to set your mind at ease, enjoy your life and feel like you’re thriving, and this will attract this man as well.”

Upon implementing some of these tips and strategies, I've discovered that frequent check-ins with my boyfriend not only go a long way toward conflict resolution and finding a middle ground, but what's more, my boyfriend surprised me by mentioning how proud he is to have an accomplished and supportive girlfriend by his side.

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Yana Bostongirl writes about mental health issues that can result from toxic relationships like codependency and narcissism.