Even if you’re a person of studious habit and crisp organization, the freelancing life can have many kinks in what might laughingly be called the work-life balance. The balance is more like a moving Slinky (you remember those, don’t you?), where there’s only a moment in its momentum when it’s stable, before it plunges jitteringly onward again. In that light, making time for your spouse might seem more burden than pleasure.
Let’s Talk Screen Time and Squeeze Time
It may seem the definition of perversity to think that the square screen of your computer might be more alluring than the warm arms of your darling, but these are trying times. When you work at home, your computer — or your smartphone or tablet — is always there, crying out to you about another late project, an opportunity, a tweet about the latest current events.
The relentless pace of “progress” — and possibly the standard freelancer’s paranoia about where the next contract is coming from — might mean you give more stares of longing to the screen than to your beloved. And anxiety about deadlines and work pressures might mean that you not only scream at your screen, you aim some snippy retorts at your partner too, when he or she calls wondering why they haven’t heard from you in three days.
It might seem mechanical, but set specific times for connecting with your other half. Make it clear that there’s more electricity between you and your love than between you and that electron-pushing data box. Oh yeah, the advice about having a separate workspace helps, too. I work out in my 1966 Airstream office, a silver cylinder (and shiny respite) in the yard, so its confines define my work mind.
Mutual Meditation and Cheap Paper Towels
One practice that helps me and my girlfriend align our breathing is … to align our breathing. We often meditate together, not long after coffee in bed in the early hours, and since she also works at home, that sets a connection for the day that is further sealed by having breakfast and lunch together. And no, I’d never stare at my iPhone at the dining table. I stare at a magazine instead.
We have another meeting of the minds at mid-day: We go for a walk in the neighborhood or on the sweet trails of the area sloughs. Sure, maybe we talk some work, but we also just talk about lots of important stuff, like whether we’re low on paper towels. Talking is bonding, as this PolicyGenius post makes clear.
And there’s great advice in that post as well to root for each other: Understand the pressures of each other’s work, and champion each other’s successes and opportunities. Pay attention to those tips on going lean, too; for many years running, Alice and I have managed to house-sit overseas for a month or more at a time, and a lot of that is due to not being spendthrifts. We only buy the medium-priced paper towels.
Don’t Leave Your Relationship in a Dead Zone
We’re lucky that we both work virtually; there’s no commute burnout or commute expenses and stresses. When I was the only one working from home, Alice would return from a long commute and I might want to go out, but she would be an emptied-out office husk. Now, we can be more spontaneous: Together, we can agree to stay home.
And here’s some fine advice from Fast Company on knowing the tickings of your creative clock: Know when you’re most productive in your work, and block out those hours to deliver. The other hours? Perhaps that’s when you break out the wine.
The Fast Company piece was slanted toward freelancers with families. There’s nobody around here that needs diapering, though my cat might look pretty good in a onesie. But you might give so much of yourself to family and friends that spousal neglect puts a scowl in place of that once-sweet smile. Or maybe you spend a few too many hours every night playing Minecraft and not enough playing house. You probably should share the spilled-blood-watching Game of Thrones together instead, because that might spare the spilling of your own.
Do your best to not develop the kind of work habits that compel you to give your lover a shrug and a pat on the head as you pass him or her in the hall on your way back to your laptop. Pay attention to your spouse, pay tribute to their talents and charms — and pay for dinner occasionally, too. You don’t want to be the person that dies while putting one last formula into a spreadsheet as the love of your life pines for your phone call. Keep the love alive—there’s time for spreadsheets later.