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Saving Energy for the Last Push

"By the end of the day, I have nothing left for my partner."  

"She just comes home and wants to crash."  

"My husband falls asleep before we have a chance to really connect in the evening."  

These are common complaints I often hear from discontented partners.  I understand that people have increasingly busy and emotionally draining lives.  Long work days, stressful commutes, home obligations, parenting responsibilities, family drama, civic duties, etc.  It seems that so much is vying for our attention, and we don't have a choice anymore about where we devote our emotional energy.  How are couples supposed to maintain a quality healthy relationship if the rest of life is sucking them dry?  

Is it fair that our partners get whatever limited emotional reserves we have left over?  Shouldn't they deserve to have the best of us?  Instead of presenting their best selves to their partners, many people give their best to their bosses, co-workers, their children, and whomever else needs them earlier in the day.  It would be nice to be able to come home and just turn on an unlimited store of reserves so we can give our significant other the love and attention they need to feel truly satisfied in the relationship, to be able to attend to their worthy needs as diligently as we tended to our employers' unreasonable demands.  Seems like an unobtainable goal, doesn't it?  It does until you realize that you are making decisions all day long that can affect your energy level at the end of the day.  

The Last Push

Hiking is my therapy, and fresh air my drug of choice.  One of my favorite hikes in Washington involves gaining 3500 feet over the course of a 10 mile round trip trek. I'm on the mountain most of the day because there is so much to see and explore, and so many photos to take. I could easily make the hike 12-15 miles to see more. The first time I explored this trail, I realized at the end of the day that I had an uphill climb of 500 feet in the last half mile leading to my car. This doesn't seem like much by itself, but after the previous 9.5 miles, just seeing this incline made me feel drained, resenting the trail for taunting me. I had a similar experience the second time I faced this trail.  

By my third trip on this mountain, I remembered that last half mile. I kept in mind that in order to feel better at the end of the day, I had to consider that last half mile and how much energy I was going to need to finish strong. All day long I made decisions that kept in mind that last push. Shall I not explore this new trail that goes up that hill? Maybe I could take more breaks to catch my breath. I should be drinking water more frequently. I'll let go of my anger towards the group of overly noisy hikers I passed or the trash I saw on the trail. All of these things and more can affect my energy throughout the day. The result of these little savings is that I can almost run up that last hill.

She Is Most Important

My wife is the most important person in my life, and our relationship deserves my best effort. The decisions I make all day can affect how I feel when I go home to her. Shall I have lunch with friends, or enjoy a quiet walk in the sun? I'll let go of anger that other drivers are not courteous. I won't stress over my boss's new demands, the banking machine that malfunctioned, or the long line at the post office. In short, I keep that in mind that by the time I get home, I want to have enough energy to run up that hill, and know that I've saved something for "the last push."


Where Is Your Finish Line?

I have talked with several runners, including those who compete in marathons. Runners try to pace themselves so they don't crash just before the finish line. The goal is to finish strong. Many of you tend to see the finish line in your lives as the end of the work day, or after fighting traffic to get home. You have spent those precious energy reserves and are ready for down time. I have heard many frustrated partners complain of feeling abandoned when their significant others disappear to veg out or "decompress" immediately after walking in the door. One client of mine described how he would spend over an hour each day in his bathroom flipping through Facebook updates or playing a game because that was the only place he could get his deserved quiet time. On the other hand, his wife had the idea that when he got home that she would have a teammate to help with the kids. The tension in the home was considerable because his finish line was when he walked through the door.

For those with children, the finish line might be when the kids finally fall asleep. You breathe a sigh of relief and fall down on the sofa or bed to get lost in a program or web of social media distractions. Or, you use this time to catch up on housework, and the last 2 miles of your race is devoted to something other than your partner. In these cases, you see the finish line too early, and the emotional reserves are used up before you have a chance to effectively connect with your partner. My client, Jerry, saw his wife struggle with their demanding children, even helped out as much as he could, but resented his wife for having nothing left for him each night. He struggled to be sympathetic when his emotional needs got put on the back burner as the dishes and floors were made a priority.

Your challenge: To see the finish line as your own bedtime, and the last 2 miles of the race as the time you get to spend with your partner. Set your sights beyond the stress of the day and reserve some of that fuel to be there for your partner. Look to each other to massage those tired legs and catch your breath at the end of the race. 

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