Working men and women each have work-life balance issues. But how these issues play out often differs along gender lines. Men often act as though their jobs come first. Women typically put family first. Men sacrifice time at home for career advancement and more take-home pay. Women sacrifice career advancement and higher pay for time spent with family. Women feel guilty leaving work early to get home in time for dinner and men feel guilty about staying at work late and missing dinner. And occasionally roles are reversed where women feel guilty about wanting to go to work and men feeling guilty about wanting to stay home.

  • How can working couples possibly achieve work life balance when there are so many impediments to doing so?
  • What can couples do when they disagree about what their own roles and their spouses roles should be in respect to raising children and earning a living?
  • What do couples do to meet their own needs for exercise, social interaction, alone time and having fun?
  • What about single and married people who have no kids? Shouldn’t they be included in discussions of work-life balance too?

Achieving work-life balance begins with knowing who you are as a person and what you need in order to be happy.

Sometimes this means sitting down with your spouse, partner, significant other or by yourself and trying to determine what you value most of all, and what you value as a couple. It’s OK to value raising a family and it’s OK to value pursuing a career. You just need to be really clear and sometimes painfully honest about what your highest value is, so you can make life-affirming decisions, both big and small, with these values in mind.

Very few people ever take the time to do this. Values help you see if what you say and do are in alignment with what you think and feel. A person who says he cherishes family or God or integrity or success can be a very different person depending on what value he cherishes most.

Taking the time to carefully establish priorities is often the only effective way to unravel the mystery of how to achieve work-life balance.

For example, if you value health above all else, and your job doesn’t allow you the time to exercise on a regular basis, your life is going to feel out of balance. If you value religion above all else and your job forces you to work on Sundays (so you can’t attend religious services) your life is going to feel out of balance. If you value family above all else and your job doesn’t give you time to be with your family, your life is going to feel out of balance. Taking the time to prioritize your values will help you see what’s working for you and what’s not.

Think about the values that are most important to you. Make a list of your top five values, in order of priority from 1 to 5. Create this list around the person you want to become. Not the person you are right now. Be sure to carefully prioritize the list. (A person who puts work ahead of integrity is a much different person who puts integrity ahead of work) so think about your prioritization carefully.

Once you have created your list ask yourself: Am I living my life in accordance with these values? How close am I to becoming the person I want to be? What would a neutral third party say my values were by watching how I’ve allocated my time in the past? Do I treat my family in accordance with my values? If you see a conflict arising between the person you are and the person you want to become, make choices and set goals based on your new set of values, always bowing to the goals of the highest value first.

Keep working on achieving the goal of living your life in accord with your highest values. As you do, you will move more and more in the direction of a balanced, fulfilling, stress-free life.