Right now, my plate is full. My practice is full and I am not accepting new clients for the time being. I am doing a home re-model project with my husband that takes up every spare moment of our weekends. I am busy, busier than I have been in a number of months. It wasn't long ago that I wrote a blog entitled "Hibernation" because with the changes brought about by COVID-19 came a slowing down. That feels like a lifetime ago now.
If you're anything like me, you don't realize that your plate is full until "food" starts falling off of it. In other words, it is only when you notice yourself dropping the ball on certain tasks that you wake up to how much you've been doing. Sometimes, your plate may be quite full while your partner's plate looks relatively empty by comparison. You may notice feelings of envy and resentment arising within you as they get more time to sit on the couch than you do. On the flip side of that, you both may be experiencing very full plates with different things. This is arguably the most harmful to a relationship - while you both attend to everything piled on your plate, you forget about all that your partner is managing, too. You both are just trying to survive in your own worlds that you forget about the world you inhabit together. Finally, it's possible that you and your partner both have full plates that are full of the same things. You both are stressed about finances, your child's behavior problems, or the endless amount of dishes. Below, I discuss what to do depending on which scenario you find yourself in:
1. My plate is full, but my partner's is not.
First and foremost, let's look at why that is. While it may truly be that the tasks filling your plate are things your partner can't help you with, look again and make sure. If you are independent and used to "doing your own thing", you may be partially to blame for how your plate got here in the first place. Do you struggle to say no? Do you struggle to ask for help? Do you struggle with prioritizing self-care? If you said yes to any of these, you've found the answer to the work you must do to lessen your load. There may be another part of this equation (potentially) and that may be having a partner who is unwilling to help you when you need it. Maybe you've asked, but are consistently told no. In that case, it may be time to have a sit-down, heart-to-heart conversation in which you make it clear how much you could use a hand right now. In the long-run, them taking some things off of your plate is good for both of you.
2. Both of our plates are full with different things.
If you both are in school or have demanding careers, this scenario may ring true to you. What oftentimes happens in this scenario is that both people in the relationship lose sight of each other. It becomes all too easy to prioritize other things, run out of time to spend together, and grow apart. It's time to name what's going on without putting blame on yourself or your partner - this is just where life has brought the two of you. Now it's time to pause and figure out what changes need to happen if you have a shot at being close again. What can each of you commit to taking off your plate so that you can make more time for each other? If nothing can really come off, how can you improve communication and/or add on more quality time? The survival of your relationship depends on it, especially if there is no end in sight to the amount of stress you both are facing.
3. Both of our plates are full with the same things.
While this scenario creates an opportunity for closeness as you both band together to get through the challenging situation you're facing, this scenario also opens the door for conflict and blame. It's all too easy to assume that you and your partner are experiencing the same thing because you're in the same boat...right? But the two of you may feel very differently about the boat you're in. One person might feel worried, while the other feels angry, for example. To get through this time requires consistent, open communication so that your partner knows what you're going through and you know what they're experiencing. And, even though your plates are full of the same thing, see if there's any way to shuffle some things around that might reduce stress for either one of you (this works especially well with childcare tasks). Make sure you are also taking a break now and then and connecting about things other than what's on your plate. Remember who you are as a couple before your plates got this full.