SET ME FREE, BABE

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - Globe Life & Arts -

Per­sonal time isn’t just fun, or re­lax­ing – it’s es­sen­tial to in­di­vid­ual and mar­i­tal health. That men still get more than women is just one rea­son

Dave McGinn thinks we all need to take leisure time more se­ri­ously

The fight­ing between Gil­lian Rowin­ski and her hus­band went on for years. It was al­ways the same fight, time af­ter time.

“I would be do­ing too many things be­cause I’d be ei­ther over­com­mit­ted or try­ing to do too much stuff. He would be re­lax­ing play­ing a video game or read­ing a book or hav­ing a beer. I would look at him and get su­per re­sent­ful,” says Rowin­ski, who lives in Van­cou­ver and has three chil­dren. “I would just blow up. ‘You never help me! I do ev­ery­thing around here! You do noth­ing.’ ”

Her hus­band would point out that he had, in fact, done a num­ber of chores, it was just that she hadn’t no­ticed. “And then we would have this big ar­gu­ment and I would prob­a­bly cry,” said Rowin­ski, who works in hu­man re­sources and is a writer.

What Rowin­ski even­tu­ally re­al­ized was that she wasn’t up­set that her hus­band hadn’t done the dishes – she was up­set that he had fig­ured out a way to find time to re­lax, and she hadn’t. She needed her own free time.

It’s a story that is fa­mil­iar to most cou­ples rais­ing young chil­dren. Between work and kids and tak­ing care of the house, it is hard enough to deal with all the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties bear­ing down, let alone find the time to take a walk or go out for din­ner with friends.

Fam­ily ther­a­pists say a lack of in­di­vid­ual free time is one of the most prom­i­nent com­plaints they en­counter, and cou­ples who ig­nore the prob­lem for too long risk see­ing their mar­riages end over it.

» But even small changes can vastly im­prove each per­son’s happiness and the over­all qual­ity of a mar­riage. “It’s likely to sur­face quite at the be­gin­ning, at the out­set of our ses­sions,” says Dr. Michal Regev, a Van­cou­ver­based mar­riage and fam­ily ther­a­pist. It’s a ubiq­ui­tous strug­gle for his clients, one that can cause frus­tra­tion, re­sent­ment and anger.

“We all need to recharge, es­pe­cially when we are giv­ing a lot to oth­ers in our fam­ily, at work and to oth­ers out­side of our fam­ily who need our help,” Regev says. “Many peo­ple com­plain about feel­ing ex­hausted and de­pleted. The high-paced, high-speed life­style of to­day’s world may leave lit­tle room for in­di­vid­ual time.”

That seems to hold true par­tic­u­larly for Cana­di­ans. Last month, Canada was ranked the fourth­worst coun­try out of 37 around the world for work-life bal­ance in a re­port re­leased by Ex­pert Mar­ket, a Bri­tish-based com­pany that com­pares busi­ness prod­ucts and prod­ucts. The re­port, which an­a­lyzed OECD and World Bank data, based its rank­ings on av­er­age an­nual hours worked by par­ents, the num­ber of paid leave days in each coun­try and the to­tal paid leave avail­able to moth­ers and fa­thers.

Not that Cana­dian par­ents needed ev­i­dence: Ev­ery­one knows that e-mail and other pres­sures make it much harder to leave work be­hind at the of­fice than it was for ear­lier gen­er­a­tions. And, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada, 58 per cent of cou­ples with young chil­dren were em­ployed out­side the home in 2015, which squeezes per­sonal time even more.

“Af­ter hav­ing our son, ev­ery­thing changed,” says Agatha Smykot, who lives in Cal­gary with her hus­band and their oneyear-old. “No more free time. It ba­si­cally be­came non-ex­is­tent.”

Regev says that women com­plain about the lack of free time more than men, which isn’t sur­pris­ing, since the most re­cent data from Sta­tis­tics Canada show that women con­tinue to do more child-care and house­work than men.

In 2010, women spent an av­er­age of 50.1 hours a week car­ing for chil­dren, com­pared with 24.4 hours spent by men. And while men put in an av­er­age of 8.3 hours a week on do­mes­tic work, that is still much less than the 13.8 hours women put in tak­ing care of the house.

“Some­times, I hear spouses say, ‘I was play­ing soc­cer five times a week when we met, so what do you ex­pect? I love play­ing soc­cer. I need it for my men­tal health,’ ” Regev says. “Well, good. But what about your spouse?” As Smykot and her hus­band be­gan ar­gu­ing con­stantly, she even went out look­ing for her own apart­ment.

Like so many problems in a mar­riage, the lack of free time can only be solved through open and hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion, says Dr. Jane Greer, au­thor of What About Me? Stop Selfish­ness From Ru­in­ing Your Re­la­tion­ship. The New York-based psy­chother­a­pist and ra­dio host ad­vises peo­ple to first fig­ure out how much free time they need to feel sane, then talk to their part­ners about what’s re­al­is­tic for both of them.

“Let your part­ner know this amount and em­pha­size how it’s im­por­tant emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally. Go over the list of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties so that each per­son knows what needs to get done in the mean­time,” Greer says. “Make sure it’s bal­anced.”

A cou­ple of months ago, Smykot and her hus­band sat down to talk. She told him she had had enough, and they de­cided to fit free time for both of them into their sched­ules.

“That means Tues­days and Thurs­days, he’s re­spon­si­ble for pick­ing up our son from day­care and then start­ing din­ner and get­ting him fed,” she says. They also al­ter­nate putting their son to bed and tak­ing the dog out for a walk. And Smykot re­cently joined a neigh­bour­hood as­so­ci­a­tion to en­gage her­self so­cially.

“Since we’ve al­lo­cated free time for each one of us, things just got ex­po­nen­tially bet­ter,” she says.

Rowinksi had a sim­i­lar con­ver­sa­tion with her hus­band a year ago. Their so­lu­tion meant changes for the en­tire fam­ily – in­clud­ing no work­ing in the evenings and try­ing not to over­sched­ule their kids. Week­ends are to­tally for fam­ily.

“If I’m not run­ning from one thing to the next, I’m hap­pier, I’m more calm, I’m a bet­ter par­ent,” Rowin­ski says. She still doesn’t have end­less amounts of free time, maybe an hour ev­ery other evening. But that’s an hour she spends do­ing some­thing she en­joys – and read­ing a book is much more sat­is­fy­ing than ar­gu­ing.

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