Taking Something Off Your Plate

by: Jim Duzak, JD

One of the things I admire most about women is their generosity of spirit. Nearly every woman I know spends an incredible amount of time tending to the needs of her immediate family, her aging parents, her friends, her co-workers or her clients, and often the community at large. The world as we know it couldn’t function without women and their dedication.

But the downside of this generosity is burnout. Too many women are perpetually running on empty. They may not complain but, if encouraged to talk, they’ll admit they’re stretched-out and stressed-out. They instinctively know they have way too much on their plate. Intentionally or otherwise, they’ve created systems that require constant---and personal---maintenance, and which benefit everyone but themselves.

For women with too much on their plate, my advice is simple: take something off your plate. No, I’m not advocating child neglect, nor am I suggesting you adopt a don’t-call-me-I’ll-call-you policy with your eighty-five year old mother. What I am saying is that there are probably obligations you have that are self-imposed, or services you render that are unnecessary, or relationships you’re sustaining that are one-sided. Is it possible that you’re spending more time organizing your child’s life than is healthy for either of you? Is it possible that your brothers and sisters are “useless” when it comes to helping out with your parents mainly because you haven’t insisted that they be useful? Is it possible that you have friends or co-workers who are takers but never givers? Is it possible that you always say “yes” to community organizations when something inside you is screaming “NO”?

If these situations sound familiar, you’re in good company. But the fact that millions of other women are overburdened or under appreciated doesn’t mean that you should be, too. I like to say that the key to accomplishing anything is “Little Things, Repeated Often.” Whether it’s losing weight, getting in shape, enhancing a love relationship, or simplifying your life, you normally don’t have to do anything drastic. By adjusting your daily habits just a little, you’ll accomplish your goal. And saying No doesn’t mean you’ll never say Yes again, only that you’ll have to let your own needs determine what you can do and when you can do it.

Start with your most peripheral relationships. That so-called friend who has been bending your ear as long as you’ve known her, but never seems to have ten seconds to listen to your problems, has got to go. She’s sapping your energy, putting you in a bad mood, and stealing time from the people you truly value. Next in line might be the person at work who always wants you to drop everything so she can meet a deadline, but never returns the favor and never bothers to learn how to do her job more efficiently. The demands of church, school, charitable, and neighborhood groups can be harder to resist, because these organizations can’t survive without someonevolunteering their time. But that someone doesn’t always have to be you. You’ll be a more effective volunteer if you focus on just one group and either withdraw from the others or support them with whatever financial help you can afford. None of this requires rudeness.

“Thanks for asking but I’m just too busy right now” may be all you need to say. Or the situation may call for dividing the job up and asking the other person to do some of it (“I can either help mom with the doctor visits or I can check out assisted living centers, but I can’t do both. Which would you rather do?”). In the case of kids, you can back off entirely and let them learn a valuable skill (“Honey, I can’t be talking to Emily’s mother every time the two of you have an argument. You girls need to figure out how to solve your problems on your own”).

By freeing yourself from one-sided relationships and unnecessary demands and dependencies, you’ll finally have some time to devote to the one relationship you’ve probably been neglecting: the relationship with yourself. When you think about it, it’s the relationship that makes all the other ones possible, and it’s the only relationship you can be sure will last a lifetime.

Jim is a graduate of Boston College Law School, and practiced in Boston for over twenty years. After moving to Arizona, he became a full-time mediator for the family and divorce court in Phoenix. His experience in working with divorcing couples, plus his own life experiences---he was a 20 year-old husband and father, and a single father for several years after his divorce---prompted Jim to write a book (“Mid-Life Divorce and the Rebirth of Commitment”) that helps people avoid divorce by teaching better ways to communicate and resolve disputes.Jim is currently an advice columnist, relationship writer, and personal coach. He also puts on workshops dealing with marriage, divorce, post-divorce dating, and other aspects of men-women relationships. Jim writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com, CupidPulse.com, and LAFamily.com. See Jim’s website at www.attorneyatlove.com