When to Give Yourself a Break and When to Give Your Spouse a Break

How to figure out the balance between working and relaxing for you and your spouse.
By Celeste

I’m feeling a little ambitious today, so in this blog post I’m going to attempt to address two problems I often struggle with:

  1. How to find the balance between working and relaxing in my ever increasing desire for self-improvement and
  2. How to not judge my spouse on how he chooses to balance working and relaxing.  

Surprisingly I’ve found my answer in the same principle.

It’s the principle of 8/8/8.

When To Give Yourself a Break and When to Give Your Spouse a Break 

I first heard about it from this quote from an Ensign article talking about Brigham Young:

“One of President Young’s daughters recalled that he had taught: “Life is best enjoyed when time periods are evenly divided between labour, sleep and recreation. All men, women and children should labour; all must sleep; and if mental and physical balance is to be maintained, all people should spend one-third of their time in recreation which is rebuilding, voluntary activity—never idleness. ‘Eight hours work, eight hours sleep, and eight hours recreation’ was Brigham Young’s motto.”

Apparently, the idea stems from Robert Owen, who during the Industrial Revolution pushed for an eight hour work day (brought down from ten or twelve) and coined the phrase, “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest.”

Now you know.

Now, I’m not sure if I’m on board with these ratios to a tee, but here’s how the idea has helped my problems:

Problem #1:  How To Find the Balance Between Working and Relaxing.

I have this problem with self-improvement.  I’ll get really motivated and jazzed about improving some area in my life- be it cleaning, blogging, cooking, or scripture reading.  I read books about it, I make plans.  I carry out the plans and devote myself to the task.  This motivation mojo typically lasts about two weeks and then I inevitably crash.


Lame indeed.  It is frustrating that I can’t keep up the energy and motivation, but the real problem is I forever hold myself to the standard I set during those two magical weeks.  For instance, if I’m super good at keeping my house clean and organized for a few weeks, then I’ve raised my standard and am no longer satisfied when my house goes back to how it used to be.  The new standard typically lasts about two weeks, but the dissatisfaction lasts FOREVER!!!

It makes me wonder sometimes if it’s even worth raising the bar on myself if it’s just going to make me feel unsatisfied for the rest of time.

I was posing this problem to my wise friend Josalyn via email and she gave me the perfect response in letting me know about the 8/8/8 rule.  I’m just going to copy and paste what she has to say about it:

“You have to decide when your 8 hours of work are. What do you want to accomplish? What are the most important things?

Also, you have to forgive yourself for the 8 other hours. You can’t be on all the time. You can’t. No one can. Now at first I rebelled and said ‘no way I can do more than 8 hours!’ and I found that I can, but the next day I can’t even do the regular 8, I do six or four. So I think overall this is a pretty true principle.

As mothers we have to remember this. It’s a 24 hour job but we can only do 8. Julie Beck says make 3 columns. Things that have to get done in a day, things that should and things that would be nice. I have to tell you since I’ve had kid #4 here, my definition of what has to get done each day has changed. I’ve had to let a lot of things go. I do the important things first thing and then I relax a little in the afternoon before Brenda gets home so she can get a couple of my good 8 hours. I try to save one for David.” 

Isn’t she wise?  This principle has helped me SO much to understand myself, my priorities and to learn to let things go. (Also, saving one hour of you’re ‘on’ time for your spouse?  Genius)

This principle can be a little tricky when it comes to comparing each others working and relaxing hours.  Life in general tends to get a little tricky when we compare ourselves too much, but we do it all the time.  We think, “wait a minute, my friend is productive ALL DAY LONG! How come I’m totally burnt out after lunch?”  Well, some people’s do whatever they want time can look a lot like productivity to the outside observer.

For instance, for maybe the first time in my life, exercise is actually one of my ‘relax’ hours.  I actually like running. I like the release it provides, I like listening to my podcasts and I like feeling refreshed outside.  At most all other times in my life however, exercise has been a ‘work’ hour.  My friend Shelly is able to get INSANE amounts of what looks to me an awful lot like ‘work’- namely documenting her life, blogging and doing family history work.  These things are work to me, but she LOVES doing it. It gives her energy. We just can’t compare each others working and relaxing hours- it’s different for everyone, you just have to figure out how to balance it for YOU.

Ok, now for how this principle has helped my marriage:

Problem #2:  How to Not Judge Your Spouse on How They Choose to Balance Working and Relaxing

I’m about to disclose a thought that I’m a little embarrassed to admit pops into my head all the time.  It is this:  I feel occasionally like my work as a stay at home mom is more difficult than my husband’s work.

Because of this thought that wedges itself into my brain despite my attempts at ignoring it, I have this tendency to want to make my husband do LOTS OF WORK when he comes home to compensate for this perceived discrepancy.

My day’s work tends to consist of things like patiently and urgently encouraging my children to get their shoes on in under an hour, picking up all of my life’s possessions up off the floor about 10 times a day, or dealing with kids fighting to the death over the only pink cup in the house (why can I only ever find one pink cup?!)  Meanwhile I have this image of my husband happily sitting by himself (all alone! amazing!) at his little computer whistling while he types doing his little research thing.

When to Give Yourself a break and when to give your spouse a break 

So then, when he comes home I’m thinking “GREAT!  His turn!  Here’s the kids and the dishes. Peace out.”

While I’m thinking this, he’s actually at work dealing with helping out his co-workers, complying with the demands of his boss, dealing with his failed experiments, the stress of deadlines and meanwhile he has the image of me happily getting to stay in my pajamas all day while the kids watch TV doing whatever I want.

When To Give Yourself a Break and When to Give Your Spouse a Break 

He comes home and thinks, “GREAT!  Some time to relax. . . . Wait a minute, what’s this? More work!?!  I just worked all day!”

I tend to completely discredit any of Rich’s hours he clocks in at work as part of his “8 hours” because, to me, he hasn’t been doing “real work,” which I define as MY work. He comes home and my mind unconsciously thinks “Great, he’s got all 8 hours of his work time left!”

When really, by the time he gets home, he has already put quite a few of his 8 hours of work in at, ya know, his WORK.  Most of them actually.  He comes home and he’s ready for his relax hours.

I think quite a few moms and dads out there are like us.

Wanna know how I know?  Because we talk about it all the time.  Case in point:  I recently was invited to a Facebook group for moms.  It’s basically a closed, safe place for women to ask honest, open questions to each other that they don’t want to ask to their whole Facebook feeds.  Questions about birth control or depression or tactics on how to sneak ice cream without your kids noticing. You know, the essentials.  It’s also become a perfect breeding ground for discussing husbands.

In a recent thread on this Facebook group, one of the ladies posed the question, “Why on earth does it take my husband 30 minutes to go to the bathroom at home!?!”  To which there were about 30 responses saying things like, “I thought my husband was the only one!!” and, “Seriously!  Every night! (usually right around the time I’m making dinner and my kids are crazy)” and, “Let me guess, he’s got his phone in there with him??

Now, let me preface by saying, I don’t actually know any of these people.  It could be that their husbands really need to help their wives out more (it very well could be! in which case, inventory that issue).  It could be that they all have some serious type of irritable bowel syndrome.

When To Give Yourself a Break and When to Give Your Spouse a Break 

It also could be that perhaps both husband and wife need to give each other breaks a little more often.  If a husband thinks the only break he can get is on the pot, well then on the pot he will go.  And I’d be lying if I said that neither Rich nor I have ever taken an extended potty break (if only to escape our adorable, well-behaved children).  But personally, I prefer both me and my husband to take breaks in a little more comfortable (and not so stinky) atmosphere.

Realizing that Rich has already spent a lot of his 8 hours at work and wants some relax time when he comes home has made me more forgiving and understanding.  Realizing he generally feels exactly the same way I do at the end of the day has saved me from bitterness and has improved our marriage.

So let’s give ourselves and our spouses license to take breaks when we need to. Let’s realize that no one can be “on” every waking hour of the day.  Let’s recognize and celebrate each others work so the breaks will be more enjoyable.

Ready??  Ok, break!

10 thoughts on “When to Give Yourself a Break and When to Give Your Spouse a Break

  1. I totally have this problem. I’m working from home with a busy toddler, and my husband is in over his head with a crazy first year of grad school. When he gets home at night, we both think, “Hooray! Now we can have a break!” and it stems some conflict sometimes. Great post!

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels this way! When 5:00 comes around and my husband comes home and eats dinner with us, I just want to pawn our daughter off on him and do my own thing because hey, he’s been gone all day and I’ve been the only one doing all the work! This gives me some good perspective and I need to make more of an effort to give him his own time, too.

  3. Finding the balance has been one of the toughest parts of parenting with my husband., As a SAHM, I feel like I spend all day waiting for my husband to come home. So, when he’s home, I feel like “Yay! I have a partner again.” The problem, is my husband has worked almost 12 hours, and needs some time to rest himself. This is a balance we are still working on at home.

  4. My husband and I are the same way. Sometimes I forget that he works all day, so when he comes home and I’m like, okay your turn, it’s not really fair. We both need to be able to relax. Which is almost impossible with three kids under 5 but we make it work. Teamwork.

  5. Okay, so this sounds like a great diagnosis. In fact, I love it. But I’m wondering if you have a good solution for that 5:00 hour when husband comes home and both parents feel ready for a break from work. I mean–someone has to make dinner and entertain kids, right? Or is that where we order takeout and switch on the tv so both parents can run and hide in their happy places…? Ha. I love the post. Now I just need to figure out how to be accommodating to my husband’s needs when I feel like if I don’t get a break from my children/housework I might have a nervous breakdown.

  6. turn on the TV! it’s not going to kill them for a half hour so you can actually say hi to your spouse and get a healthy meal on the table! I personally send my kids outside to play during that time which works great for us.
    I don’t know if you’ve read Babywise but it talks about how important it is for you to tell your children to wait while you connect with your spouse, even for infants.
    connects to this Ensign article well I think. Fascinating.

  7. I definitely think it’s important for us to give our spouse a break. I try not to overwhelm my husband when he gets home so he can decompress and just be for a while. That makes it easier for him to be in a joyful mood when spending time with our children, which helps their relationship. I think in the “time to do what you want” you should definitely add that it’s important for spouses to connect with each other in some way. So many couples realize when kids leave home that they haven’t talked with each other about anything except the kids for the last 20 years (or however long). Especially as a mom, our lives kind of revolve around making sure these precious children that are being trusted to our care, are happy and healthy and growing up with morals and making good choices.

  8. I loved this. Eight hours for recreation??? I give myself like one. No wonder I am burned out all the time and may or may not have had a total breakdown and sobbed hysterically yesterday when Noah wouldn’t put away the iPad. Hahaha! We were both totally bewildered! Thanks,

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