Marriage is like a gymnastics competition; full of complex balancing acts to master. One of the most challenging can be the fine line between living your passion, supporting your partner’s dreams, and somehow, still building a life together. For some couples this complicated balance is easy- they share a similar professional goal but for most of us this precarious balance requires endless adjustments and the occasional fall.
Whether your individual passion is training for a marathon, learning to knit, or becoming partner in your law firm- the challenge at home is the same… how do we have success in love and in life without sacrificing one for the other? It’s a common battle in the lives of so many and I think it is even harder as a wife and mother. Aside from the obvious maternal responsibilities, there is a larger social component to consider too. Few modern women want to be thought of as the quiet supporter behind the scenes of their partner’s success story and, yet, many of us still don’t know how to balance our roles as supporter of our husband’s personal or professional goals and still make time to have our own goals and keep our family and marriages happy and intact.
Despite my professional expertise, this is an internal battle that I am not immune from. I certainly don’t have all the answers but I had some ideas and, thankfully, a very wise woman to run them by. Jill Brunson, wife of matchmaker, relationship coach, and television personality Paul Carrick Brunson, aka the “real life Hitch,” sat down with me to talk about marriage, success, and keeping your balance through it all.
Paul and Jill Brunson met prior to their freshmen year of college in Virginia. A sweet young couple, they quickly became inseparable and nearly 18 years later they have 10 years of marriage, a happy baby boy, an extremely successful matchmaking business and several impressive media projects on the horizon. Familiar with the typical ups and downs of marriage, Jill has some insight on a few other aspects of living out your personal and professional dreams. I sat down with her to find out more about how she is perfecting the balance between supporter, career woman, wife and mother.
Paul’s background is in business and banking, as is yours. How exactly did he become a matchmaker and start One Degree From Me?
He was working with some inner city programs in education and this particular program he was running, about 99% of the students came from a single parent home. Nearly all of them were black or Hispanic, and he just found that really disturbing. He came to me asked ‘What can we do to help put families back together?’
He had this crazy idea. He said, “What if I become a matchmaker? And what if I really study the craft and I help to put people, (black people specifically) together and work on building up the black family again?” I told him it was a brilliant idea. It’s something that a lot of people would say is absolutely crazy, but I’m a dreamy Pisces and I loved the idea. I was really supportive. He studied and became a certified coach and he took on pro bono clients and I was kind of helping out in the evenings after work and on weekends.
Supporting an idealistic vision and living the reality of actually building this dream are two very different things. Tell me how things have changed personally and professionally as One Degree From Me and Paul as a media personality have really taken off.
He started getting more and more business and more and more buzz, primarily from the You Tube videos that he was putting out. Not only did business increase, but it also caught the eye of different production companies. He ended up writing for Essence and then also signing on with a production company for tv projects as well. It was around February 2010, and I was about six months into a new job and I was very, very busy. It wasn’t what I bargained for. I’m very into a work-life balance—that’s very important to me. Family is important but work is also important. Unfortunately, with this job I had accepted, it just wasn’t happening. I told Paul that I was thinking of resigning. He said he thought should. And that’s when I decided to come onboard with him full time.
Appearances on television shows like Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers, a regular contributor to Essence.com, and most recently a book deal and television show on OWN–the Brunson household must be a whirlwind of professional demands. How have you been able to manage this so far?
People think that it must be disastrous for a married couple to also work together, not to mention the fact that we were working from home together. It was, like, “Wow, are you going to kill each other?!” But from the start we have truly been best friends. I think a big part of our relationship working out and us being able to work together is that we have really good communication. If something comes up, we just talk about it and work it out. Our communication helps us not crowd each other but still work together peacefully.
He has an office that he works out of in our home, and I usually set up at my desk, which is on the first floor of the house. I’m also our nanny, so I try to manage my work as well as Kingston [their son], and now that he’s a little older, I find that more difficult. I find that late night and early mornings are my friends.
What has been the most difficult part of One Degree From Me and Paul’s success in the last couple of years?
Definitely the travel because lately it’s been kind of sporadic, and sometimes it’s not something we can plan for. We have planned things. For instance, we were going to have a date night on Saturday because he was about to go away, and we just wanted to make sure we got that in. We usually try to do a date night at least once a month, if not more. Sometimes it’s difficult, but we definitely do our family date weekly. Sometimes we have someone watch Kingston for us and we go out and catch a movie or something like that. Sometimes we wait for him to go to bed and just play our favorite game, Boggle, and have a glass of wine − that can be a date too. But not having advance notice of his schedule makes it hard to plan. He will be away filming this show for the OWN network for several weeks, which will be difficult because I’ll have to manage things on my own.
I guess when Oprah calls, you show up! Still the travel and work schedule must be incredibly demanding. While most of us will never know what it is to get a call from Oprah’s people, anyone with a spouse pursuing professional or even personal goals has dealt with the imbalance of time at work versus time at home. How do you and Paul deal with it?
He’s really good about letting me know what’s going on as things occur so I can plan accordingly.We have our meetings as needed. We don’t really have anything scheduled like sitting down every Monday at 7 or anything like that, but as the need arises, we make sure that we meet and talk about whatever is going on. Usually we do that every day anyway, but if there’s something big going on, we will have our “official” meeting. While this may not be something I would have done on my own, I see it more as a kind of a collective goal now and that helps.
How does she do it? Here’s Jill’s top tips for balancing professional and marital success.
Keep all Lines of Communication Open
“The business is a big part of our lives and so we’re normally talking about it, but it’s also important to talk to each other on a more personal level to see how the other is coping with everything. Is there any extra support that one person needs, little things like that. Make sure that everybody’s good, everybody’s happy, and expressing what’s going on personally or on the business side.”
Why it Works: Communication is the lifeline of every relationship. It keeps everyone aware of what’s happening both logistically and emotionally, which is the first step in making any dream successful. Don’t let frustrations or disappointments linger or turn to resentment, rather, focus on improving communication so that you can easily discuss things before they get out of control. It can be very easy to focus on one side of communication, but by talking about both business issues (or whatever the goal is) as well as relational concerns you are acknowledging the complexity of your relationship and giving yourselves a foundation for success in all arenas.
Show Your Spouse Appreciation and Give Support
“Even if you aren’t working with your spouse on the same business, have a clear understanding of what their goals are so you can see their vision. It’s very important to take a supportive role. If there’s any way you can support or assist with what their dreams or goals are that’s a plus. No one wants to have their dreams stomped on. Even if you’re just a listening ear or someone to bounce ideas off of, just being there for support is really important to longevity.”
Why it Works: Showing appreciation and giving encouragement are two sides of the same coin. Th e end result is about validating what your partner is doing. Whether you’re both partners in the business venture or one is the “worker” and the other is the “support system,” you both need to hear words of affi rmation from each other. Th e verbal pat on the back is the best way to ensure that you each feel important and recognized throughout the process.
Understand Your Roles but Always Be Flexible
“One crucial thing for relationships and something that Paul and I employ regularly is compromise! I think it’s impossible for any relationship to always be 50/50, so be willing to pull more than your share. Th ere will be times that your partner will have to do the same. Your shared end goal should keep you both motivated although this is easier said than done.”
Why it Works: Much like running a business, starting out with a clear idea about who is going to do what and when helps to eliminate confl ict and also keeps things from falling through the cracks. When professional and personal goals get demanding, if you and your partner both understand what the other one is expecting, you decrease confl ict and give each other a sense of stability. Of course life is unpredictable, so it’s equally important to be fl exible and willing to fi ll in for each other to make sure things get done.
Set aside time to reconnect with each other and take care of yourself
“I would say it’s defi nitely important to have time to rejuvenate yourself—whatever you do to get back to being you; whether it’s a massage or a quiet corner to read a book. You need “me time,” otherwise you’ll begin to feel like you are neglecting yourself and that can create resentment.”
Why this works: When work or hobbies create a high demand on your time and energy it’s easy to neglect yourself and your partner. We often expect that, as adults, we should understand and get over it when our needs are not being met, but this is unrealistic. Even as adults we can become angry, hurt, and resentful if we feel as though there is no time for us to be a priority. Make time to do things for yourself, whether you are the person pursuing the goal or the support system. And of course, make time for each other. Even just an hour a week devoted to your partner can make a world of diff erence.
Find your Relationship Anchor:
“Paul and I believe the strength of our relationship comes from our belief in God. We are not in church every Sunday, but we remain grounded in our faith by reading and discussing scriptures and through prayer. We also owe a lot to our strong support system of family and close friends. I think all of these are components to increasing the success of your relationship.”
Why this works: Whether it is religious faith, a shared vision for your professional success, or a commitment to the family you are creating, it’s crucial that you both understand what makes your relationship strong. By identifying the shared values that you have built your relationship on, you have a solid anchor to hold you together when things get tough.
Set a Timeline with Realistic Expectations
“As long as you know what you are getting into, it becomes easier to deal with it rather than being blindsided by a surprise. At least check in to say here’s where we are and here’s what we said. It looks like A, B, and C are going to be in our path for the next few months and this is how we can deal with it.”
Why this works: When pursuing a major goal there is going to be a period of intense sacrifice. You will steal time, energy, and attention away from the people who matter most in an eff ort to reach this goal. In order for everyone to survive these challenging periods of disconnection, you need a light at the end of the tunnel, an agreed upon end point where you will reconnect and re-evaluate where you are headed.
ESTHER BOYKIN is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the co-owner of Group Therapy Associates, a psychotherapy practice in Haymarket. She specializes in working with couples and adolescents around relationship issues and trauma. She can reached at www.grouptherapyassociates.org or by calling 703-644-8041.