Why did the lawyer cross the road?
August 13, 2011 3:24 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend is in his articling year at a criminal defense firm. All of a sudden, he's so rarely around! Have you been in this situation? What strategies can make this sudden shift in our lives easier on us both?

My boyfriend (who I live with) has been articling at a criminal defense firm for three months now. I work at home (I'm an artist) and I'm not used to having him gone so much of the time -- late into the evening, parts of the weekends. I don't have any friends who are in this line of work -- not even close. All my friends are artists. I am finding it bewildering and kind of lonely to all of a sudden have lost him to his work, but I understand that articling students get the brunt of the work.

Can anyone who is in this position or has had a relationship with someone doing this kind of work suggest strategies for coping with the sudden absence of the other person, and does this kind of thing usually last for a person's entire career, or is the year of articling particularly bad, or the first few years, but then it evens out?

How can I make it easier for him, as well? (I'm sure it's stressful for him to always be working, all of a sudden, even though he enjoys the work and the people there). I would like him to enjoy this year as much as possible, and to be able to do things to make his life at work easier, which is hard, not knowing exactly what someone in his position needs. (I know: ask him... but he is new to this as well and may not know what things would help.)

Any words of encouragement or advise would be welcome, and just personal experiences... It's been stressful around here! I wish to make it less so...
posted by Clotilde to Human Relations (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well,it's not exactly the same, but I was in grad school and working 30 hours/week and so was my girlfriend at the time. We kept Saturday nights free as "our time." we might see each other during the week, and we'd call or drop in at each other's work to say "hi," but that one block of time was always just for us. It made the crazy schedule possible.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:43 PM on August 13, 2011

I have been the other in this situation several times (though I'm not in law). A few things:

Something to keep in mind is that when your partner is away working like this, their mind is occupied with work. But you, on the other hand, are home alone feeling these difficult feelings over many hours. If sometimes your partner doesn't seem to understand the nature and seriousness of what you are feeling, remember this imbalance and cut them some slack. It will be much appreciated.

Likewise, know that your partner may be shielding you from work stress, and that their ability to keep up with your home and emotional life will get worse as their stress gets worse. The thing NOT to do is to bring your emotional world to a head during these times. It can be very hard to recognize that both things are peaking at once, (especially if your partner isn't telling you, so ask instead of assume) but it can also be terribly destructive. Try to communicate early and often, and be a safe haven for your partner - let them know they don't have to always be strong or always be happy to be worthy of your love and support. The same is true for you.

Parts of his life are going to become messy. For me, certain responsibilities were just totally ignored. For example, I just didn't have time for dishes and laundry. But dirty dishes drove my partner nuts. So when I could, I used paper plates and chucked 'em, or ate out. Still, dishes were a constant issue, but we broke up over her infidelity before that came to a head. If I'd do it again, I'd just hire somebody to clean my clothes and do my dishes. Or date someone who could be chill about them for 3-6 months at a time.

It is also important to keep your goals in sight. Your day-to-day situation is going to be like this for a while, and it is going to be hard on you. Try to find ways to remind yourself that this year is the short term, but the results of this effort will last a lifetime - which might be a lifetime you want to spend together. My partner couldn't do this and felt so unloved and uncared for that she cheated right before the work was over. Not long after I took the money, experience, and connections I made and spent a year abroad. I am glad things turned out the way they did, but I was earning that money to improve BOTH our lives, not just mine.

Finally, decide what is important to you and focus on that. Your partner will definitely have emotional energy to spend on you, but their budget may be limited due to all the work and strain. Over time, figure out what you need from them and try to make it explicit, so they aren't "wasting" precious energy on things they ASSUME you need. This is especially true because your needs may have changed now that your partner has much less time.

Take care of yourself, especially. I think you're starting in a great place, being as self-aware as you are and asking for suggestions before things get too bad.
posted by fake at 3:48 PM on August 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

Here's what I know, out of a group of friends who went to law school together with long term relationships going in, only one relationship survived. The rest of us broke up with our significant others in school or shortly after.
posted by grak88 at 5:30 PM on August 13, 2011

My husband and I have a 4 month old newborn. We work together 1 to 2 days per week. He works 5 to 6 days a week, total. We TRY to spend our off time together - but we also have personal stuff to take care of - appointments, time with friends, the dentist, gym (can't take the babe and go together!) and so on. We're a lot like you and your man right now, even though we have more face-time. When we have time together (and the son is asleep) it is time OFTEN spent alone but in the same household - our psyches need a re-charge!

I know what it is to be an artist, but you know what? You need to get busy outside the home.

- We also got a cleaning person for a reasonable price. Wow. What a difference in our lifestyle. So think about getting affordable housecleaning, or do it all yourself one designated day of the week. Make that part of your being busy. Having a scrupulously neat and clean home is a HUGE investment in your well-being as a couple. It will not go unnoticed.

- This sounds dumb, but do it. Make sure there are fresh flowers all the time. Good deals at the farmer's market or Trader Joe's or if you have a nearby wholesale florist. This should be a &6 per week investment. When he comes home, it should feel lovely, something he is rewarded for by working so bloody hard every day.

- Really. It is time for you to get busy, too. So that your life together is more balanced.

Just my two cents. I can't believe how swiftly our lives have changed. We definitely work at making the rare times we can connect (even though we are physically together enough, we are not connecting a lot because we are parenting or re-charging - I can see an analog there to your situation.) The key is we talk about it.

I liked the suggestion that in the coming year, your guy may shield you from work-stress. My husband was def shielding me from the stress of his burden as a new dad, and we had to communicate about that so I could let him know it wasn't all on his shoulders. You'd think that would be a no-brainer? Not so much! Your guy may take on way too much in the beginning because he thinks he needs to be super human. Make sure he knows that is not the case.

Even though you share a home it will feel like you are oceans apart at times. You can get through it - together.
posted by jbenben at 5:34 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have been on your side of this. I ended that relationship after repeated requests for some special, exclusive time with the ex, carved out of his busy schedule. I would get it once in a while but never predictably, which drove me bonkers. You will feel better if your boyfriend can say "hey, I know my schedule is nuts, and I can't promise much, but at minimum Sunday morning coffee time from 10-11am is reserved for hanging out with you, no internet, no chores, no multitasking." Ritual is important for me in a relationship, so YMMV.
posted by slow graffiti at 5:39 PM on August 13, 2011

I don't know where you are, but I assume it is Australia. I also don't know what "articulating" means in this context, but... first year associate? First year law student?

If this is anything like the US system, then I really hate to say this, but basically, pretend he's overseas for the year. Seriously. Have zero expectation that he will be around. We basically didn't see my dad at all for three years. It was like... holidays, half a day on Sunday and one dinner a week.

Make plans with your friends for yourself. Plan meals for yourself. Take trips without him. get some hobbies you don't need him for. Make new friends. Remember that even though he has little time, and you want him to spend every spare minute with you, he will occasionally need and want to do things with his friends on rare occasions, too. Be really flexible, have really low expectations, and know that this will pass.

If you are the kind of person who is driven to be uber supportive, you can make sure there is laundry, dry cleaning and food for your non-existent partner, and that would be super nice of you.

And no matter how rough and lonely it gets, thank God every single day that you do not have small children.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:41 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

and does this kind of thing usually last for a person's entire career, or is the year of articling particularly bad, or the first few years, but then it evens out?

I fully believe you can get through this and come out stronger for it. But you should also be aware that for some of us work-obsessed types, this does not end, it only changes. The trick is to decide what is valuable to you and find out how to make these changes work toward fulfilling your needs.

That said, beware of promises like "Once this is over, we will ____ / things will return to ____". Those promises are OK to make a few times, and even to break once or twice. But frankly, as the over-worker, I had to learn to stop saying things like that. Keep count of that particular kind of promise, and be prepared to call false if they prove to be, they often are.
posted by fake at 5:58 PM on August 13, 2011

I can give you some perspective as someone who sometimes has to work crazy hours. I just finished a 70 work week, not finished really because I work tomorrow too. This was a job my partner ok'd knowing it would be like this, still I can feel very bad about lost time with her. The fact that she is completely supportive makes all the difference in the world for me. I work with many people who work long hours and then fight at home over it. When I can't get home much or I am just exhausted when I do, I feel regret because I miss her, but no fear of anger or stress because I can't control my hours. Her patience with the situation means when I get paged to go into work at 3 am I hear some version of 'poor baby' not 'wtf? again?'. Because of how she treats me I feel I have an ally and it makes everything easier for me. In return I do everything that is in my control to make her life happy. We are older, no kids, married and she too is an artist.
posted by InkaLomax at 7:56 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

For those who are wondering, articling is a mandatory internship (like a doctor's residency) required of prospective lawyers before being called (admitted) to the Bar. They have this requirement in Canada and I believe also Australia and the UK. But not the US (hence the confusion over what the OP is describing).

OP, IAAL in Canada, and having made it through articling I can say the suggestions above for you to occupy your time and lower your expectations of how much time you'll get with your partner are sound.

However, someone else above pointed out that you might want to have some serious communication about whether this is temporary or the new status quo. Articling sucks, and as a lawyer you get better at managing your time, but the hours you describe don't sound unusual to me for a criminal lawyer in a big city. It's an area of practice where bail hearings come up frequently and with short notice, and trials (which are so. much. work) are also fairly common.

The difficulty is that he may not know what his post-call hours are going to be like. I will say though that after putting in long hours, it's very difficult to then scale back without it reflecting negatively or harming billings. The upshot for you is that he's around less, but under a lot of stress so very possibly requiring more of your support, at a time when you need his to get through the transition.

So I would recommend you give this the best you can while keeping in mind that his schedule might not change anytime soon. It is very reasonable for you to decide on some "us time" that you set aside and keep sacred. Communicating, and more importantly, giving each other the benefit of the doubt to be considerate and supportive when you're both feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated is going to be very important.

The relationship survival rate does take a hit for couples going through this, but it can be done if you go in with the right expectations and prioritize each other whenever possible.
posted by AV at 4:13 AM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am a medical consultant who travels about 75% and my wife is an LMHC who works medical shifts (10/12 hours, days-nights-weekends).

My #1 recommendation is this: find a life for yourself when you are at home alone

I cannot stress it enough. Do not let yourself wait for him to come home. That is a special form of poison that kills only happiness.

For example I just worked a 78 hour week. Yesterday was my one 100% day off for the next 15, predictably my wife was at work from 8am-10pm. I let myself mope about her not being home for about 45mins and it nearly undid my whole day! I pulled myself out of that trap and went to county fair with my friends and their twin little boys, it was silly and fun and a good way to eat up a day being totally unproductive.

If I had waited around the house those 7 hours (instead of the hours drives and 5 hours at the fair) I would have been moody and frustrated by the time my wife got home.

Instead I went out and had fun and was delighted to see her when she got home and tell her about my day.

find a life for yourself when you are at home alone

posted by French Fry at 9:32 AM on August 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would highly encourage you to read this book. Is he 2L or 3L? Assuming he is planning to apply for a position at this firm after graduation? If he's in America, the size & case volume of his firm will determine, to a large extent, how many hours he will be working in the years to come. Big Law generally means that he'll earn a healthy salary (although this economy is challenging the status quo) but may have little time to spend it. Smaller firms can be more flexible after a few years, but your mileage may vary there. In the US, it's a tough job market right now and competition is more fierce than usual. People, especially people with law school debt, need those jobs.

Did the big-law-spouse thing for 5 years.

For you: as far as coping strategies - develop active hobbies. If you enjoy cooking, you may want to explore that - your SO can take yummy + healthy leftovers to the office the next day. (Brain food for long hours! Something to look forward to!) If you're an animal person, having a pet or two is also nice, as you know that someone will be waiting at home for you at the end of your day. Friends are invaluable - bonus if they share some of the same hobbies, that you can do together.

For him: definitely keep things as tidy as possible - a cleaning service is great if you can afford it, because then there is no lingering resentment over who "does more" around the house. Also, give him a few minutes of space when he comes home to relax and decompress from his day. Tuck a sweet note into his briefcase when you can (just don't put it into a file that someone else might read, lol) and try to schedule a date every now and then. (But be as understanding as you can if he has to break it - for the next, at least, he's going to be between a rock and a hard place.)

Feel free to Memail me if you want - we made it out alive & thriving. :)
posted by muirne81 at 10:33 AM on August 14, 2011

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