How to Handle a Workaholic Spouse

Some marriages include one partner who has a demanding and time-consuming job. In some cases, a person can successfully juggle work and life, but sometimes that person turns into a workaholic. If one person in a marriage becomes a workaholic, often one partner feels neglected or alone, and the other feels guilty and resentful.

For example, you might wait up for your workaholic spouse or have yet another dinner alone. Your partner feels responsible for the demands of the job, no matter how long it takes to complete them. The long hours at work might be warranted; however, the workaholic in your life might be working these hours to avoid dealing with something at home. The workaholic may come home exhausted, eat something and flop into bed, only to repeat the pattern the next day. He or she most likely puts in work hours on weekends as well.

Many times, your conversation revolves around some issue at work that's interesting to the workaholic. It's hard for the workaholic spouse to leave work behind, even when physically at home. However, there are ways that you can cope while helping the workaholic in your life break the habit.

Understanding the Reasons for the Workaholic Situation
Knowing the reason for the workaholic behavior is the first step toward knowing if it is temporary or permanent, and how to proceed. First, take some time to consider why you think your spouse is working like this. Is your spouse trying to get a promotion, earn overtime, land a big account or meet a huge project deadline? Is your spouse's boss an overbearing, under-appreciative taskmaster? Are long hours a part of the job for other employees in this company and/or field of work? Is there a particular time of year when the hours are longer than others, perhaps "tax season," or "holiday season"? If so, then the situation might be temporary.

If none of these apply, do you think your spouse is avoiding something they don't wish to deal with at home? Have you been arguing lately, or struggling with an issue? Are there other emotional or personal issues that could make your spouse wish to be at work? Does your spouse thrive or gain self worth from being successful and needed at work? Is work fulfilling a need for them that would otherwise go unmet? Or, is your spouse simply addicted to work?

If It Is Temporary
Discuss with your spouse when the "light at the end of the tunnel" should arrive, and plan a celebratory meal or even a long weekend together to get in some quality time. Be understanding during the tough time. It isn't that your spouse doesn't want to be with you. Find some way during each day to touch base, even just to say hello, tell a joke or ask if your spouse would like you to plan dinner.

During this time, try to set aside one night a week for the both of you, even if you stay up late. Don't watch TV. Sit and talk, but not about work. Set up a date and be romantic. Whether you go out or stay home, spend the time together.

If It Is Ongoing
Set rules and patterns that will make your relationship work, even with the demanding schedule. Here are some samples, but make sure you both agree on the rules and tailor them to you and your spouse's situation and comfort level:

  • Communicate at least once during the day. This can involve e-mails, phone calls or texting.
  • No serious discussions over e-mail.
  • One night a week is non-negotiable couple time. No working late; no making other plans.
  • Plan a vacation together, and stick to it. Even if it is months ahead, you can look forward to that special time.

Tips for You

  • Don't take your spouse's schedule personally.
  • Find activities to fill your time, and enjoy them. Read, knit, go out with friends, rent a great movie that he wouldn't want to watch with you, work on that novel, take a class, join a gym or try cooking new recipes. Make the time enriching for you, and you'll have more to talk about when you're together.
  • Remember that the foundation of love is there. Keep resentment at a distance. Your spouse wants to be with you, too.
  • Accept the situation, especially if your spouse's job is time-consuming by nature.
  • Talk about your needs with your spouse, but be selective and don't make them feel guilty about what they can't Understand when your spouse can't make it home at the last-minute. It isn't about you.

If You Can't Stand It
In a dire situation, the two of you should discuss the possibilities of your spouse finding another job or career. Also ask if it is possible for your spouse to take a sabbatical. It may be a year in the future, but a glimmer of hope could make the difference for both of you.

If the Reason Is Personal
Your spouse may be working because they have some need that their job is fulfilling. Whether they crave self-acceptance or work is enabling them to avoid dealing with another problem, this requires intervention. If your spouse admits to the reasons for the workaholic behavior, then suggest counseling for your spouse or couples counseling.

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