Advice for Living with a Workaholic
Living with a workaholic really takes a toll. It is exhausting to beg for quality time and constantly have work prioritized above you. Additionally, many people around you may not understand what you are going through because workaholics can be confused with highly motivated individuals that have a strong work ethic. However, the two are not the same.
In this post, we will cover the workaholic definition, how workaholism degrades quality of life, and finally, how you can help yourself and your spouse if you believe they are a workaholic.
The term workaholic is thrown around very often. For example, someone with long hours or someone who loves their job can be labeled a workaholic when they don’t fit the criteria. So what is workaholism, and how do you know if your spouse has it?
Psychologist Wayne Oates first described workaholism in his work Confessions of a Workaholic: The Facts About Work Addiction. He defined workaholism as “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly.” Since then, our understanding of workaholism has grown to include not just the hours spent at work but also a person’s attitude about and mental preoccupation with work even when they are not physically at work.
So a workaholic has a constant preoccupation or obsession with work that is problematic for their own well-being or the well-being of those around them. In addition, a workaholic displays an uncontrollable urge to spend their time and effort working beyond what is expected of them.
Someone with a strong work ethic isn’t necessarily a workaholic. Likewise, a person that is required to spend long hours on the job is also not automatically categorized as a workaholic. However, an individual that cannot separate themselves from work, especially work that is not required of them, and allows their work to take priority over all else, would likely be considered a workaholic.
If you aren’t sure if you or your spouse fits the workaholic profile, use these questions to evaluate your situation.
- Do they work hours beyond what is expected?
- Do they obsess over work-related failure?
- When spending time with friends or family, does their mind constantly drift back to work-related thoughts?
- Do they hold themself to a higher standard than others with the same job?
- Would they consider themself a perfectionist? And do they hold others to the same exceptionally high standards of work performance?
- When faced with uncomfortable circumstances or feelings (grief, guilt, sadness, worry, etc.), do they turn to work as a distraction?
- Do they feel they don’t have control over their ability to distance themself from their work?
- Compared to others, do they have less healthy relationships and hobbies?
- Does work come before sleep, nourishment, exercise, and connection with others?
- Do they get little enjoyment or feel no accomplishment from things unrelated to work?
Considering these ten questions can give you a better sense of whether you or your partner may be a workaholic.
Often workaholism has been an ongoing problem for a substantial amount of time before the individual receives a wake-up call. Perhaps for years you have observed troubling traits in your spouse, but since they have been this way for a long time, it seems normal.
If you identified with several of these questions, then it is time for a change. Workaholism beats down not only the individual struggling to regain control over their life but also all of the relationships in their life.
How to Help a Workaholic Spouse
From the outside, being married to a workaholic may seem like a good thing. It could mean that your spouse is always dependable when it comes to keeping a job and bringing home a reliable income. However, workaholism takes a major toll on relationships.
Being a workaholic robs the relationship of connection. You can’t have emotional intimacy when one partner is compulsively preoccupied with work. So what can you do to help your workaholic spouse?
1. Help them understand there is a problem.
The best way to get on the same page with your spouse is to address your concerns calmly and supportively. In the heat of an argument, your spouse will not be receptive to change, and it will invite a dynamic of you against me. So instead, choose a neutral time and come to them with a feeling of gentleness and concern.
The best way to open their eyes to their problem is first to educate yourself so you can clearly communicate why their workaholism concerns you. What specific behaviors affect and worry you most? Express these to them in a way that feels safe and nonjudgmental. If your partner feels like they are being scolded for their behavior, the conversation will turn defensive, and no progress will be made.
If you can remind your spouse you are there to support them and help them make changes for a happier life, you will have much more success in your conversation.
2. Create work boundaries and stay accountable.
Creating boundaries where there have been none is challenging. However, talk about actionable steps that can be taken to begin to change erosive habits. For example, set a boundary that at 6 p.m. all work ceases, and you sit together for dinner. Having a hard deadline with an activity immediately after will train your spouse over time to begin wrapping up work earlier than 6 p.m. so they can close their computer or finish their calls on time.
Keep in mind that this will take practice, and it will feel very uncomfortable for them to have limits on their work time. Setting boundaries means being very specific about what is and is not acceptable. It also means deciding the best course of action when boundaries are broken, as well as what support your spouse prefers as reminders for staying on track.
3. Focus on creating healthy life habits.
Simply scaling back on the amount of time they are working will likely only induce anxiety. So, in addition to creating boundaries for a healthier work-life balance, find other areas of their health that have been neglected and find ways they can be improved.
For example, if workaholism has been preventing your spouse from exercising, make goals and set up a plan to get moving more. When they end their workday, rather than sitting around thinking about how much more they could be doing, go out for a walk.
Other healthy life habits every workaholic could improve on are creating a set bedtime, choosing more nourishing foods, getting outside more, drinking more water, etc.
As the spouse, the best thing you can do is help your workaholic partner create specific goals and then participate in those goals with them. The accountability and support will help the changes stick.
4. Together, reevaluate their current job.
If the tips above sound great for someone else but impossible for your spouse, it may be time to really evaluate if their current job is worth the cost of being a workaholic. Certainly, this isn’t a choice to take lightly. However, if after understanding the problem, setting boundaries, and filling in the free time with healthy life changes is still not working, you may need a more significant change.
No job is worth your and your partner’s health and happiness.
5. Seek therapy.
As you try to change detrimental, workaholic habits, both you and your spouse could benefit from receiving insight from a licensed therapist. Then, together you can work through the issues of workaholism and its consequences with someone trained to provide support.
Additionally, workaholism often occurs because the person is trying to avoid other aspects of their life. Whether it’s unresolved trauma, self-esteem issues, or constant anxiety, working more will not fix it. However, treatment and therapy might.
Workaholics find themselves in a never-ending loop of working hard to complete tasks but never being done even when the tasks reach completion. Their work ethic may seem admirable or even like a personality trait, but the reality is that it takes a toll on their health and well-being, as well as the health and well-being of their close relationships.
If you are the spouse of a workaholic, educate yourself on the problem and use these five tips to help lead your partner toward lasting change. It will take time and patience, but keep trying. Your marriage is worth the effort!