Do's and Don'ts When Communicating with Your Workaholic Partner
By Susie and Otto Collins
Ellen's husband is a workaholic. Before their relationship became
serious, she often admired how goal-oriented and driven he was. As
their commitment to one another grew stronger and they eventually
married, what Ellen previously saw as a character strength turned
into something annoying and hurtful.
After almost two decades of marriage, Ellen has grown used to being
very flexible. Changing plans at the last minute and making apologies
to others for her husband's absence has become commonplace. She
appreciates the abundant salary that her husband brings in and she is
happy that he enjoys his work.
Ellen only wishes that her husband
was as intense and focused on their marriage as he is on his career.
She feels lonely and resentful more often than she likes to admit.
In these days where businesses are trying to do more with less,
putting in extra time at work happens a lot. Couples find themselves
planning date nights and time together far in advance just because
their schedules-- both work and family responsibilities-- have become
Some people take putting in that extra effort at the office to a
compulsive level. These people are workaholics. There are certainly
varying degrees of workaholic behavior and some really need the
help of a professional counselor or therapist.
In general, a workaholic is defined as someone who has an
"unrelenting" and "compulsive" desire to work.
If your partner seems to you to be a workaholic, you may already
have experienced tension in your relationship when you have tried to
talk with him or her about this. Perhaps you've used different
tactics and brought up the subject of your mate's work habits in less
But, still you encountered defensiveness and maybe even hostility
from your partner.
The way that you
communicate what you want and what you'd like to
change about your love relationship or marriage is crucial. You can
essentially say the same thing but have drastically different results
depending on how you say it.
Remember these Dos and Don'ts as you talk with your workaholic
Do be honest.
The time for claiming to be "fine" when you really aren't is over.
As much as you don't want to make your partner angry, you lying about
how you truly feel when he or she cancels your date (for the
umpteenth time) is not going to help your relationship.
Being honest doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to pick a
fight with your partner or that you're going to try to guilt trip or
manipulate him or her either. It's about being real and authentic
about this situation and your experience of it.
Don't assume that you know why your partner is a workaholic.
You might have a good idea about why your mate seems to compulsively
work. Maybe he or she has a low self esteem or had a traumatic
childhood and you believe that there is a link between the workaholic
tendencies and these things.
You might be accurate and you might not be.
If you are interested in why your partner works as incessantly as he
or she does, find ways to ask. When you two are alone and talking,
you might ask your mate something like this: "Please help me
understand why you work as many hours as you do...." or "I want to
understand why you work so much..."
Whatever you choose to say, make sure that you truly do want to
better understand. Really listen to what your partner says in
Do focus on how you feel and what you want.
Again, being honest is really important. You might not be able to
force your partner to stop working so many hours or to keep your
dates, but you can let him or her know that you have feelings and
Keep your words focused on how YOU feel. Instead of saying
something like, "You don't want to be with me," try "I feel sad and
lonely when we don't have regular connecting time every day."
Resist the urge to assume that you know how your partner feels or
what motivates him or her to work so much. Instead, be clear about
how you feel and make requests to help bring some positive changes.
Do be flexible AND honor your boundaries.
It is important to be flexible in a relationship because there are
often times when negotiation and patience are required. At the same
time, it's essential that you honor your boundaries and
You might not have a choice when your mate calls to tell you that he
or she will be working late even though you two have tickets to a
concert that night. If your partner has made the decision to stay
late and work instead of go to the concert, you have the power to be
honest about your feelings AND you can decide what you will do.
Maybe you'll decide to invite a friend to go with you to the concert
instead. Perhaps there's a way to switch the tickets to a different
Give yourself the space to be flexible when it feels okay to you to
do so and also to honor your boundaries and make the choice to do
what you want to do given the situation you're in.
Don't issue an ultimatum-- unless you are willing to follow through.
It can be tempting to issue an ultimatum to your workaholic partner.
It can be frustrating and upsetting when you're honest about how you feel and try to set boundaries or create agreements and nothing seems
to bring the change you want.
The only time that ultimatums are effective are when you are 100%
willing to follow through with your threat. If you set before your
partner the choice of his or her work OR you, it's possible that your
partner will choose work.
You might be ready to make the choice to end the relationship is
significant changes don't happen-- there's nothing wrong with this.
Just be sure that you are making the decision about what's best for
you in the long-term and the short-term in advance of communicating.