How to cope when your partner is a workaholic

By: Mila Kadelkova

© Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©


How to cope when your partner is a workaholic

By: Mila Kadelkova
In this day and age, eating take out dinner under a desk lamp in the office at the end of a 10-hour day is more common than we'd like to believe. Some simply love their work, others are saving up for that new house, and some have chosen a career path that leaves them no other choice. But even in light of these benefits, some people just can't seem to support their partners' 60-hour workweeks at the office. We spoke to Toronto-based couples' therapist, Karen Hirscheimer for her expertise on how to cope when your partner's workaholism threatens your relationship.

Difference between a workaholic and a hard worker
The trick is knowing the difference between a workaholic and a hard worker. If your man is temporarily picking up extra time at the office to get the family out of a financial slump then you need to step back and re-evaluate your frustrations. But if you're finding that even his down time is work, follow this 10 step guide on bringing hubby back to earth, but Hirschemer cautions, "Work is an important part of life and as your husband's partner you should support his dreams and desires. Here are 10 ways to improve your relationship with a workaholic:

1. Don't turn a blind eye to the nature of his work
Understand the pressures that come with your partner's work. According to Hirscheimer, "Assuming you knew ahead of time what's involved in his job and you've agreed to it, it's not fair to expect him to cut down his workload." However, it's ok to change your mind if the circumstance changes. Be open with him that you're finding it difficult to cope without his help. "This should matter to your husband and if it's brought up in a positive way, you'd be surprised the creative solutions couples can come up with when they work together."

Page 1 of 3 -- Learn why comparing your relationship to others' can lead to damaging results on page 2.

2. Ease up on nagging
Hirscheimer cautions against nagging. "This is never a good idea. If you're constantly angry then that climate is less likely to encourage your partner to want to spend time with you." Instead of being negative, Hirscheimer suggests showing consideration for his work and asking him to take a break without a sense of entitlement.

3. Don't compete with other couples
Just because your girlfriend's husband has time to watch Dexter with her every Sunday doesn't mean yours does. "You need to remember you chose someone whose work may take more time than other people's. Work with your own situation because comparisons are aggravating," advises Hirscheimer. Consider also the time he does spend with you. If you're making trips down south together every year and managing to sneak away to the cottage a few times during the summer, appreciate that you have these opportunities.

4. Ask to use his calendar
Help him make his hectic schedule as functional as possible. Ask if he minds letting you input important events into his BlackBerry. As long as it doesn't feel like an intrusion to him, this ensures you can avoid an argument over missed dinner with the in-laws, and your man isn't stressing out about remembering to add it to his calendar. But keep in mind, suggests Hirschemier, "something is only a good idea if both parties agree," so don't force this idea if he says no.

5. Establish a fixed routine
If your hubby chains himself to his desk every night, Hirscheimer suggests establish non-negotiable family time. This can be as simple as cooking a meal together or going for a walk. Hirscheimer emphasizes complete honesty in this case. "When you're negotiating, don't be skimpy. Be honest with how much time you really need from them. Once both parties are fully satisfied with the agreement, there won't be any room for resentment."

Page 2 of 3 -- Find out how to plan a sweet couples' lunch together, plus more great tips on page 3.

6. Use positive reinforcement
Instead of scolding him for working all the time, bring him a warm tea and offer to relieve his stress with a massage if he'd just stop working for an hour. By giving your man good reason to halt work, you can condition him to look forward to taking breaks. Instead of guilting him for neglecting you, you're showing him why he shouldn't.

7. Act quickly and tactfully
If you feel your man is neglecting his responsibilities as a husband or especially, a father, don't demand anything. It's likely he doesn't even realize he's overlooking his obligations. Often workaholics are in a tunnel-vision type of trance, not always aware of what's going on around them. Help him tune in by having a productive discussion early on. "Blaming and broaching these issues with resentment and entitlement will only elicit a counter attack. If you want him to listen and understand, let him know in a nice way," says Hirscheimer. She also recommends acknowledging that he works hard and being specific with your expectations of him.

8. Make the time you have together count
When life throws you a curve ball, it's best to try and adapt. If your significant other often finds himself at the office on the weekend, Hirscheimer says the best thing you can do is be loving and irresistible when you're together. When he's at work, do your own thing and have fun. It's important to live your own life separate from your life as a couple.

9. Understand the man behind the desk
Some workaholics simply have higher energy thresholds and need to be doing something, not necessarily work. If you've tried getting your partner to have a romantic evening at home with little success, try going to a restaurant instead. The extra stimulus might be all he needs to calm his nerves. Another trick is to remind him that the break away from work will prevent him from burning out. "Self-worth needs to come from other sources as well or else when things aren't going well at work, it gets really hard to cope," says Hirscheimer.

10. Coordinate a couples' lunch
If you're thinking of popping into the office for a surprise lunch, make sure you clear this with your man first. While your intentions may be good, Hirscheimer reveals he may want to keep his work life separate. In her experience, no idea is a good idea unless both parties agree.

Karen Hirscheimer is a Toronto couples therapist. For more information visit

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How to cope when your partner is a workaholic