Setting Boundaries with a Workaholic Spouse

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Setting Boundaries with a Workaholic Spouse

Addiction to work is a marriage killer. Marriages involving workaholics are twice as likely to end in divorce, according to a study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. For couples that stay together, the psychological toll can be devastating. Here are nine ways to survive a spouse who is married to work.

Stop Helping 

Spouses can be inadvertent enablers. You might push dinner back several hours each night, keep your children up late to snatch a few remaining minutes or even delay amily plans to include the workaholic. But all those things only encourage the addiction. Break the cycle by sticking to a normal schedule--make workaholics think about what they're missing.

Find Mutual Hobbies 

"Workaholics often feel like they have to be doing something," says Bryan Robinson, former professor emeritus at University of North Carolina at Charlotte who has studied the effects of workaholism on family life. "[Hobbies a couple can do together] help them connect with you." Even something as simple as walking around the neighborhood can work.

Don't Nag 

Instead, frame requests for more time and attention in positive terms, suggests Jess Alberts, professor of human communication at Arizona State University. "Rather than saying, 'You're never home, and the kids need you,' focus on the positives of having your spouse at home," says Alberts. "Say something like 'I don't feel as close to you, and I love having you around.' Frame it as positively as possible, because it's hard to move towards a resolution if you're angry." 

Understand Your Spouse's Job 

It helps to understand as much as you can about your spouse's work and why he or she gets so much satisfaction from it. The more you know, the less resentful you'll be. You'll also be a better sounding board when your partner needs to vent or seek encouragement. (Workaholics should understand their partners' joys and pressures, too.) 

Don't encourage 'workaholic' tendencies 

The first step is to distinguish between a 'hard working' and a 'workaholic' spouse. If you are sure of his/her workaholic tendencies, the best way to begin is by not encouraging his obsession with his work. Make him realise there are more important things than money in this world. "Don't make it a habit to stay awake waiting for him to join you for dinner or keeping your children awake to spend quality time with him. Don't always delay family plans to include your spouse. Doing so may encourage him/her to stretch their working hours and take you for granted. Ignoring your partner may help them realise what they've been missing,".

Plan a 'no-work' time 

"My husband usually comes back late from work and cannot restrain himself from thinking about office or taking phone calls even after that. I have tried to discuss this with him several times, but it's of no help. Even if we plan do go out together or spend time with each other, he usually cancels the same saying work is his foremost priority. I feel helpless and ignored,"

Make a Plan (But Reassess Regularly)

Rigid as it sounds, couples threatened by workaholism should map a plan assigning vocational and domestic duties in the short and long term, says Cali Williams Yost, the author of Work+Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You. "You almost need to sit with a pad and paper and work through everything," says Yost. (Who knows, maybe 70-hour work weeks might make sense for several years, as long as they can be tailored back down the road.) No plan should be etched in granite, of course, so keep that pad handy when life throws a curve ball. 

Prioritize Social Events 

This one requires brutal honesty. While there may be 20 social events you'd like your spouse to attend, decide which ones are truly the most important and try hitting those, says Sarah Tracy, director of the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. 

Schedule Tech-Free Time

Cellphones and BlackBerrys have pushed plenty of borderline workaholics over the edge. Fight back, says Diane Fassel, a Boulder, Colo.-based organizational consultant and author of Working Ourselves to Death. Her advice: Designate certain times, like Friday nights, when you and your spouse both agree to lock those gadgets in a drawer. 

Put the Focus Back on Yourself

No matter how logically and doggedly you make your case, changing people isn't really an option. In the end, you just have to hope they realize how damaging their overworking has become and decide to pare it back. In the meantime, take a protective step, says Fassel. Ask yourself: "What do I need to be sane if my husband or wife is unavailable to me?" This isn't selfishness--it's survival.

Last Resort: Therapy 

If none of these strategies help to break your spouse's workaholic cycle, seek professional help, says Robinson. As with any addiction, getting to the root of the problem is what counts.


Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at  MetroSexual LA


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