You Partners of workaholics find yourselves in a very difficult place.
For much of the time you are expected to manage on your own whilst your partners are busy with work. As a childless partner it leaves you with great tracts of time waiting for your partner to be available to talk to or to do things with. Having them physically present is no actual indicator of your partner being available to you. Modern technology adds the final twist of the knife, as your workaholic partner has so many more opportunities to be back in work mode. Mobile phones, Blackberrys and emails all have a voracious appetite for attention 24/7.
If you have children you find yourself being to all intents and purposes a single parent within your marriage. An added pressure is that your children often idolize their missing parent. They are rarely there to do the boring stuff like homework and nagging them to tidy up their bedroom. When they do make themselves available the children get to do fun things. It is such a rarity that it gives the activity very high status. Once your partner returns into work mode you have the double whammy of having to deal not only with your own feelings but with disgruntled and disappointed children too. It can feel so unfair.
An added difficulty arises when your partner also wants to take time “for them” to unwind and relax. Where those activities exclude you and/or the children it very often acts like a slap in the face.
When your workaholic partners want to spend time with you or needs to entertain people for work you are expected to drop everything and be available. You are faced with variations on a theme of the following logic:
“You have been nagging me to spend time with you, then when I want to do just that you are off doing something else.”
“I have so little time surely you want to spend it with me even if you have long standing arrangements for the theatre with a friend.”
“My commitments are so much more important than yours, after all it is me who supports the life style you enjoy. You could do what you have planned at any time.”
“I bring home the money which keeps you in the manner you want, surely it is not too much to ask for you to be with me when I have the time.”
“I need you to entertain these important clients, after all it is their contract which pays the bills.”
“When I get home from work I’m too tired to deal with all this ….. surely you can sort out ….. the plumber… the insurance…. their homework…. the problem with the teacher…. the dentist etc.”
“I want to spend quality time with the children, so lets do something fun.”
“I buy them wonderful things… what more do they… or you want from me?"
I can hear you all saying “ We know the problem, what we want to know is how to fix it!”
If you have tried all the usual ways of trying to change the workaholic habits of your partner, may be it is time to change your attitude towards the problem.
There is no simple answer to what is a complex problem. I’m sure you have heard the old adage: If you don’t like things then change them. Where things are out of your control to change the only thing you can do is change the way you react to them. Very often changing your attitude impacts on the very thing you found impossible to change. The only place to start changing them is by changing yourself.
Understand that loving them and accepting their unacceptable behaviour are two different things.
Think about your particular circumstances. Do you sit waiting for your partner to find a small space for you in their life? By sitting waiting for them to be free you begin to create a structure within the relationship which states that it is acceptable for them to treat you in this way. They are able to sustain their pattern of behaviour because you are at some level colluding with them.
This is not about paying them back – indeed that is the very last thing I am suggesting.
This is about:
- Developing a strong sense of your own self worth.
- Being honest with yourself and avoiding playing the victim.
- Learning what motivates and drives both you and your partner and understanding how to make both sets of needs work.
- Being loving to your partner whist loving yourself.
- Learning to communicate effectively with your partner. (Often we use the same words but the meanings we attach to them are completely different.)
- Using loving language which sets out your case clearly and firmly. (Without accusing, nagging or whining.)
- Setting out clear boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and sticking to them.
- Creating a life which you find fulfilling, even when your partner is not available. Making sure you make the most of every moment of your life rather than sitting waiting.
Incidentally, these are the very same principles which work with children, indeed with most relationships.
Think about your life. Identify all the great elements in your life and those which need to change. Once you decide to take control of your life things will immediately begin to feel better.