Why Nagging Your Workaholic Partner Is Not Working

If your partner is a workaholic you probably spend a lot of time feeling neglected, and like you take second place after your partner’s work. This frustration most likely comes out in a tone of voice that can only be described as nagging as you try and make you feelings clear, but the nagging never works.


This article focuses on changing that cycle, using the relationship between workaholics and their partners as an example, but you can use the principles when dealing with any relationship. Whether you are working with your partner, your teenage children or a work colleague the principle is the same.


When Nagging Gets In The Way

What you say, the way in which it is said, and the timing of when things are said, all have the capacity to widen the gap between you and your loved one if it is negative.

In fact, negative communication gives your loved one the impression that they can let themselves off the hook as they can rationalise your nagging as unreasonable, creating a barrier to them addressing the real problem, the cause of the nagging.

If you want things to be different you have to change old patterns of behaviour. Listening to yourself and understanding what that triggers in the other person is a vital step to creating a different future.


Familiar Patterns

Clients often describe how their partner will take the time and trouble to listen to a member of their staff far more readily than they do them or their children. Do the words “If they loved me enough they would want to spend time with me.” Sound familiar?

It is easy to make the assumption that it is lack of love which causes their partner to spend long hours away from them. Their frustrations and sense of loneliness take over and as soon as their partner gets home the frustrations spill over and they share how they are feeling and the recriminations begin.


Vicious Circles Of Repeated Behaviour

Like so many of the strategies we use when we are feeling un-resourced, this approach is incredibly unproductive – but despite the fact that the strategy rarely works, many partners find they go into nag mode knowing it is destined to fail and make them feel bad into the bargain.

Einstein’s definition of madness is to carry on doing the same thing even though we know it doesn’t work, yet millions of us continue to behave in a set way long after we know it is failing.


Understanding A Workaholic

To understand why nagging fails so often you need to understand what is actually happening, taking a step back will give you the opportunity to behave differently.

Why are people workaholics?

  • Sometimes because of some deep seated need within themselves.
  • Many are driven to succeed on terms that only they can define.
  • Some push themselves long after most people would feel highly successful.
  • Fear of failure rather than the pull of success can drive them.
  • A poor sense of self worth developed in childhood can be the motivation.
  • The need to feel significant by doing things for others is common.
  • External verification of worth drives others.
  • Some just feel more secure in their working life than in their personal life.

You know your partner well. Consider what is driving them? Think about the relationship they had with their parents, siblings or at school.

Partners in general will often respond disproportionately to a particular tone of voice or to being told that they have failed. It often hits a deep-seated raw nerve that has been created during their formative years. The nagging becomes synonymous with a parent telling them how useless they are or a teacher or class bully belittling them. This response is may be strong in your workaholic partner.


How To make A Change

Over the next few days listen to yourself. Put yourself into the shoes of the other person and consider how you would respond.

Be honest with yourself, but be constructive. This is not about blaming. It is about seeing more clearly why things have gone wrong and doing your best to find a productive way forward for you and your partner. Finding a win – win solution is always best. Making it a competition between you and their work is a risky business.

Over the next few days think about how you handle yourself when dealing with your partner. You are the only person you can truly control. Think about what you really want. If you want to change the relationship you have with your partner for the better then simply waiting for them to change is unlikely to give you the result you want.


To change things for the better you have to make the decision to change the one person in your power. That is YOU.


Think about the way in which you speak, when you choose to bring things up and how you approach things. Pouncing on your partner as soon as they come in tired and irritable from work is probably not the most productive time to talk about how unreasonable you think they are, at least not if you want them to truly listen to you. Run the conversation in your head and plan to do it differently. As a general rule of thumb make a distinction between how you feel about them and their behaviour. “I love you very much but I find ------ really difficult.”   Keep calm and try not to see it as a point scoring exercise.

Making a change to your approach can make a difference over time. Be realistic, if your partnership has been rocky for an extended period of time it can take time for a new strategy to work.

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