Working Too Much

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Workaholic Spouse

Dec 2004

My husband has a pretty demanding and high stress job as a freelance consultant and he works all the time. He often gets home after 10:30 and recently went for three weeks without seeing our baby son (a combo of getting home late and a business trip). When he is home, he is exhausted and checked out. We have discussed this and he says he will change, but honestly it seems like lip service to me because he is very set in his ways (if unconciously). I try to be understanding and respect the fact that his job is hard but it seems like family, not work is the negotiable factor. How have others handeled situations like this? Is this the kind of situation where counseling would be helpful? Thanks. anon

Wow - I could have written your exact message a few months ago. You are in a very difficult position and I completely sympathize! Unfortunately, I think these situations are often self-perpetuating: because my husband wasn't around much, he didn't know our child's routine very well, she didn't respond as well to him, so he wasn't that helpful, he would give up easily and we ended up fighting a lot -- all of which added to his lack of initiative and the tension between us.

Although our current situation is far from perfect, here are some things that have made a big difference:

(1) counseling - yes, tried and true! My husband was so overwhelmed all the time that he never had a chance to reflect on his life and how it could be different. Also, because I was able to manage when he wasn't around, he didn't realize how much I NEEDED his help. Now he feels more confident and he's more involved. We also understand each other better - how we process things differently, what we really mean when we say something, etc. As a result, our relationship is better, so our stress level is lower.

(2) baby steps - don't shoot for the moon right away; just get off the ground. Think about what you want from him, then come up with some initial concrete actions he can take. In our situation, I know it's unrealistic to expect my husband home every night before our daughter goes to bed, so we come up with agreements in advance. One night per week (of his choosing) he comes early and takes responsibility for getting her to bed; if he's around on the weekends, we set aside a set amount of time to tackle household chores; he's in charge of bills, I'm in charge of groceries and making sure we're all fed; we divide and conquer: I'll find a heating contractor, he'll tackle homeowner's insurance, etc.

(3) create systems: I used to badger my husband constantly - do this, do that, why don't you help with this... etc. I resented having to think about everything all the time, and he resented being told what to do. The piecemeal fashion is also a recipe for failure. Now, what we're trying to do is create systems and areas of responsibility. For areas that are more new to him, I've written down everything that needs to be done so he doesn't have to ask me, I'm learning to let go of holding onto everything (which put me in a constant state of anxiety) and we both feel more ownership and control over our lives.

The most important thing is your communication with each other - understanding each other's way of processing things and working together to come up with compromises. It's hard, but crucial, to acknowledge AND separate the emotional dynamic and the work that needs to get done.

Good luck!! it's always a work in progress...