How Being Married to a Workaholic Impacts Your Marriage

Back view of couple at home desk

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Do you often feel like your relationship gets in the way of your partner's work? If so, it may be time to re-evaluate your relationship with them and their job.

For some people, dedicating themselves entirely to their career may seem like the right thing to do, but others close to them may see it as a problem. Because workaholic spouses often sacrifice their personal life to get ahead at work, it's usually at the expense of their partner and family health. But recognizing the signs of being overcommitted to work as soon as possible and being proactive about a lifestyle change can help turn things around before it's too late to mend spousal relationships and family dynamics.

What Is a Workaholic?

A workaholic is someone who works compulsively at the cost of sleep, health, and spending time with loved ones.

"The pull between work and family has never been greater," says psychology expert Barbara Killinger, PhD. "Although there is much talk about work-life balance today, it remains elusive for too many workaholic families." Leaving work at the office is more difficult than it seems when we can work virtually anywhere and anyone can reach us at any time. Setting boundaries between work and pleasure can be difficult, but working too much can have a negative impact on your marriage.

Meet the Expert

Barbara Killinger, PhD, is a clinical psychologist specializing in workaholism. She is the author of Workaholics: The Respectable Addicts.

Read on for more about spotting workaholic tendencies, the impact they can have on relationships, and what you can do about it.

Signs of a Workaholic

It's important to understand that being a hard worker is not the same thing as a workaholic. A hard worker can still have a balanced life, leave work at the office, and be emotionally present and engaged when home or away from work. If you notice several of the following traits, however, take a critical look at your partner's relationship with their career. 

  • Work is their No. 1 priority.
  • They miss out on life events for work.
  • They are financially stable yet work excessively.
  • Their family complains that they work too much.
  • They try to find ways to make more time for work.
  • Being unable to work seriously stresses them out.
  • Missing work due to illness or injury puts them in a panic.
  • Hobbies and leisure are sacrificed due to work.
  • The amount they work has negatively impacted their health.
  • They find a way to work even if sick or injured.
  • They rarely take vacations, and if they do, they still work while out of the office.
  • They always bring work home with them.
  • They find it hard to be "in the moment" because they are thinking about work.

How Working Too Much Affects Marriage

Spouses of workaholics can feel estranged and disconnected from their partners. "The spouse who has become well aware of coming in second in a list of priorities begins to lose confidence in [their] own desirability," says Killinger. A power struggle can ensue in the relationship as the workaholic becomes more autonomous.

A workaholic could potentially experience angry outbursts over little incidences as a result of their guilt for working too much, and these outbursts take a toll on a marriage and a family. To further exacerbate the problem, a partner who expresses their feelings about their spouse working too much could be met with hostility and anger. Workaholics could even begin to expect a spouse to cater to their needs, as they are the ones busy and working all the time. As their entitlement grows, discord in the marriage could result.

Real intimacy requires two-way communication and a mutually agreed-upon sharing of power.

Another unintended consequence can be an erosion of both the emotional and physical intimacy between spouses. "Real intimacy requires two-way communication and a mutually agreed-upon sharing of power," says Killinger. When open communication and regard for each other's emotional well-being take a back seat, the trust, respect, and friendship necessary for real love fly out the window. Once that happens, many couples can no longer enjoy sex for lack of emotional connection, and the act often becomes more about self-pleasure and relieving tension. In many of these situations, it's not uncommon for resentment to build.

How to Prevent Work From Hurting Your Marriage

Whether your partner simply works too much or is a true workaholic, it can put your marriage in danger. Understanding the importance of creating boundaries and drawing a definitive line between work and home life is essential in maintaining a healthy balance. Small steps like ensuring the master bedroom isn't used as a home office, turning cell phones and other devices off during family time, setting aside time for hobbies and leisure, and not using work as an excuse to avoid household chores are some ways to mitigate workaholic habits. Your spouse can actively ensure that work doesn't negatively impact your relationship by scheduling time at least once a week to spend together and sticking to normal work hours as often as possible.

When arriving home from work, embrace your spouse physically and emotionally. Spend time talking together about how the day went or other things you may need to decompress from. Do not do anything else until this is accomplished.

If you find that your partner can't put life in balance, get professional help through counseling or executive coaching. "Intimacy is an expressed goal for many recovering workaholic couples," Killinger says. "Their struggle is a challenging but exciting journey. ... Exploring one’s own strengths and personal weaknesses plays an important role in this journey."

It is worth understanding the underlying reasons why someone continues to engage in unhealthy behavior. This can be a critical tool in avoiding additional or future harm to spouses and families due to the lack of a nurturing home life.

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