How to Live with a Workaholic
Q: My husband is a workaholic. Work comes before me and the kids, and our family is suffering. How do I respect him in this area?
Dr. E says: First, I cannot guarantee that what I have to say will automatically get a husband to quit working so many hours and be at home a lot more. However, in counseling many couples in this situation, I have made four observations that usually help a wife deal with the situation in a more positive way.
1. “We need your influence.”
Respectfully say, “Your children (daughter, son) need you at home more. You have a unique influence on them. In certain areas, nobody matters to them as much as you do. It may not appear that way to you, but your positive presence has the power to mold them. I know you are swamped and have little time, but I also know that you want to give them that part of you that no one else can give to them. Thanks.”
If you do not have children, reiterate how important he is to you, and you miss having time with him. However, keep this friendly, not whiny or negative.
2. Don’t respect a negative obsession.
You need not praise him for all the work he is doing away from home, but you should let him know you appreciate his provision. There’s a fine line here. You can express to him your appreciation for his desire to provide, for example. But to tell him you respect him for working nonstop would not be true, and he knows it. Most men know, deep down, the importance of work-life balance.
In other words, don’t feel that you must praise what may be a negative obsession. Instead, look for non-work areas in which to express respect. What character qualities does your husband have that you appreciate?
If you have trouble with this, spend some time making a list of the qualities you like and admire in him. Then express appreciation to your husband for one of these qualities each day.
Sometimes we get so focused on what needs fixing, we lose sight of what is good. The section on C.H.A.I.R.S: How to Spell Respect to Your Husband (pages 183-258) in Love & Respect will help you with this.
3. Disrespect never motivates love.
Don’t degrade his work or coworkers. That won’t work. It will only push him farther away.
Remember – and this is very important – you cannot devalue what he is doing at work in order to get him to value the family more.
Furthermore, do not say or imply, “I am not going to respect you until you start helping me and the children.” That is equal to having him say or imply, “I am not going to show you and the family any love until you start honoring me for what I do at work.”
Some husbands work because it is the place they feel respected. If a wife is negative, complaining, and disrespectful, what man wants to come home? A man does not hear the deeper cry of his wife’s heart when she makes a personal attack on him and his work. He does not hear, “I miss you.” Instead he hears, “I despise you.” So he asks for (or chooses) overtime at work.
I am not saying he should respond that way. But just as you dread being around someone you think dislikes you, so does your spouse. And if you are usually negative and complaining, his conclusion is that you don’t like him.
So choose your words carefully. Never even remotely imply that you are really saying, “If you don’t make a positive change, you idiot, you will destroy me and the children.”
4. Give him time to change.
As hard as this is to hear, you will need to be patient and see this as a 6-month project. Give your husband time to bring some things at work to completion and to introduce “no” into his vocabulary on the job. Give him time to taste what it’s like to be an influence in his own home with his own children (not to mention you). Have confidence in God’s Word and allow time for the Holy Spirit to work.
- Are you willing to change your approach?
- Which of these four suggestions will you start with?
If you consistently try this for 6 months and there is no change, you will have won the right to be heard. Then seek out your pastor (or godly wise man that your husband respects) for counsel, and ask your husband to meet together with him so you can find a solution and move forward.
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