What to Do When Your Partner Works Too Much

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If you are married to a "workaholic," you may feel as if you have an unfaithful spouse who's replaced your intimacy with work. The sense of being alone, broken promises, feelings of anger and disappointment, and a belief that you are not very important are all similar for spouses of people who cheat and spouses of people who work all the time.

What Happens If Your Wife or Husband Works Too Much?

When one partner devotes a lot of time to work—whether out of necessity or by choice—they have less time to nurture the marriage. It is also unhealthy to maintain a life that is out of balance, a situation that can sometimes put a spouse on the road to infidelity or divorce.

In some cases, it takes a wake-up call such as a personal or health crisis for someone who works all the time to make changes that bring about more balance. However, there are steps you can take now so you don't have to wait for an unfortunate event to spark change.  

The term "workaholic" was coined in 1971 by Wayne Oates, an American psychologist who specialized in religion and spirituality and wrote dozens of books, including "Confessions of a Workaholic."

How to Deal With a Spouse Who Works All the Time

If you are frustrated with the time and energy your wife or husband spends on work, there are a few steps you can take to help improve your relationship—and to help your marriage survive a workaholic partner.

Keep It in Perspective

Being married to someone who puts in a lot of time at work isn't always negative. If they're doing so out of a passion for what they do, for instance, their work can increase their life satisfaction—even improving their satisfaction at home.

Conversely, if your spouse works long hours out of necessity, this can signify that they're willing to do what it takes to care for their family financially. If this means spending more time away from home, they'll do it because the payoff is there.

Strive to Understand Their 'Why'

It can be easy to convince yourself that your spouse puts in long hours because they don't want to spend more time with you. However, jumping to conclusions about why they are working a lot can lead to more issues within your relationship. Your assumptions could be based on faulty premises.

To gain a better understanding of why your spouse works so much, ask them what drives them to work so hard. What is their "why"? Their answer can provide insight into what pushes them toward this behavior. And you might be relieved to learn that it isn't because they don't care to spend time with you.

Avoid Making Comparisons

Do you have couple-friends who are always doing things together, making you wish that you had the same relationship with your partner? Although it can be easy to make social comparisons (especially when you envy your friends' relationships), doing this can increase your stress and anxiety, making you feel even worse about your situation.

Remember that every relationship is different. Just because your spouse works more than you'd like, you may be stronger in areas where your friends' relationships are not. Appreciate your partnership for what it provides, regardless of what those around you are doing.

Recognize If You Are Enabling the Behavior

If your spouse works all the time out of choice, you may be unintentionally enabling this behavior. Put another way, your actions could be making it easier for them to be at work more, potentially contributing to them spending less time at home.

Enabling is often seen with addiction and is a mechanism that well-meaning loved ones use to help them cope with the pain and turmoil they feel as a result of the situation.

Ways you may be enabling your spouse's long work days include:

  • Delaying family meals until they return
  • Keeping the kids up longer so they can see their parent
  • Postponing activities until they're available
  • Spending your money on items and services that support this behavior (like ordering takeout for them once they arrive)

Instead, consider letting your spouse experience the consequences of working too much. For instance, serve dinner at the normal time each day. If your spouse isn't there for the meal, they can eat the leftovers once they get home.

Approach Your Spouse With Compassion and Positivity

When you don't agree with your spouse's viewpoint on how much they should work, it can put you both under intense amounts of stress. As a result, conversations about them working a lot should be approached cautiously and with compassion.

Additionally, as easy as it may be to scold your spouse for their overworking tendencies, nagging won't change anything. Instead, one way to deal with a wife or husband who works a lot is to share in a positive tone what they missed by working late or by bringing work home and not being present with you and your children.

Set Boundaries for Working From Home

If your spouse works from home either part- or full-time, setting a few boundaries can help prevent the blurring of lines between home and work. Some options to consider include:

  • Having a dedicated workspace and asking them not to work outside of it
  • Setting specific work hours, or stopping the workday at an agreed-upon time
  • Leaving their work phone in the home workspace during non-work hours

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Aim for Quality Over Quantity

Instead of getting frustrated because you don't have more time with your spouse, work to enjoy the time that you do spend together. Avoid work-related talk as you strive to strengthen your connection.

Research suggests that the quality of time couples spend together may be a factor that impacts divorce rates, particularly when that time is focused on stressors versus concentrating on having fun.

To help make the time you spend with your spouse higher in quality, agree to set down your cell phones when engaged in an activity together. This enables you to be fully present while making memories that you can cherish for years to come.

Look for Activities You Both Enjoy

You may be able to entice your spouse out of work mode by suggesting an activity that you would both enjoy. Fun things to do as a couple might include having a spa night at home, touring a brewery or winery, or hiking a new trail.

Doing an activity that your spouse will enjoy can help to ease the tensions between you. It also creates an opening for an honest discussion about your concerns.

Continue to Live Your Life

When you have a spouse who works all the time, it can be easy to stay home yourself, always waiting for their return. However, not living your own life can lead to even more resentment for their long work days.

If your spouse doesn't want to take time away from work to go to a movie with you, go with your kids or a friend. If they are too busy to take a few days off in a row, take a weekend trip to visit family without them. Don't put your life or your children's lives on hold waiting for your spouse to make time for you.

Support a Spouse Who Must Work Long Hours

Not every "workaholic" partner puts in tons of hours because they want to. Their employer may mandate overtime in peak season, for instance, or they might be required to put in longer days for a short time in order to hit an important deadline.

In cases such as this, it can be helpful to develop a personal mantra such as "this too will pass." Repeating this mantra often helps remind you that your situation is only temporary.

Since it's possible that your spouse's lengthy work days may get to them too, offering your support can provide the strength and encouragement they need to keep going. Ways to show this support could include:

  • Making fun plans for when their schedule changes, giving you both something to look forward to
  • Reducing your own work hours, if possible, or letting some other obligations go to better manage tasks at home
  • Seeking help to take care of the household tasks your spouse no longer has time to do, whether this help comes from family members, friends, or a paid service

It's also important to create routines that work for you (the non-working or working less spouse) to keep from burning out. Keep yourself mentally healthy so you can be there to better support your family and your spouse.

Seek Professional Help

Solving marital issues related to one partner's excessive work schedule can feel like an insurmountable task. Fortunately, psychologists and marriage counselors are available to help mediate open dialogue.

Sometimes just getting your spouse in for the initial therapy session can help them understand the gravity of the issue and the toll it's taking on you and your relationship.

During these sessions, it's important to discuss setting boundaries that will help change their behavior and also enable you to communicate with openness, compassion, and empathy. Agreeing to put away cell phones during dinner, for instance, could significantly reduce work-related stress during your alone time.

Next Steps

The first step toward overcoming marital issues related to living with a spouse you feel is a "workaholic" is to start a conversation. Express how the behavior makes you feel, then work together toward an amicable compromise that leaves you feeling more appreciated while fulfilling your spouse's need or desire to work.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is it like to be married to a "workaholic"?

    Being married to a "workaholic" can leave you feeling alone, also potentially causing you to question your importance to your spouse. You may even experience feelings of estrangement or disconnection from your spouse, sometimes feeling overwhelmed and resentful by having to take care of home and family obligations on your own.

  • How should I respond to a partner who talks about how hard they work all the time?

    Acknowledging your spouse's hard work can go a long way to making them feel validated and heard. At the same time, it's important to let them know that, while you support and love them, their work-heavy lifestyle also creates hardships for you. Recognizing that you're both striving to create a good life for your family helps reaffirm that you're each working toward the same goal.

  • What are some encouraging words for a partner who works all the time?

    You can show your support for a partner who works a lot by saying things such as "I see all that you are doing for our family and I appreciate it" or "I know that your work schedule isn't easy for you but I want you to know that I am here for you every step of the way."

  • Can working too much ruin a marriage?

    Having a partner consumed with work can increase divorce risk. Even if it doesn't result in divorce, at a minimum, it can reduce your satisfaction with the relationship. Studies have found that as workaholism increases, marital satisfaction tends to decrease.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.