What Do I Do if My Husband is a Workaholic?

by | Nov 2, 2018 | Resolving Conflict | 16 comments

When Your Husband is a Workaholic: How to help him pay more attention to the family

How do you deal with a husband who is a workaholic?

This month on the blog we’re going to be talking about intimacy, and how to build your relationship so you feel closer. All the Wednesdays will be dedicated to different aspects of intimacy!

Yesterday I started our series with the question, “what pulls you apart”? And what do you do when it seems like you and your spouse decided on a certain way of living, and then he seems to have gone back on that promise?

Workaholism is a big way a person can seem to break that promise, and I think it’s rampant. Here’s what a reader wrote to me:

Reader Question

My husband’s work hours are way out of control. He owns his own business and regularly works 75-90 hours a week. We have been married almost 30 years and our kids are almost out of the nest.
His obsession with work overrides his common sense. The kids and I staged an intervention (literally) where we said that they would not ride in his car with him if he continued to text and check emails while driving (that has improved a bit since then).
He thinks I don’t appreciate his hard work. I do, but it has left me to be virtually a single parent, and in fact, an angry, disconnected wife. I try to open discussions with “I/we want to have you at home more. I miss time with you”, but it immediately goes to accusations that I don’t understand his work, his stress, the economy etc.
I am tired of pat Christian answers about making my home a sanctuary for him and understanding that work is what God created him to do. I am angry when I hear other Godly men ask with a laugh, “Still working those crazy hours?” instead of calling him on his out of balance life. I have considered talking to an elder couple that we are close to in order to have someone else discuss this with him.
My husband is a good man and I know, in my head if not my heart, that he loves me and his kids, but even as I write this, a voice in my head whispers, “but not enough to cut back his work hours”.

My heart breaks for this woman. She IS married to a workaholic husband, and it’s making her feel so unloved. So what does one do in this situation? Here are some general thoughts about workaholism and marriage.

Is He a Workaholic or Does He Just Work Hard?

My husband is a physician, and when he was in training he was often at work for 100-120 hours a week, being 36 hours on and 12 hours off. It was horrible. When he had his own practice he was still on call frequently, and his work weeks were still long. I never considered him a workaholic, though, because he loved being home–and when he had to dictate charts or bring work home he was always really grumpy about it. He wanted to be away from work; the job just didn’t always allow it.

What good would it have been for me to be angry at him for that? He was already upset that he wasn’t home more; me adding to that would not have helped. Working hard and working long hours does not necessarily mean he’s a workaholic.

A workaholic husband, on the other hand, is someone who routinely chooses to engage in work rather than engage in family time even when the job does not necessarily demand it. If he’s a pastor and he’s forever visiting people and counselling people after hours and going to meetings and he’s never with his family, then he’s likely a workaholic. If he’s a business owner (like our letter writer’s husband) and he can never put the job down, then he’s likely a workaholic.

Certain jobs are more prone to workaholism: the “caring” professions, especially ministry ones, where you can always justify working harder because “people need me”, and entrepreneurs, who feel as if everything rests on their shoulders. There are others as well, but those are the two categories that seem to be especially prone to it.

If He Simply Works Hard–but He’s Not a Workaholic?

Can He Switch Jobs?

Can you make a long-term plan for him to get more training so that he can qualify for something different that pays well? Can you create a 5-year plan together that gets him into something more manageable–so that your family life is better?

Can You Change Your Work?

One reason that my husband’s job was never too much of a burden to us was because I didn’t work outside the home. Because I was there to take care of the day-to-day things, then when he was home we could relax as a family. If I had been working 40 hours a week too I don’t know how we would have done it. When he got home instead of playing a game or talking we’d have to clean something or tend to errands.

Is there a way that you can reduce your hours or change your work so that the family becomes more manageable–even with his hours?

Can You Carve Out Family Time?

I have two dear friends who are both family physicians in a small town. The wife works part-time; the husband has always worked more than full-time because that’s the nature of the job. While he’s around most nights, he honestly is gone a lot of the time. But what they have done is carved out several weeks of vacation a year where they get out of town completely, so no one can page him. And they love their vacation time! They’ve taken their girls on missions trips, on backpacking adventures, and all kinds of places so that they create memories.

If your husband puts in a ton of hours at work, perhaps he can negotiate more vacation time where he’s out of the office and away from his phone.

I have another friend who is a project manager for huge corporate projects. He goes to work in one place for 2-3 years, managing some new huge launch, and then he’ll move to another corporation. So everywhere he goes it’s always at a stressful, busy time. He misses Thanksgiving sometimes. He misses weekends sometimes. But one thing he never misses is his kids’ quiz meets (his kids do Bible quizzing with my daughter). He coaches and he’s made that his priority. So even though he misses some traditional family things, he is always there for one particular thing that has become his priority–his barometer of whether he’s involved enough or not. And that works really well for them. Can your husband find one thing that he is always there for–coaching soccer, working with the youth group, attending a small group with you? And that is always your priority?

For years my husband and I spent Wednesday nights ballroom dancing. He never, ever took call on Wednesday nights, no matter what. That was our time. So, yes, I couldn’t always count on him for birthdays or for weekends, but I knew that he would always be there for me for Wednesday nights.

If Your Husband is a Workaholic

Can You Plan Your Goals Together?

If the issue is not one of time but honestly one of priority, then it’s a much bigger problem. Like Bill and Pam Farrel say, men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti. Men live their lives in little boxes: when they’re in one box (like work) it’s hard for them to think about another box. And often that work box gets really big.

One way to force them out of it is to talk to them about goals. Workaholics are often quite good at setting goals because they do it in the work setting all the time. So what about asking him to set goals for your family and your marriage?

If you start asking, “what do we want our family to look like?”, and then “what are the action steps we need to take to get them there?” that can help him see that he has action steps that need to be taken at home, too.

Like this post so far? You should also check out:

Can You Find the Root of Workaholism?

Is workaholism about money? Or is it about self-worth? Or is it about a lack of trust in God?

I have a friend named Mark who has a construction company. He has always prioritized his family. He works long hours, but he’s home on weekends, and they do vacations together. When the downturn came in 2008, he didn’t lose his business, though many in his town did. And he says he just trusted God. He worked a little harder to drum up business, but he didn’t panic, because he knew God would take care of them.

Sometimes people become workaholics because they’re essentially scared that God won’t take care of them, so they have to do it all themselves. In that case it’s a trust in God issue.

Sometimes he’s grown up to believe that his worth is from his work, and so he puts all of his emphasis there.

And sometimes he just wants more money, thinking that it will buy security.

Figuring out what the spiritual root is can help you tackle the problem. And sometimes you will have to talk about this with a counselor or a third party. In extreme cases, you will have to say, “I can’t live in the marriage like this anymore and we need to get help.”

Other times just using logic can help. How much money is enough for your retirement? If you go at this trajectory, will you manage? Does the business need to expand? Do you need to work that many hours? If they can see it in black and white that their financial goals are already met, that can help them scale back.

If the issue is that he’s in a caring profession, and the demands are never ending, then I’d read this post which addresses specifically that.

Be Honest with Your Own Role

I am not saying this is the case with my reader at all, but I have had many men comment on this blog about how desperately lonely they are in their marriages, and how they have turned to their work instead so that they can cope with the loneliness. The babies came, and their wives threw themselves into the kids, virtually stopped having sex, and were critical and demanding. And the men felt unloved.

So they threw themselves into work, and for a few years everyone was happy. He could cope because his needs were met at work; she could focus on her kids unimpeded. Then the kids started to grow, and she began to miss him, but he wasn’t here anymore.

Ask yourself if you have done anything to contribute to his workaholism (and this is not always the case). Then ask him. And if you have, repent, apologize, ask forgiveness, and try to start fresh. Here’s a good post on asking for forgiveness.

Confront Him About His Workaholism

Like my reader, I have heard the advice, “just make your home a sanctuary he wants to come home to!”, and there is some truth to that. But I think that truth is more relevant if your husband works hard, not if he’s a workaholic. If he simply works hard, he needs that sanctuary. If he’s a workaholic, the problem is usually a spiritual one, and no matter what you do it won’t get better. In fact, you could end up enabling him to grow further away from God and further away from his family if you do nothing.

That’s what my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage can help you with. It helps us deal with our own part in the problem, but then walks you through how to confront real issues that need changing. It helps you be a “help” to your husband, not an enabler of bad behaviour.

Our reader and her kids did a good thing confronting him about texting. That was a great first step. But take the next step, too.

Make Your Own Life

My friend Leanne had a workaholic husband. She tried for years to change it and finally realized she couldn’t. So she stopped waiting around for him. She began taking the kids on vacation by herself. She took them to the beach in the summer rather than trying to plan around his schedule–and then being disappointed again. She started taking painting classes herself and hired a baby-sitter for the kids. She stopped putting her life on hold and started living it.
An interesting thing happened. His workaholism stopped bothering her quite as much because she had other areas of joy in her life. And because of that, he started wanting to be home more. He realized he was missing a lot of fun, and he made more of an effort to be there for those beach trips.
Their marriage is still not perfect, but she’s finding it easier to cope with it.

So those are my thoughts on workaholism–and now I’d love to know yours! How do you deal with a husband who works a ton? Let me know in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Bekah

    Wow, this was a great article! My husband works anywhere from 50-80 hours a week year round (for the past 3.5 years or so) which is not really his choice at the moment. He’s trying to move up in his company so that he can control his hours more easily and make enough money for me to stay home full time when we have kids. We have fairly regular Saturday date nights where we go to church and then out for dinner. We also vacation several times a year after big deadlines, whether it’s a week at the beach or just a weekend somewhere close by. It’s difficult at times but it works for us right now especially since we don’t have kids yet, but he has said many times that if his hours don’t change when we have a baby, he’ll have to look for a different job.
    I love the differentiation between working a lot and being a workaholic- sometimes I start feeling resentful but I know for a fact my husband would much rather be home with me than working late every night.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I really think that is an important distinction. Not everyone who works a ton is a workaholic. At the same time, i don’t think terrible hours like that are sustainable in the long run. But when it’s for a time, to get a promotion, to get through training, etc. etc., then I think it’s doable. And sometimes it’s necessary when you’re growing a business, too. But if you can keep communicating, and you have a plan for when it will end, then I think it’s easier for everyone to endure.

  2. Bobthemusicguy

    This came up on another blog, and I commented that I was once medications my unhappiness, especially my marital unhappiness with work, work, and more work. God slapped me down with a heart problem that led to quintuple bypass surgery, followed by lung problems that put me back in the hospital for 2 1/2 more weeks.
    During that time, I changed my priorities (or rather, God changed them for me) and things were a lot different after that not perfect, but I saw everything differently. I wouldn’t wish those health problems on anyone, but I thank God for them every day, because they were the catalyst for a complete change in my life and marriage.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you for your transparency, Bob. I appreciate that! I am sorry that people have to go through that, but like you said–God can definitely use it!

  3. Natalie

    In my experience, true workaholism is always a heart/spiritual issue. As my dad grew distant in his faith, he worked more and more hours needlessly. He stressed more about the economy, personal finances, the stock market and global events / politics (though, granted, he was a home builder for decades including during the crash and afterwards too), and pretty much didn’t trust God for anything. He’s owned his own business now for 3 years as a contractor in the home building world, and he’s at the pinnacle of his workaholism imo. His office is upstairs in the room we kids used as our playroom when we were growing up, so it’s not like making time for his wife should be super difficult. He no longer has to deal with the terrible SoCal traffic on a daily basis, and instead has an ocean view from his “office” which you’d like would calm and mentally soothe a lot of people. My family and I have moved out of state, but my brother and his son still frequently visit my parents. Only when we kids and the grandkids are around does he come out of his “cave” as we call it and come downstairs to socialise. And even then, sometimes he’ll still spend his Saturdays and Sundays up there just watching YouTube videos and reading articles about the economy. When we went on family vacations growing up and even now going on vacations with the grandparents/grandkids, he can’t and has never been able to fully relax and get work off his mind, especially with the advent of the blackberry and then smartphone! It’s really an obsession that apprently only a hot sunny summer day with big swells can fix, cuz he’ll leave his cave to go surfing in a heartbeat and get out of the house for a few hours if the surf conditions are right.
    My mom and dad have had a sexless marriage for years. I know the lack of intimacy hurts both of them deeply. They’re often verbally mean to each other, especially my dad to my mom. My mom has resigned to do what you mentioned the lady in your article did: live her own life. She’ll come out to TX to visit me frequently for weeks and sometimes over a month. But that hasn’t seemed to make my dad think about his workaholic lifestyle. So for the foreseeable future, they’ll continue living parallel lives till my dad’s body can no longer handle the continual stress or one of them dies (my mom has had lupus for 25 years, I think largely instigated by the extreme stress of her husband, young kids and constantly moving houses due to my dad’s anxiousness about the economy at the time). It’s really sad to watch but has acted as a learning tool for my husband and I as something we never want to emulate. (i.e. their lack of intimacy and his lack of respect for his life and his love of money over love of his wife)

    • Natalie

      lack of respect for his wife * (not life)
      He’s always verbally putting her down for being a stay at home mom and housewife even though that’s what they agree upon before they got married in 1985. Plus, with my mom’s lupus, she’s extremely sensitive to a lot of smells of stores and gets tired very easily, so holding a job in most stores where she could easily find employment would be very difficult. He disrespects her verbally, tells her she’s not worth that nice vacation / the nice piece of jewellery / that expensive out-of-network doctor she wants to go see / etc, and seriously looks down on her for the fact that she doesn’t contribute financially to the household. That’s what I mean by disrespects his wife.

      • Jane

        I’m sorry your parents’ relationship has gotten so toxic. It’s so sad. I’m brokenhearted for both of them. I hope they find some help.
        But on the earlier topic you brought up:
        “Being married to a cave dweller” deserves its own blog post.
        My counselor suggested that we (before we married) agree to a minimum of face-to-face hours per week (barring anything unusual).
        The counselor said, if you don’t do this now, a pattern will occur: The wife becomes desperate for face-time and husband feels unable to deal with the pressure. Soon wife will beat on the door to his man cave, and husband will say, “Why should I interact with the crazy woman outside my door?”
        So we agreed to 11.2 hours per week. (1/10th of our non-working, non-sleeping time.) We discussed it and reaffirmed that number 3 times before we married. I’m glad we did.
        Cave dwellers need to make a fixed commitment — like a legal contract — otherwise they will pull further and further away and can’t be brought back.
        It may not be too late for your parents. It would be nice for them to enjoy each other in their later years.

  4. Jess

    I am honestly surprised that one of your suggestions was to see if a woman can cut down on hours or quit her job if her husband is working a lot. I understand if she doesn’t mind then it could be a good fix, but this also seems a lot like saying that the man’s job or calling is more important. I know thats probably not what you meant, but it seems like it. I have this issue with my husband. We don’t have kids yet, and he is a coach so he works a ton of hour and has no actual leave he can take unless it is an emergency. I even had a minor surgery a while back and he didn’t come, my parents took care of me. Last year, I had an 8 to 5 and I was miserable. I was alone all of the time and resented his job so much. This year, I have a much busier schedule and while our house may not be as clean and the laundry might sit in the basket without being folded, my mental health is much better. And he helps out more around the house because I am so busy, which also is very meaningful for me. So cutting back on work if your husband is really busy can actually backfire. It can make it seem like life is all about him and revolves around his work because you’re the one with free time to schedule around his schedule. Also, this can make it seem like a man’s calling is more important. I get when you have kids that someone probably can’t work a busy job because someone has to be around for them, but this is what my husband and I are currently at odds about. He says that as long as one person is home full time or at least most of the time, the other can have a busy job because at least one person is around for the kids. And that one person needs to stay home. But what if that person who stays home also has a calling to a job? So they can ignore their calling, but as long as someone is home, the other is free to pursue their calling even if it keeps them away from their family most of the time. But see, you can’t have it both ways. If calling matters, then maybe not everyone is meant to be a stay at home mom. But if it isn’t, then dads should choose jobs where they make enough money to take care of their family and be home as much as possible. But they don’t. They choose busy jobs because they feel called, because they enjoy it, because they are good at it. But that only applies to one person. And that is not fair at all. And I don’t know how to talk to him about that. And about his super busy job. He isn’t a workaholic, but his father sure is and I can see him becoming more and more like that. And I want to have kids, but as of right now I do not want to stay at home. I would be fine staying at home or at least severely cutting back on work when they are little, and not ever having a crazy busy job, but I also want him to not have a crazy busy job so I can have a job too.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Jess, I hear what you’re saying, but I also have seen in real life that families cannot function well if both spouses have outside focuses. Someone has to be focused on the family for the family to work. That doesn’t mean that two people can’t have jobs; but some jobs become all-encompassing, where the job comes home with you, and you’re thinking about it all the time, and it often intrudes on the time. That is one thing before you have kids; it completely doesn’t work once you do have kids. You can read more about that here. Here’s the real point of it: “You simply can’t have a close family when everyone is giving 100% to something outside the family. You can’t.”
      But I guess what I would say is this: You now have some choices. You can figure out how to make your family work with him gone so much; you can draw some boundaries and say, “I am not willing to live a life where you neglect the family, and we have to do something about this,”; or you can say, “if you’re going to work that much, then I’m going to create a different life for myself so I don’t get left behind.”
      Now, a lot of people would say that you’re totally justified choosing the third option. I’d just simply say that if you choose that option, your family will fall apart and you will never feel close, and, if you do have kids, they will be left behind.
      So I think what’s important to ask yourself is not “what is fair?” but instead, “what am I willing to live with?” and “what am I going to do about it?” If you are simply not willing to raise kids with someone who has said that they will never be home, then you must speak up now and do something about it. But if you say, “well, I married him, and I can’t change it, so I should make the best of it,” then do that. I don’t know which answer is best, but I do know that deciding to go full tilt at something when he’s also going full tilt at something will mean that the family unit will not be cohesive, and you will live with an incredible amount of stress. So I think this is worth figuring out, especially before you have kids. Pray a ton about it. Ask God to bring people into your husband’s life to lead him to the right answer, too. And I should tell you that I never thought I’d stay home with my kids until my first was born. Never imagined it. As soon as she was born, though, I couldn’t imagine going back to work.
      I know that’s not easy, and I wish that your husband and his family valued family time. I’m sorry they don’t. I really am. And I wish you all the best as you try to figure this out!

      • Bobthemusicguy

        Sheila, both women and men have for too long accepted the lie that you can, in fact, have it all. I read once that some bigwig corporate speaker was honest enough in his talks to tell businessmen and women that if you expect to rise to the top of the corporate ladder and have a successful marriage and family, you are under a delusion. Of course, he was encouraging his audience to focus on the business.
        I’m old enough to remember an ad for some women’s hair product or fragrance or some such thing, that had the words to their song: “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man, because I’m a woman . . . “
        I was told in college that I had the talent to make it as a professional concert pianist. Even that young, I dimly realized that I wanted more out of life than traveling and living out of a suitcase. And my first teaching positions were disappointing to an ambitious young man, with very little potential for professional fame and recognition. I realized then that my job was mainly to provide for my family, and any personal satisfaction or reputation I ever gained was gravy.
        I certainly didn’t always get my priorities right, but my wife and I did let a lot of things go in order to homeschool. And while I sometimes think about the traveling I never did, the bigger house or nicer car I could have had, the professional recognition I could have strived for, the social connections I could have pursued, I look at our life and realized that I have been blessed.
        We’ve stayed together, through thick and thin, for 38 years, and our two sons are fine young men, one of whom just got married to a lovely young woman. I had a dad who was a workaholic. I remember talking to the pastor of our church in another city. His dad was a pastor, too, and we had in common that our dads often gave their best to other people. Maybe that negative example helped me get at least some things right.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s great, Bob! And I think negative examples can actually be very powerful forces for our good in our lives. I know they were in mine, too.

      • Jess

        How did you live knowing that you had more of a family focus than your husband? You say that someone has to be focused on the family for it to work, but how did that not make you feel so unloved and so distant knowing that you were more into the family than your husband? I think that is my issue. My primary love language is quality time, direct service and feeling like someone knows me and is invested in me. It is truly the common scenario: the woman is all about her kids and her husband and her home and the man is all about work. Even if he isn’t a workaholic, this is how it usually goes. And thinking about that breaks my heart because how does it not kill women to be the one that is focusing on family when there husband is not. I guess I want to work even if I have kids because I saw what it did to my mom to have family be her life and a husband whose life is work (my dad is a surgeon and isn’t a workaholic but obviously had to work a lot). I just don’t understand how to live a life like that. It really does sound like the idea that women were just made to be their husband’s secretary and maid. I just don’t know how to make it work if the investment in family and the focus isn’t the same both ways. Maybe that makes me a terrible and prideful person, but it truly hurts me to think about being a stay at home mom to a husband with a busy job. I don’t know how women ever feel cared for or known with that life, because they are always knowing and caring more.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, Jess, it wasn’t that I loved the family more than my husband did. Not at all. It’s just that he had a job that required major hours, so we decided that I would be the one with the family focus. It just made sense. But when he was home, he was definitely into the family.
          Someone can still love the family and want to spend time with them if they’re in a busy calling. They just can’t be there for the grocery shopping and the cleaning and the organizing and making sure people get to doctor’s appointments, etc. But they can still love the family, and they totally do. It’s not a question of one emotionally caring more, but one will obviously spend more time. That’s just the way it is. And that’s not a bad thing at all!
          Look, somebody has to earn money for the family. That’s a given. It sounds to me, though, that you’re worried that your husband won’t actually care about children. If you don’t mind me asking, then, why did you marry him? Did you talk about this in premarital counselling? And if so, could you go back to the person who did your pre-marital counselling and try to talk about these issues again?

  5. Workingdad

    This was very interesting. I’m glad I’m not a workaholic. I used to work a lot. I wanted to be the best at my job. I’m a teacher and I wanted to impress everyone with my new teaching techniques and also hope for a raise.
    But I couldn’t do it all. I wanted to be there for my wife and kids and do great classes. Last year I almost got burned out. I’m still recovering.
    I agree with what you wrote Sheila about both focusing so much on things outside of the marriage.
    I am no longer doing extra things for my job. I know I won’t get a big raise but I feel that I want to focus on my marriage and kids.
    My wife has started to study in a city far away and I do most chores and take care of the kids when I come home. It’s exhausting. I feel that I am putting in most of the effort into our marriage. Although I asked my wife that if she was going to study she had to give me and our marriage more time. Things are good but sadly the deal about having one date night a week has failed. She is too tired. It sucks and reading this really made me think. After her studies she will want to grow in her career. I wanted to study more but I guess I will have to wait because I prefer losing my job than losing her.

  6. Jennifer Trudeau

    Oh my goodness, thank you for this post!! You are such a blessing! I too have a workaholic husband and for the first 5 years of our marriage he worked a lot. When he wasn’t at work he was on his phone working and I went into a downward spiral of loneliness and self pity. It didn’t help that I was a single mother of 2 for 11 years before I met my husband so this was bringing me back into all the stuff I strghoed with before and thought would be over for good when I got married. Here I was now a mom of 4 and feeling like I was on my own again. God had to a lot of work to do on my heart and that’s why I’m glad you bravely mentioned that we wives need to check ourselves too. We can make matters worse without being aware. One of the most important things I did during this time was pray for my husband and our marriage even if I didn’t feel like he deserved it. Giving it to God helped me remember that I love him, that I want our marriage to succeed, let God work on his heart and habits so I don’t start trying to control him. Praying also healed my heart enough to begin to receive strategies to put into place to improve the situation. This article was such an encouragment to me. Things are not perfect but we are on the right track!!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m so glad! That’s great, Jennifer!


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