Phone calls during dinner. Phone calls in the middle of the night. Emergency demands to drop everything and go, whether it’s after-hours or on weekends. Urgent texts and emails in the middle of, well, pretty much every social event we manage to attend.
There’s a definite third party in our marriage, but it’s not another woman. It’s my husband’s work. If it were another woman, I might be able to compete. When it’s his job, though, how can I? I may give him love and the comforts of home, but not a salary, insurance, and retirement benefits. He’s the primary breadwinner. And sometimes I feel like a single mom with a sugar daddy — except it’s a sugar daddy who buys me, like, actual sugar (and flour, and ground beef, and frozen waffles).
On one hand, I’m super-proud of his strong work ethic and dedication to his career. On the other, I can’t help but be a little resentful that while he’s going above and beyond to support his company, I’m at home left with the lion’s share of the domestic responsibility — and a little bit of loneliness to boot.
Not only that, but the constant interruptions during the little time we do have together make me want to take his work phone and stomp on it. And then run over it with the car. And then throw it into a creek. And then dive down, retrieve it, and run over it again for good measure. And then spit on the crumpled remains.
But like it or not, this is who my husband is. His work is his passion. He loves what he does, and it makes him feel happy and fulfilled — and if that means he’s gone a little more often than I’d prefer, so be it. We’ve come up with a few coping mechanisms over the years to make us feel a little more connected when he’s not at work and to relieve some of my loneliness when he is. So if you’re in my shoes, let me share what’s worked for us.
Find stuff you can enjoy together.
If you take up a common hobby, it will be easy to make the time you have together fun. It also takes off some of the pressure to maximize each moment. (Bonus: You can use some of the time your spouse is working to practice kicking ass.)
Do stuff your partner doesn’t enjoy.
So he doesn’t see the value in watching every tear-jerking episode of This is Us? Well, then it’s a good thing he’s not around so you can sob your way through a TV binge or whatever else you like that he doesn’t.
Work on yourself.
Take up jiu-jitsu. Find a class and learn calculus or pottery or sushi-rolling. Or focus on some personal pampering: Without your spouse around, you can wax your ‘stache with the bathroom door open, grunt freely through a home workout, sit on the couch slathered with hair dye and a face mask, wearing toe separators while your polish dries. And since (other than the kids) nobody is there to bear witness to your beauty rituals, it’ll just look like you’re naturally flawless.
Make date nights a priority.
Date nights should be a mandatory part of any marriage, but especially a marriage where both partners pass like ships in the night, barely seeing each other during a normal workweek. They give you a chance to reconnect and enjoy one another’s company, even if you’re just walking around Home Depot.
Make the most of your time together.
Spending a rare evening together isn’t as meaningful if you’re sitting at opposite ends of the couch staring at your phones. Ditto if you’re hanging out arguing about bills or kids or whatever, trying to get all the griping in while your partner is actually there to listen. Declare your house a no-phone zone, at least temporarily (save the smartphone action for the toilet). Designate a chunk of time to address those important issues (because it’s not like you can ignore them), but then vow to spend time talking about and doing other, less pressing, things too.
Remember the benefits.
Sometimes we focus so much on the sucky aspects of living with a workaholic that we fail to see the more fortunate parts. Maybe your partner’s job allows you to stay home. Maybe it provides your family with excellent health benefits. Maybe the long hours and odd schedule allow for more flexibility when you need it, like when one of the kids gets sick. Maybe you’d just drive each other nuts if you spent too much time together anyway. There’s always a silver lining, so keep your eyes on it.
Understand your spouse’s job.
Nothing compounds a feeling of loneliness and disconnection like your partner coming home and talking about work (which you know is going to happen, because workaholics) and you having no idea about any of it. Do your best to learn the industry jargon. Get an idea of what a typical day is like. Understand why Janet in accounting is just so annoying.
Say what you mean without sounding naggy.
Speaking of annoying: Yes, it can be totally craptastic to have a partner who is gone all the time, and yes, you should absolutely be able to voice your concerns. Just watch how you do it, because being cranky with your spouse is only going to lead to a cranky defense in return, which will get you nowhere — and ruin your time together in the process.
This is crucial in maintaining both your social calendar and your sanity. Spur-of-the-moment plans don’t mesh well with a full work schedule. Plan things far in advance, making sure your partner has plenty of time to pre-arrange time off (and therefore has no excuse to back out!).
Connect through tech.
You may not have time for a lengthy chat, but that’s the great thing about technology: You can both take a few seconds throughout the day to shoot some texts or emails back and forth, or send a funny meme, or FaceTime on a break. It can help you feel connected even when you haven’t seen your sweetheart in approximately 8,564 hours.
Being married to someone who is also married to their career can be frustrating. It’s definitely not an ideal situation for the emotionally needy. But if nothing else, you can look at it this way: Better to deal with too much work than no work at all.