You know who you are. Your computer is on your lap most nights while sitting on the couch or you retreat to your home office after dinner. You check your work email before your go to sleep and as soon as you wake up. Even if you aren’t taking a work call, returning a work email, or burning the midnight oil to finish up a work project, you are thinking about work most of the time. You are stressed out by your work regularly. And most likely, your spouse complains about your work…a lot.
If your spouse is coming to you with complaints about your work: how you work too much, don’t have time for the family, care more about your job than anything else, or some version of this, please read this carefully. You will likely be tempted to respond in one of the following unhelpful ways: 1) “I have to, I don’t have a choice;” 2) “You just need to find more hobbies or friends;” or 3) Some version of, “You sure like to spend the money I make but you don’t like that I have to work for it.”
If you are consumed with work, you work excessively and even when you aren’t at work you are thinking about it or stressing about it, then your spouse probably gets very little of your time and energy. Your spouse has rare moments to experience life with you or feel connected to you. Now, I want you to imagine what it would feel like if your spouse wasn’t affected by you working so much. What if they didn’t even miss you when you were gone? How would that feel for you? What if your spouse was content with fleeting interactions with you? What if that was enough? Because if that were enough, it would mean you aren’t very important to your spouse afterall. They wouldn’t need a life partner, just an ATM machine. If work consumes you and monopolizes your time, your spouse SHOULD care. It should rub them wrong if they feel that something in your life seems more important than them or the family.
If you are working your tail off to provide a nice life for your family, it shouldn’t be enough. We were never wired to be fulfilled by a nice house and car. We were wired for connection. Absolutely nothing will ever replace connection. Millions of dollars, vacation homes, luxury trips will NEVER EVER EVER replace the connection with you. Take your spouse’s complaints as a huge compliment. You are so important, that no amount of money, material things or trips could ever replace meaningful connection with you! You are irreplaceable. That is a good thing!
This means that you do have to find a way to connect with your spouse in significant, intimate and vulnerable ways, at the same time you are working a demanding and stressful job. And it is possible! First and foremost, acknowledge that your spouse’s need for meaningful connection with you is valid and essential. Furthermore, acknowledge that you need meaningful connection with your spouse too! Meaningful connection is the oxygen for your relationship. It cannot survive without it.
Here are a few concrete ways to connect with your spouse when you have a demanding job:
1) Open up to your spouse. Share not only your work successes, but also your fears, insecurities, and feelings of inadequacy. Share how torn you feel when work pulls you away from your family. Share how sad you feel when you miss something important. Help them see that you can feel overwhelmed with the weight of career success, providing for your family and being a present parent. They will never know they are this important to you if you don’t tell them.
2) Validate their loneliness. If your spouse feels alone at times because work takes you away, validate that feeling. It’s a sign they love you. Here is what I mean by validation: “I’m sure it is so hard for you when I’m gone so much.” And “I get that…I feel lonely when I”m away from you so much too.”
3) Appreciate what your spouse does while you are gone. “I know my work schedule makes our life difficult at times, I’m so appreciative of all you do when I can’t be here.”
3) Choose them. There are times that work is inevitable. Maybe you are an OB-GYN and you have to leave during dinner to deliver a baby. There are moments that you cannot choose your spouse. But, there HAVE to be moments when you do. And those moments need to feel meaningful and intimate to your spouse.
4) Show eagerness to get home to your spouse. Call them when you are on your way and say, “I’m so excited to come home! I can’t wait to see you! I miss you!”
5) Express curiosity. I’m so sorry that after your long week you just want to come home and hide under a blanket and not talk to anyone for 36 hours. I’m sorry you are spent and depleted by the demands of your job, but this does not give you the right to disengage from your family life. Ask questions, hear what you missed, understand how the family operated while you were gone.
6) Dive in. Now that you are home, get in the mix. Grab a kid, grab a diaper, grab a soccer ball and enjoy the ride of chaos with your family, who loves you so much.