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Psychological Profile of the Workaholic: How Working Too Much Ruins Relationships

by Dr. Seth Meyers - May 30, 2013

I have a few life guidelines I’m always preaching, and one has to do with work: Career ambition is great until it starts negatively affecting your romantic relationships. Before you ever get to that point, I hope you make a concerted effort to feed and nourish your relationship consistently over time so that things never get so dire.

People often make the mistake of calling anyone who works too much a “workaholic,” but that’s not always an appropriate categorization. There are two different kinds of people who work too much: people who love their work and work endless hours because they love it, and people who are workaholics.

Type 1: You simply love your work.
If someone loves their work so much that they choose to spend countless hours engaged in it, there’s nothing inherently problematic with this dynamic. However, it’s critical for someone who loves their work so much to explain their needs at the outset of a new relationship. For example, let’s consider someone like Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder. I have to believe that he spends an awful lot of time working, time which could be spent with his wife. But Mark’s need to work and create is probably greater than his need to spend time with his wife, which is fine as long as he and his wife are okay with it. While some women need their partner to be present more often, there are other women who feel differently: They don’t have the need to share as much of their daily lives with their partner. You simply need to know who you are and which category best fits you.

Type 2: You’re a true workaholic.
Unlike the small subset of men and women who work too much because they simply love their job (I know, I know), the vast majority of men and women who work too much have more dysfunctional motivations.

Avoiding Home: Aside from cases where a person is holding down multiple jobs and living check to check to pay the bills, avoiding what’s going on at home is the most common motivation for the workaholic. Whether she’s staying at work because she’s been fighting with him at home, or he works until late at night because he feels little connection to her anymore at home, avoiding home is a serious problem that both partners need to address.

Getting Unmet Needs Met: The well-rounded individual cultivates friendships and other relationships outside of work, and these relationships help to meet the overall emotional needs of the individual. Workaholics, on the other hand, try to tell themselves they don’t have significant social needs and find it easier to meet the needs they do acknowledge with relationships at work. Many workaholics stay at work because they feel they get more attention from people at work than at home or in their social life.

Need for Approval: More than any of us would like to believe, we all have at least a tiny part of us that seeks approval from others. Some people look to their peers or loved ones for approval, while workaholics tend to seek approval from their supervisors or bosses. The Achilles heel of many workaholics is the need to prove themselves, or to show their bosses how good and valuable they are.

Regardless of the motivation, the danger of working too much is that you can ruin your relationship by not caring for it properly. There are several ways that working too much negatively impacts the quality of a relationship. Check out the ways below and see if any of them apply to you and your love life.

Social Time: Not only do you miss out on crucial bonding time with your partner by working too much, but you also miss out on socializing with your partner and friends together. This type of socialization is extremely important because your social circle is your support network, and you only receive the benefits of social support if you put in the effort and truly develop these relationships. Not only do you need a social network when things go badly and you need help, but simply knowing you have a close network makes you consistently feel noticed and cared for, feelings that contribute to overall well-being.

Body Image & Sex: Think about the negative effect working too much has on your body and body image. If you’re working too much and not working out regularly, you’re going to feel less positive about your body, which may make you want to have sex less frequently. This effect, of course, indirectly hurts your relationship because sexual intimacy is one way to feel close to and comforted by your partner. What’s more, you have little energy for sexual intimacy if you work yourself like a dog.

Eating Behavior: Everything is affected when someone works too much. When you’re spending most of your time working, you typically eat less healthfully as you grab things on the go and shove fast-food or prepared food down your hungry little throat. Eating well is an important activity that makes you feel emotionally grounded and physically nourished. The impact on your relationship is direct, too: Having dinner together after work is one of the best ways to connect with your partner, but you miss out on this ritual when you work too much.

It’s a cliché, I know, but it’s a good cliché (if that’s not too oxymoronic): A relationship is like a garden that needs regular tending in order to flourish. No relationship has ever been good without sufficient time spent between the two partners. If you happen to be a workaholic or to be in a relationship with one, make sure to take time throughout the day – several times, thankyouverymuch – and connect with your partner. Without extra vigilance to protect the sanctity of the relationship, yours will run its course from smoke to fire to rubble.

Learn more about Dr. Seth Meyers — and get more information about his fantastic book, Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription!