couples therapy for work stress

What To Do When Your Partner Complains That You Work Too Much

Is this you?

Your partner complains that you work an insane number of hours. They say they almost never get to see you, and that when you’re home, you’re checking email or returning phone calls.

From your point of view, you don’t really have a choice about most of this. You’re only doing the very most crucial work stuff. Your sweetie has no idea how much you’re leaving at the office, and how much more you COULD be working.

Perhaps you and your partner get into arguments about your work-life balance. They try to convince you that you’re working more than you need to, and you try to point out all the limits you’ve already put on your demanding work.

These arguments probably don’t get you anywhere.

Perhaps you can find a way to work less, or perhaps you can’t.

If your partner complains about you working too much over and over again, you’ve got to try something new.

Try these tools to get more connected even in the face of very limited time together.

Compartmentalize your work more.

Carve out particular times and particular places where you don’t work AT ALL. Maybe you love your work and feel great about having it integrated into every part of your life. It doesn’t bother you to work from your (parked) car or your bed. You don’t mind working at 5 a.m. on Tuesday or midnight on Saturday night.

Your partner doesn’t feel the same way. For the sake of your relationship, consider compartmentalizing your work more. Declare particular places and times work free zones. You get to decide together what times and places those are.

Be honest with yourself about what time you’ll be available.

Saying what your partner wants to hear only helps if it’s true.

This is a common scenario. Maybe it’s familiar to you.

This is an amalgam, not a real couple.

Isaiah asks Mira what time she’ll be home tonight. Mira figures out the very earliest she could leave work. She calculates that if she leaves immediately after that last meeting, and if traffic is decent, she can get there by 7. It will be a struggle, but she will try.

She says she’ll be home at 7. She’s choosing the earliest possible time because Isaiah has been requesting that she put limits on her work time and get home for dinner.

That evening after the meeting Mira gets swamped with urgent questions from her team. She rushes through these conversations and then gets out of the office as fast as she can. Traffic is not so decent. She walks in the door at home at 7:45. Isaiah is disappointed and he tells her so.

Now Mira feels defensive. She says Isaiah doesn’t all the effort she’s put into getting home early. They’re in a well worn argument.

Mira wasn’t honest with herself about when she could leave the office.

If Mira had been honest with herself she could have given him more realistic expectations.

Prioritize quality over quantity.

Research from The Gottman Institute discovered the factors that predict that a couple will stay together happily over the long term. Some of these factors are: Knowing each other’s internal worlds really well, having a high ratio of positive to negative interactions, working through conflict without contempt, and showing positive affect during arguments.

Notice that the factors that predict happiness are all things you can work on even if you’re busy.

If you can’t work less, focus on the quality of your interactions. Think about what you CAN do when you’re together.

You CAN:

  • increase your knowledge of your partner’s internal world
  • give your partner your attention when they reach out to you.
  • work on your communication skills so that you’re showing love and care, even during arguments.

Create rituals of connection.

Establishing rituals for connection gives you a sense of security in your relationship. Maybe you can’t have dinner together every night or you don’t even go to bed at the same time. Get creative and build some rituals for connection into your daily life. Think of these rituals as little islands you meet on together in the course of your busy lives.

Some examples of rituals for connection are:

  •      2 minutes of conversation and eye contact in the morning before you jump out of bed.
  •      A long hug and sweet loving words before you separate each day.
  •      A walk every Saturday morning without your cell phones.
  •      A cup of tea every night after the kids are in bed.
  •      A weekly lunch in the middle of your work day.

If you both hold your rituals sacred, it will build the security in your bond.

Take your partner’s complaints seriously

When your partner complains, listen. Ask them about what it’s like for them. Find out how this problem makes them feel. Do they feel unimportant, lonely, or do they just miss you? It’s tempting to defend yourself, point out the times you have sacrificed, or tell them how stressful your job is. The more you defend yourself, the more likely your partner is to feel unheard. When they feel unheard, they may complain louder. Listen and take their concerns seriously. Even if you can’t change your work schedule, listening matters.

Pop quiz: Which of these responses do you think is more supportive?

a. I hear you.

b. I hear you, but…

Always go with “a.” Always!

Ok, here’s a bonus tip:

Remind yourself that you’re lucky to have a partner who actually wants MORE of you.

Need help from an experienced couples therapist?

Call us at (415) 534-4051 or schedule a free and confidential phone consultation with one of us now.