May I Have Your Attention

The ADHD-impacted marriage

When Work Interferes with Love

How to find happiness when your spouse's work comes before you do

Do you know any employed person who isn’t complaining that they are now working the equivalent of two jobs as their company does more with fewer people?!  We come home mentally and physically spent…and often unable to find the energy participate in a healthy relationship at home.  This is what’s happening at my house these days and it’s giving me plenty of time to reflect upon how to respond to the pressures work can put on a relationship.

The good news is that I am fortunate enough to be able to contemplate a full range of options, including radically altering our lives.  The bad news is that regardless of income, the problem remains intractable!

So how to deal with feeling ignored because your partner is so wrapped up in, and exhausted by, work?  You might:

Complain you don’t get enough attention

This is where I started (old habit die hard!)  But complaining makes your already exhausted partner even less likely to want to interact with you.  Or, as my husband said “Look, what I want from you is support.  What I’m getting is pressure, which just makes me more stressed out!”

State your case in the positive

A better approach – talk calmly with your partner about his/her priorities and how they appear to you.  Find out why your partner is devoting so much time to work and whether this is temporary.  Make sure your partner understands how you feel about the lack of balance in your lives but don’t whine about it.  You’re looking for comprehension and partnership around solving the problem, not guilt and anger.

“Block” some time

You don’t need tons of attention – only “enough” high quality attention.   Brainstorm ways to capture time when your partner can pay attention only to you (i.e. a weekend afternoon date for 2 hours – before you’re too tired at night – or a mini-vacation…or making sure you have dinner together every evening and don’t rush it.)

Find the positive and laugh together

The more someone is working…and the more intense the pressure on your relationship…the more important it is to be able to laugh and relax together.  Without faking it, regularly seek out activities or discussion topics that are happy or light or relaxed enough to bring you both joy.   Yes, there are many hard things we need to deal with in life, but there is all sorts of science that suggests that taking some time to be upbeat helps us cope better, stay more connected, and get through the hard parts more easily.

Take care of your own business

Here’s the pattern we tend to follow.  My husband works too hard.  I feel neglected and start to complain.  He hates the complaining and gets cranky and rude in return.  I respond…voila – a lovely negative spiral.  But then I get some perspective…wait, I’m asking him not to be cranky with me, while I’m complaining and moaning to him?  What’s wrong with that picture?!  Bottom line – make sure your own house is in order!  Don’t moan and then expect a lovely, positive reply.  Stay positive, stay constructive and you will be much more likely to get constructive, positive responses from your partner.

That might mean changing your own work life, too

Fifteen years into my career I opted out of the corporate grind and went solo.  That was 18 years ago and I’ve never regretted it for an instant.  Scared the heck out of me at the time, but I really felt I had no other choice if I was going to make it through the period in which I was embroiled.  Reinvention is a wonderful thing.  I know women who have gone solo as consultants, yoga instructors, writers and more.  None of them regret it.  All of them appreciate the freedom it gives them to balance their lives as they see fit.  (And, yes, I realize that not everyone has the ability to do this…)  They feel LUCKY to have the ability to define their own lives, though there was very little luck involved, in fact.

Insist on respectful interactions

Your partner may be tired…but that’s not excuse for being rude to you.  Insist that he or she remain respectful…and be respectful in return.  There is much the two of you can do together to solve your joint problems as long as you aren’t engaged in a war of bad feelings!

Remember, life goes in phases

When I look at the bigger picture I can find some reassuring perspective – this isn’t the only time one of us has been too busy for the other.  I remember well when we had young children and I was working…I could barely put one foot in front of the other, let alone find time to be with my husband much.  This particular work issue won’t last forever, either.  Eventually, these imbalances get solved…one way or another (see the paragraph above for how I solved that one…)

Make your own fun

Reality?  I don’t need my husband to have fun and enjoy life.  He can still be a partner but be (temporarily, at least) otherwise occupied.  And I can do all sorts of fun things while he moves through this stage.  I’m already starting some:  I’m learning to play the cello (always wanted to do that – never did until now!), taking pottery class, reading more, and hanging out with women friends.  And, of course, I have work that I love, which is challenging and fulfilling.  My own priorities are such that I won’t enslave myself to corporate hours and hierarchy…but I recognize that my husband must make his own choices in this realm.

When I suggest I don’t need my husband to have fun, don’t misunderstand me here.  I am IN NO WAY advocating abandoning my partner.  Rather, I can live life to its fullest without his input.  Any time he comes up for a breath he can join in and we’ll have tons of fun together.  And, yes, I’ll continue to remind him that I miss him when he’s too busy with work (including some pretty heavy conversations around setting one's life priorities.)  But I’m just not going to be a sad sack hanging around, basing my life only on whether or not he’s expending enough of his energy on me.

Don't give up on reaching out

I found myself saying the other day "I'm going to stop propositioning you - it's humiliating to constantly get rejected because you're too busy or too tired!!"  That may be true, but if I completely stop reaching out then I have no one to blame but myself if I never get any intimate attention.  Pick your times wisely, and be empathetic...I try to remember how I felt all those years ago when I was so exhausted with the kids and that helps.

The bottom line

Life goes in phases and finding good life/love/work balance is tricky at any time.  If you are finding that yours is currently out of whack, it will help to:  stay positive and constructive with your partner; find perspective by looking at the larger picture; and stay healthy by relying on yourself to find fulfillment until a longer-term solution can be found.

Melissa Orlov is the author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage which won the gold medal for best psychology book of 2010 from ForeWord Reviews.

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