Understanding Workaholism and How It Affects Intimate Relationships

Workaholism is an addiction, like drugs or other substances, that can change someone’s personality and values. It distorts reality for these people can often lead to much larger problems within a relationship or family unit. Workaholics eventually will lose their personal and professional integrity as a result.

In order to understand workaholism, you have to understand that the individual’s behavior and character are altered. The excessive amount of hours they work is just one of the many symptoms. Workaholics are work-obsessed, yes, but eventually, they become addicted to the power and control that comes with their compulsive need for approval and status. Eventually, nothing else will really matter.

Work is a part of life. It is how we put food on the table and pay for the table. The level of distress that comes from losing a job or being unable to work is profound. However, there is a distinction between this and being a workaholic.

The Difference Between ‘Working Hard’ and ‘Workaholic’

A hard worker is always emotionally (and when possible, physically) present for his or her family, friends, and co-workers. They strive for a healthy work-life balance and have a greater sense of personal responsibility. A burst of overworking is often done as a means to meet a deadline or follow a schedule that has changed. These people save energy to bring home every night and protect their weekends.

Workaholics lack this. They are obsessed with work performance and being better, faster, more successful than everyone else. It is the ego that drives them to reach these goals, not family or friends or want to live life to the best of their ability. They consider staying at the same level to be a sign of failure.

They are great multi-taskers, but they lack focus by trying to control everything around them. Conscious and unconscious stress can cause severe health problems, such as panic attacks, depression, trouble sleeping, and more.

A common trend among workaholics is being thrust into adult responsibility too young. This could be the cause of parental separation, death, or illness. Others come from families where love was commiserated with performance.

Personality Traits of Workaholics

There are many correlations between the following traits and workaholism. This is not to say that if you exhibit any of these traits you are or will be a workaholic, but conclusions have been drawn. We know ‘big five’ traits are agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness to experience, and extraversion. It is no surprise that most of these traits are related to workaholism.

● Narcissism was positively associated with workaholism. It explains the constant impatience and compulsion that come with being a workaholic.

● Conscientiousness was negatively associated with workaholism, leading to impatience. These people tend to be snippier and in a hurry.

● Agreeableness was negative to the compulsion to work. Workaholics have a high standard of perfectionism and cannot take criticism or suggestion well.

● Openness to experience was also positively related to the multi-tasking component of workaholism.

Other traits were measured, but these seem to be the most obvious traits. Many different kinds of people can be workaholics, so do not just assume that the big corporate CEO is the only one who experiences it. Homemakers are just as likely to exhibit these traits.

Self-Assessment for Workaholism

So, thinking you or someone you know maybe a workaholic? Here are a few questions that will help you:

  • Do you prefer shorter meal breaks so you can get back to work?
  • Do you require little sleep and wake up early?
  • Do you often feel that there is not enough time in the day to get things done?
  • Do you combine work and pleasure?
  • Do you regularly use to-do lists and time-saving devices?
  • Can you work just about anywhere?
  • Do you find idle time inconvenient?
  • Do you have intense energy?
  • Do you dread retirement?
  • Do you have a strong desire to excel?
  • Do you continue to work at home?
  • Are you acutely aware of what your work will accomplish?

If you answered yes to more than 10 questions, you may be a workaholic. This is not a fool-proof test, but a good place to start.

Intimacy and Workaholism

There are, of course, many aspects we could go into detail about when it comes to workaholism. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on intimacy as it is one of the most important parts of our private life.

In a loving relationship, both people must be able to receive and express emotional support and appreciation. This mutual respect can be challenging when one partner is a workaholic. Intimacy requires positive communication and the sharing of power and responsibility for the relationship. It is a commitment and there is no unconditional generosity when one partner has to always give in to the other. Workaholics are masters at being present but not emotionally involved, and this is no different in relationships.

Workaholics often keep an autonomous stance in their relationships, leaving the other partner in charge of intimacy. Workaholics do not respond well to emotional outbursts from partners or insensitive comments because they do not have enough emotional investment. When partners give expectations, workaholics panic because they do not want to be ‘controlled’.

Workaholics show their ego when they expect others to care about their intimate needs without reciprocating. Real intimacy is a two-way street that is the result of a sharing of power. Many couples where one partner is a workaholic report not being sexual for years at a time. For some, sexual acts are another expected performance. People who feel alienated by their spouse will avoid them. The other partner will become away and lose confidence in themselves.

As a workaholic’s integrity begins to crack, infidelity is common. We have all seen the stories about prominent politicians (“Happy Birthday Mr. President”) and powerful actors fall from grace as a result of their sexual exploits. Some seek out prostitutes while others have secret affairs that last years or result in children outside of their marriage. Affairs are the perfect escape for workaholics who feel challenged by the demands of intimacy. Affairs do not require intimacy or commitment because they are not meant for commitment. The workaholic can go back to living their life as normal.

Many couples will stay together for financial reasons or children and be forced to tolerate infidelity, but it is not without the loss of respect. Better intimacy is the expressed goal of many recovering workaholic couples. The initial struggles can be hard, but the journey is worth it. Partners will have to explore their own strengths and weaknesses in order to create a better, closer relationship. Reestablishing intimacy is one of the most important parts of salvaging the relationship.

A Word From Mental Treat

Being in a relationship with a workaholic can feel isolating. You never feel like the priority over work and they become withdrawn, secretive, or take out stress on you. If you or your partner are looking for someone to talk to, try Mental Treat. Our online platform helps connect you with the right specialist for your situation. Simply apply our intelligent filters until you find the person who meets your needs.

We know that this is a difficult time, but you do not have to go through it alone. Workaholism can dramatically change the way you interact with your partner and the intimacy in your relationship. Take care of yourself so you can help take care of your partner. When you put in the effort, they will see that and respond. In the meantime, take care, and be well.


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Sean McCormick

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