You may have appreciated your spouse’s initiative and work ethic at first. But now the energy and hours they devote to their career leave you feeling neglected, lonely, resentful. Whatever you thought marriage would be, this wasn’t what you signed up for. What can you do when it seems your spouse chooses work over family?
What you expected marriage to be is different from what your spouse expected. And disappointed expectations are a huge source of marriage conflict. It’s possible your spouse has felt you expected a certain amount of income from them, or has a very different mental picture of what a healthy relationship should look like.
It’s also possible your spouse is not completely aware of how you’re feeling. Don’t make the mistake of believing they understand just because you told them, even repeatedly. The point is, have they heard you? If your spouse was distracted or upset, or if you communicated in a way they could not hear, the message may not have gotten through.
This assumes both you and your spouse are basically people of good will, and that both of you care about your marriage and each other. (And if your spouse doesn’t care, we’ll talk about that next time.)
Here are three important ingredients in working through conflict when it seems your spouse chooses work over family.
Learn to Feed Yourself
No human being can be everything to you. Even in the healthiest marriage you will get wounded, and some of your needs will not be met. There are some places in your soul that only God Himself can fill.
So, for the places you are empty, take responsibility for learning to feed yourself. Intentionally look for the emotional/spiritual nourishment you need. That does not give license in any way to have an emotional (or physical) affair! But it does mean looking for healthy food; time in creative pursuits, time with positive uplifting people, uplifting media, time with God.
The better your own soul is nourished, the more clarity and resilience you will have to bring to your marriage. It will allow you to come to your spouse from a place of fulness, inviting them to something better, instead of from a demanding empty place.
What’s it like to be married to you? If you were your spouse, would you want to spend time with you?
I knew a couple where the husband spent long hours at work, and frequently delayed coming home in order to have drinks with friends. While his behavior was wrong, his wife’s gambling and passive-aggressive behavior made home the last place he wanted to be. The point is not lessening your spouse’s culpability; it’s looking at what is within your power to change.
Do the heart work necessary such that you are someone your spouse would want to come closer to. Learn their love language. Learn how your spouse communicates. Enter their world. Show interest in what interests them. Keep courting them.
If you know things about yourself that your spouse finds objectionable, get some outside input from a trusted friend or counselor about whether that assessment is accurate. And if it is, do whatever it takes to work with the Holy Spirit in changing that part of your character.
Doing this takes staying on your knees. Don’t own responsibility for what is not yours. But do focus on your own stuff and take responsibility for that.
This is one of those many aspects in marriage where good communication becomes mandatory. Blaming and criticizing your spouse will only make the barriers between you greater. Having some productive talks about this will require some planning on your part.
Spend some time prayerfully seeking to understand your spouse’s heart. And spend some time getting very clear on what specific things you want. This must not be, “I want more time and attention from you.” In preparing for “the talk,” you’ll need to get clear and specific on things like, “I need us to have a weekly date night.” Or, “I’d like us to take a weekend away to work through a strategic plan for our marriage.”
Then choose a time you know your spouse is most likely to hear you. You might start by saying something such as, “Honey, I am grateful God brought us together. And I’m proud of how hard you work. I’m also struggling here. Can we set aside an hour this evening (or this weekend) to address our relationship, and where God wants us to go from here?”
If communication has broken down between you, it may take some work to get there. You may want to go through our Guide to Healthy Communication in Marriage as you prepare for “the talk.”
Your marriage is unique. Seasons of life present different pressures. Whatever this looks like will be unique to you.
But it’s worth taking the time to evaluate where you are, and come together with your spouse on a specific plan.
And if you care about your marriage but your spouse doesn’t, we’ll address that next time.
Your Turn: How have you addressed things when it seems your spouse chooses work over family? Are you and your spouse on the same page about this? What do you need to address in this area? Leave a comment below.
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