If you’re the type of person that has the question, “What should I be doing right now?” running through your head daily, then this blog post is for you. We, workaholics, feel like we are in constant need of being productive. Working hard and accomplishing tasks are what we thrive on, yet our reasons for doing those things can be damaging to us and our relationship health.
A Little Bit of Backstory
When I started college, I bought into the idea that the more I accomplished, the happier I would be. I was driven by guilt and anxiety to never stop working. I ignored what my soul needed by keeping myself busy. I thought value was determined by busy-schedules, money, and status. This is what hurt me and my marriage.
Currently, I am working to rewire this belief system. After four years of being overly-productive, I have come to find myself, now, in a state of confusion. Why does happiness always feel so out of reach despite how hard I work? Is regularly missing out on time with my loved ones really as necessary as I tell myself it is in order to succeed?
I’ve started reevaluating and I’m beginning to ask myself a few questions:
- How do I measure my worth? Does this make me happy?
- Am I giving enough quality time to my priorities?
- How can I stop feeling guilty about taking time for myself and my relationships?
1- Stop Measuring Worth by Productivity
The thought, “What should I be doing?” usually brings feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear along with it. This is often because we base value and satisfaction on how much we work. You can only be satisfied when ‘you are making something of yourself’ right?!
Wrong! That sort of satisfaction doesn’t last because there is always something more you could be doing. Free time comes with the feelings of guilt and perceived aimlessness. These feelings can be traced back to the way we measure worth—by productivity.
Believing that productivity makes us more valuable is addictive and unhealthy because it makes our worth and purpose dependent on crossing items off of a checklist. When we think this way, we are driven by guilt and discontent—these are not the best emotions to base our choices from.
Dr. Brené Brown—my go-to girl for learning about perfectionism—has a book titled The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. In it she writes, “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” Perfectionism is often an underlying characteristic that manifests in the form of workaholism. For the workaholic, the thought is “If I do more, I’m worth more. If I work hard, my guilt will go away.”
This mindset also means we measure others’ worth by their productivity. I sometimes do this with Sabe.
How It Affects Your Relationships
I come home from a busy day and immediately do the dishes. Straight after the dishes, I start doing homework. I am tired but I can’t relax with an endless to-do list on my mind. When I see Sabe resting on the couch after one of his busy, stressful days, I can’t help but ask him if there’s something ‘better’ he should be doing and feel annoyed when he says he just wants to relax. I struggle to let my husband take a break because I see it as an unjustifiable and unproductive behavior—I end up getting stressed out for him.
As much as we may feel like our worth is connected to the number of our accomplishments, it is not. This belief is a lie that does not bring us happiness because it puts our self-worth in the hands of fleeting tasks with little meaning.
Viewing ourselves and our partners as valuable only upon the condition of their busyness creates an insecure environment prone to resentment from both sides. Start looking at the ways you create meaning in your relationship and for yourself. Recognize you and your partner have value just as human beings and think about what creates meaning for you in a relationship. These mindful practices can help us improve our relationship health.
2- Stop Hiding Behind Your Busy Schedule
Being too productive can also be an unhealthy distraction from underlying feelings of discontent with life. Busyness puts a small band-aid on the gaping wound of fear, dissatisfaction, and sadness. In an article on Psychology Today, Lissa Rankin M.D, shares that trying to stay busy may be our way of trying to fill a void that cannot simply be filled with productivity.
Work and productivity can be addictive when we use it to suppress feelings of guilt, fear, and discontent at least for a small amount of time. But this distraction is fleeting and causes us to feel the need to continuously work. I addictively think, “As soon as I achieve x, y, and z, I will be happy,” but my unmet needs and unprocessed feelings unfortunately do not have this quick of a fix.
I couldn’t stop myself from getting more done because it was the only thing that temporarily relieved me from the anxiety. The anxiety was caused by not knowing what I wanted to do with my life and my fear of making the wrong decision on my career path. These were some hard truths that I avoided confronting for a long time and ended up burying in work, school, internships, odd-jobs, and errands.
What Are You Hiding From?
When we add something to our to-do list, we may be doing so solely to distract ourselves from underlying emotional and psychological needs instead of evaluating whether it is actually meaningful.
Peter Kozodoy, a partner and chief strategy officer, shares a solution he found to be helpful in keeping his productivity under control. He decided to take on tasks that have purpose or create meaning. This strategy is important because it gets rid of distractions that keep us from filling the void with nonsense and helps us to work within a healthy mindset. No salary or status is worth your misery.
As hard as it is for us to be transparent with ourselves and others, I think it’s important that we try so we can uncover what we are hiding from. I believe we will find that this transparency can give us opportunities to finally start healing—using more than a just band-aid—from our personal wounds.
3- Stop Ignoring Your Priorities (In A Relationship)
I think we know our partner is our number one priority, but sometimes we put our relationships on the back-burner and forget to show them just how important they are. When we focus too much on working, we might struggle to feel content and be present in our marriages because we are constantly worrying about getting more done.
When your priority is consistently your work instead of your relationship health, your partner might feel subordinate, distant, and deprived of connection with you. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues found that couples who experienced work-family conflict were more likely to experience lower marriage satisfaction, especially when one partner was more work-centered than the other. This work-centered mindset can damage relationships by leaving little time to cultivate them.
So, most of us say that the most important things in life are family and relationships (which is great), but do our actions match those beliefs?
Working or Loving: Which Comes First?
A study published in the Journal of Management found that ‘workaholism’ predicted poor marriage quality due to the guilt and anxiety that a workaholic feels when they are at home (not working). When workaholics are at home, they struggle to connect with their partner because they are hindered by thoughts of what they “should” be doing.
This is the mindset that keeps us from connecting and showing our partners we care. If we aren’t fully present with them, they will feel the distance.
What do we do when we want career success? We invest time and effort in it. If we want marriage success, we must do the same.
Of course, no one is asking you to quit your job, throw your cell phone into the ocean, and run heroically home to your family to prove your love for them. You can be hardworking in your career and still show your partner that they are the most important person to you. You can practice being present with your partner when you are with them. Try to let go of “I should be” and replace it with “I’m right here”.
To Sum It All Up
So, here are our key relationship solutions for the workaholic:
- Recognize yourself and your partner as unconditionally valuable.
- Be transparent with yourself, try to uncover what you are distracting yourself from with your busyness and confront it.
- Recognize what creates meaning in your relationship and continue to cultivate it.
- Practice being present with your partner.
These healthy relationship tips can help us fix a relationship wounded by an addiction to busyness and help us to find grounding as we seek to develop balance in our lives and relationships.
Sources and Recommendations-
Here are links to the hard-copy books/articles:
How Being Too Productive Became Bad For My Health (And What I Did Next)
My coworkers will tell you that trying to speak with me while I’m hammering away on my computer is like trying to shake a sleepwalker out of a trance. When I get in the zone, I can write 15-page eBooks in one sitting.
Are You Addicted to Being Busy?
How many times have you heard variations on this conversation? Person A: How’s it going? Person B: I’m insanely busy. You know, the usual. Person A: Yeah, me too. I’m scheduling into 2015 already. Person B: I get it. Haven’t taken a real vacation in over a year.
Work-Family Conflict and Couple Relationship Quality: A Meta-analytic Study
Kaylene J. Fellows Hsin-Yao Chiu E. Jeffrey Hill Alan J. Hawkins This study examined the association between work-family conflict and couple relationship quality. We conducted a meta-analytic review of 49 samples from 33 papers published between 1986 and 2014.
All Work and No Play? A Meta-Analytic Examination of the Correlates and Outcomes of Workaholism – Malissa A. Clark, Jesse S. Michel, Ludmila Zhdanova, Shuang Y. Pui, Boris B. Baltes, 2016
Empirical research on workaholism has been hampered by a lack of consensus regarding the definition and appropriate measurement of the construct. In the present study, we first review prior conceptualizations of workaholism in an effort to identify a definition of workaholism. Then, we conduct a meta-analysis of the correlates and outcomes of workaholism to clarify its nomological network.