Help, My Sweetie is Work-Obsessed!

Is the person you’re dating so into work that there’s no room for love? Here’s how to deal with this increasingly common (and incredibly lonely) situation.

By Korey Karnes

our new boyfriend or girlfriend is funny, passionate, fascinating…everything you’ve ever dreamed of. There’s just one teensy-weensy problem: Your dream date is also addicted to his or her job, either clicking away at a BlackBerry as the beef satay is served...or being unavailable for brunch because work beckons. It’s a situation that’s more and more common these days—and it can make for mega-tension when someone’s love of work leaves little time for love of you. We asked psychologist and relationship coach Rachna Jain to give advice to three workaholics and their sweeties. Read on for suggestions on managing this kind of modern-world romance.

“He’s always thinking about—or saving for—his business!”

The couple: Amy, 24, preschool teacher; Peter, 27, entrepreneur
How long they’ve been together: Three months

She says: “Peter just started his own marketing-services company and is always thinking about his next meeting or the next big presentation, to the point where he can’t sleep or give his full attention to anything. And he’s been living off his savings since he
If he feels more nurtured by her, he might return the sentiment.
started the company, so he’s always concerned about how much money he spends. We usually stay in to save cash.”

He says: "There’s no question that the company is my life, and the first of the month is always a tough time for me due to payroll. I’m more careful with money now than I ever have been with past girlfriends. Amy and I go out occasionally but never anything expensive. Every girl I’ve dated for the past two years has had a tough time dealing with my obsession with my job, so I suppose that the girl who most understands my predicament will be the one that sticks with me in the long run."

The expert says: Peter needs to stop thinking of his business and his relationship as an “either/or” situation and needs to start asking himself, “How can I work on my business and have a relationship?” Jain suggests that Peter and Amy pick two nights a week to be together and really focus on each other. This way, Amy can be sure that when Peter is with her, they’re both committed to having a good time together, Jain says. Those other three weekdays, Peter can concentrate on his business without worrying too much about neglecting Amy. “If, however, Peter won’t compromise in this way, Amy needs to decide if this fits her idea of a good relationship,” Jain says.

Also, since Peter’s work stress comes on a predictable schedule, Amy can tell him: “I know you’re really stressed around the first of the month and need to focus on your business, so I’m going to make other plans.” This will take some of the pressure off Peter and may, paradoxically, help him realize that he misses her. “Sometimes you need to pull away to figure out what the relationship is really made of,” Jain says. “Amy can also ask if there are ways that she can help Peter feel less stressed. If he feels more nurtured by her, he might return the sentiment.”

"She’s obsessed with her Sidekick!"

The couple: Kelly, 26, regional director, national arts organization; Trevis, 27, media supervisor
How long they’ve been together: Five years

He says: “My girlfriend is obsessed with her Sidekick and uses it constantly for work. Often I’ll say something, and she does’t notice because she’s emailing or text-messaging. I’ll think I’m with Kelly, only to realize that she’s planning with others instead of listening to me.”

She says: “I run a regional office of a national organization, so I often feel like I have to be in ten places at once. My trusty Sidekick keeps me sane. Besides, I am a much more pleasant person when I feel in control, and how can I be in control if someone sends me an e-mail at 7 P.M. that I don’t get until 7 A.M.? That makes me nervous just thinking about it! Basically, my Sidekick benefits my boyfriend. If I am not at peace, he for sure won’t be either.”

The expert says: “It’s a big problem if Trevis feels that Kelly isn’t really ‘with him’ even when they’re together,” Jain warns. “It may be that she’s taking him for granted.” Jain suggests that Trevis talk to Kelly about his feelings by saying, “Kelly, when you use the Sidekick when we’re alone together, it makes me feel like you’d rather do anything else than be with me. I miss spending time together.”

Kelly needs to turn that Sidekick off at certain times each day (and for more than 10 minutes)—and devote her attention to Trevis. If not, Trevis will continue to feel ignored. “The basic premise of couplehood is that it’s you two against the world—and then everyone else,” Jain says. “When someone or something
If she wants to spend more time with me, she needs to ask in advance.
enters into this twosome, it can create ongoing, permanent strain.”

Jain points out that sometimes people get addicted to work as a way to avoid looking at problems in their relationship. “Kelly’s way of talking about this issue makes me think there might be communication issues,” says Jain. “She’s focused solely on her need to feel in control—not mentioning Trevis’ feelings or compromising."” Kelly also needs to learn some efficiency tips: By setting aside a few times each day or evening to check her email, instead of checking it every few minutes, Kelly might find that she’s more productive at work and happier at home.

"He’s always out of town!"

The couple: : Nicole, 24, sales manager; Ryan, 33, CFO
How long they’ve been together: Two months

She says: “My boyfriend Ryan is the CFO of a small consumer-products company. He travels all over the country looking at potential sites for new stores and meeting with potential investors. Even when he’s in town, he usually works until at least 8 p.m., sometimes until 11 p.m. I think that his ambition is sexy, but I wish I got to spend more time with him.”

He says: “I work hard because I believe in this company and want to make money for my future with Nicole. It’s not like I want to be traveling all the time, I just have to do it for my job. If she wants to spend more time with me, she needs to ask in advance, and I’ll make time for her. I never knew it bothered her.”

The expert says: Since Ryan really does have a limited amount of time when he’s in town and available, Ryan and Nicole need to creatively carve out some time together. Jain suggests they meet at the gym mid-day, share a workout and a smoothie, and then head back to their respective jobs. Or Nicole could meet Ryan at work with a picnic dinner on the nights he works late and spend some time chatting and flirting. Jain also suggested that Nicole bring some of her own work to Ryan’s office, essentially planning a “working” date—just so they have some more face time. Also, “Nicole needs to find productive ways to spend her time when Ryan isn’t around,” says Jain. “She shouldn’t be waiting around to have him fill her time.”

When he’s on the road, Ryan should let Nicole know he’s thinking of her, suggests Jain. “He can email her, send text messages, leave voicemails—anything to maintain connection. When he’s in town, they need to schedule some date nights when Ryan will be very motivated to leave the office on time. Buying tickets for a play, making reservations at a trendy new restaurant, getting great seats at a ball game—these kinds of dates will make Ryan very happy to leave the office and spend time with Nicole.”

Korey Karnes is the shopping and trends writer for Time Out Chicago magazine. She is so busy with her work and freelance career that she doesn’t have much time to cultivate her love life.
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