That’s the best word I can use to describe being the partner of a workaholic. But the thing is, it didn’t begin that way. It never does. Nobody ever begins their life with someone expecting to be lonely.
But what makes my story different isn’t really about how it happened, it’s that it has a happy ending. And that I took control of creating that happy ending just as much as my former workaholic husband.
The Beginning of the Journey to Lonely
When my husband started his first company, I was thrilled. He had been traveling nonstop in his job and this new venture would allow him to be home and spend more time with me and our kids. The timing was perfect for me as well because, after 12 years of being a stay at home mom, it allowed me to go back to work teaching at my kids’ school.
We were taking a huge pay cut and risking a lot but I had no hesitation. I loved feeling like I was part of this new adventure with him, and was glad to see him venture out on his own since it was something he always wanted to do. While there was plenty of hard work involved, it was wonderful to have him home at night for dinner, be there to tuck in the kids at night, play games together as a family and enjoy time with just the two of us.
Unfortunately, this idyllic state did not last long. As the business began to grow, what I thought was “our adventure” had become his obsession. I found myself alone, working full-time and acting as the primary parent for four very busy children while also managing everything at home.
While I believed I was acting in the best interest of the family, I realize now I was actually doing harm. I consistently made excuses for my husband, his absence, his lack of availability and his frenetic pace. And the biggest excuses of all were those I made to our kids. I took over everything at home, believing that when he was there it would give him more time with the family – which inadvertently made him feel unnecessary at home. And then I ended up resenting him for abdicating his responsibilities.
Meanwhile, my husband was once again busy, working non-stop, traveling the globe, speaking, winning awards, writing a book and becoming quite an ego-driven narcissist in the process. We spent what little time he was home speaking about household logistics and what was going on in our kids’ lives. He was never away from his phone; often checking it while in the middle of a conversation with me or our kids, and made it became a habit to respond to every text and email immediately. Even vacations included work.
The Strain Takes Root
There was always something more important, always the next big client to land, the new contract, the next event, etc. Nothing was ever satisfying. The only response I got from him was that “I simply did not understand.” What I did understand was that he was not a joy to be around anymore. He was disconnected, short tempered and irritable. To be honest, there was a time when we were OK with him being gone because our home felt more peaceful without him there.
As with any relationship that is not tended to, it became strained. The distance between us grew wider and wider over time. We talked about it, of course, but it always went back to “someday.” Someday this would all change. Someday we would have time to do the things we wanted to. And I believed all his words and promises because I wanted to. I chose to. But while I clung to empty promises, I was desperately lonely.
According to Psychology Today, “in one recent study of older adults, 62.5 percent of people who reported being lonely were married and living with their partner.” This is a staggering statistic. I was certain I was the only one who felt the way I did. But clearly, I was wrong. What I didn’t realize at the time was the impact loneliness had on my health as well. I was repeatedly sick and often had unexplained health issues. Loneliness does, in fact, depress the immune system so this is not a surprise to me now. Through all of this, I not only lost the man that at one time was my closest friend, but I also lost myself.
While I knew I couldn’t change him, I finally realized I could work on myself. I began counseling in the spring and began to reclaim my identity. I was also working hard to connect to my husband but there was no consistent response from him; simply more empty words. By the summer, I realized I was done.
He was getting ready to travel again and I was trying to discuss something with him and how he really needed to cut down on travel and be home with his family. He told me that he had 25 employees counting on him. When I asked him about the five people who were here first, he gave me a blank stare and left for his trip. This brief interaction, his lack of response and his actions made it clear to me that his employees and whatever it was that drove him to work constantly were more important than our relationship and his family; actions truly do speak louder than words.
Taking the Reins
Over the course of these years, I had allowed myself to take a backseat in my marriage and also let his business become more important than anything else. All the while, I continually sacrificed my own desires believing that his were more important since he was the main breadwinner.
But I knew I didn’t want to live this way anymore; with someone who did not value me or viewed me and our relationship as secondary to his goals and desires. I was not really living; I was getting through my day, lonely, drinking too much and waiting for the elusive “someday.” We were both unhappy and blaming everything and everyone but ourselves. We were unhappy because of our own choices. While he had tied his identity and self-worth to his work, I had tied mine to him.
We both knew that small changes were not going to fix anything. It took me realizing I was worth more and him losing his wife for things to change. We separated, ended our marriage and got busy working on ourselves.
The Journey to Connection
Four years later, we are back together and my husband is still running his own company. So, what’s changed? In a word, everything. He left his first company and started a new one with one partner – me. After all the work we had done separately, we decided to really invest in a partnership.
We communicate with honesty and empathy on a regular basis, accepting that things may grow and change as we do. We have set very clear work-life boundaries and guard our time together. We have no long-term growth goals for the company. We no longer talk about “someday” but are very intentional about living in the present and enjoying life now. We put our phones away. We minimize travel for work. We make sure we are supporting each other’s interests – and the list of changes goes on.
We will soon be entering a new phase of life as empty nesters. This will inevitably bring about some new changes and challenges. Four years ago, I would have been certain we would be divorced after our last child graduated from high school. But now, I am looking forward to this next phase of life, enjoying each other as we continue to grow, of whatever adventure awaits us…especially grandchildren.
What started as a messy, broken path marked by loneliness and despair ended up leading us down a beautiful road to connection and meaning. But first, we had to prioritize ourselves, our wellbeing and the best interests of our family.
What about You?
So, where do you stand? Are you the one who is lonely and unfulfilled? Or are you the one always walking out the door, leaving those who need you most? Either way, this doesn’t have to be the end of your story. The journey is yours for the taking; it’s up to you to rewrite the ending. So, what’s holding you back?