#363: My partner’s career is eating all their energy and attention.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’ve been with my partner for close to a decade now.  In the past year or three, they’ve been getting way more into their career, to the point where they are barely home.   Even when they are home, they’re not dependably home, if that’s clear — they’re sometimes present and delightful and wonderful, and sometimes exhausted or continuously busy or distracted as hell.

To compare, I don’t have a career.  I have my job, and I enjoy my job fine, but it’s a job.  I come home and I don’t continue jobbing, except for infrequent requirements.  (Every two or three months.)  My partner is investing in their career, which I applaud as both a feminist and their partner, but also am dismayed by.  Unhelpful too is how they sacrifice personal care for their career, like sleep or eating regularly.  That is even less my business, but I’m still concerned, and I’m not sure if I’m right to be concerned.

I don’t even know what question I’m asking.  How can I deal with this resentment in order to be more supportive?  I feel both proud/pleased and resentful, and these emotions are not conveniently mutually exclusive.  Given that I love them and want to be with them for the “long haul”, given that when my partner’s present I genuinely enjoy my time with them, what can I do to reduce my resentment and increase my usefulness?

Thank you.

There are certain rituals that are relationship glue. Mealtimes. Bedtimes. Maybe a daily text message or email. Regular Skype dates for long-distance partners. Specifics may vary from relationship to relationship, but you need some touchstones that you can count on. When those rituals don’t form or get disrupted, the relationship can go to a bad place pretty quickly.

For example, I lived with a partner who had a really different sleep & meal schedule. We managed it quite sensibly by having separate bedrooms and bedtimes, but it meant that we missed out on that ritual of going to bed together, which threw off our sex life. It meant that his breakfast was my lunchtime, so I wanted lunch foods and he wanted breakfast foods (or wasn’t hungry when I was, or was hungry when I just ate), so we ate at vastly different times and in vastly different ways and spent way too much money on delivery and takeout.

To other people (military spouses whose partner is deployed, for one example), our problems would have looked ludicrous, like, “You mean you got to share the same space every day and you couldn’t make that work somehow?”  The thing ended because we weren’t right for each other, period, but I think that lack of routine really affected us and made it harder on us. I learned that having regular meals together, and going to bed and waking up together are really important to me in a relationship, and while I could deal with a temporary disruption in that because of an awesome career opportunity or a crisis I wouldn’t want it to become the new normal. Michelle Obama insists on the President of the United States eating dinner with his family at a set time every night, and I think that family time is part of what is keeping them all sane. Other people have different priorities and different ways of managing this stuff, and as long as it works for everyone in the relationship, awesome – I definitely don’t think everyone needs the same things I need. But I don’t think it’s selfish or wrong to need the things I need, either.

What I’m reading in this letter is that you are concerned for your partner’s self-care, but need to tread gently. You don’t want to concern-troll them or try to parent them, and any attempts to do so are likely to be met with defensiveness.

What I’m also reading in this letter is that you are doing most of the work of keeping the relationship going, and a lot of the time when you see your partner you’re not getting the best of their energy or time or attention. You want to be supportive, but your needs are not being met in certain ways and it’s making you resentful.

I suggest that you work with a journal and write down some of your feelings and needs from your relationship. When your partner schedules time with you but is distracted the whole time, or exhausted from work, how does it make you feel? In an ideal world, how would you like to spend your free time together? What kind of rituals would make you feel more connected? You can put all the annoyance and resentment you want into that journal, you’re not going to show it to anyone, and you need to get those feelings out somewhere. Also, if you have a therapist, this is a good topic to talk about with that person, right? However you work it out, find yourself a place where you can fully feel your feelings without judgment or guilt, and then start to see if you can put together some ideas for how things could work better for you.

And then you have to talk to your partner.

It’s really hard to hear “You don’t spend enough time with me” or “You don’t pay enough attention to me” from a partner, especially when you’re stressed out and overextended. “Enough” could mean a lot of things! Once you say that to someone with a more avoidant attachment style (I love whoever linked me to this originally, thank you!), they instantly start panicking and thinking “Oh shit, my partner is going to CONSUME MY ENTIRE SOUL will anything I do ever be enough to satisfy them?” and start flailing about for an escape. Conversely, if a partner says “I need some more alone time” or “I need a little space” to a more anxious partner, the partner hears that as “OH GOD THEY ARE LEAVING ME FOREVER AND PROBABLY HATE ME” and try to find ways to cling tighter. The cling-or-flee reaction reinforces the other partner’s fears and it becomes a vicious cycle.

I think the most helpful way to look at the attachment styles is as part of a spectrum. Some people can see a pattern in all of their relationships where they have one dominant style, but I know personally that I’ve been the more anxious-insecure (clingier) person in some relationships and the more avoidant person in other relationships. I realize, Letter Writer, that your question has a lot of external factors like your partner’s career at play, but it might be worth thinking about how your attachment styles shake out relative to one another before you talk.

I think it’s helpful when asking for “more time together” or “more space” is to ask for some very concrete things that would give you what you want and make you feel okay. What rituals could you create together that allow you to feel close and happy even when things are stressful and busy?

  • Are your partner’s evenings full of work, but maybe you could eat breakfast together every day? Or could you take a set dinner break?
  • Do you need a weekly date night?
  • Could you work out something where, right when s/he comes home, you greet each other with a hug and a kiss and focus on each other for a little while before s/he jumps back into work tasks?
  • Do you need a nightly text or phone call when s/he travels?
  • Who is doing the household chores and keeping the house running? Are you doing all the meal planning/shopping/cooking/cleaning? Is it time to outsource some of this to take a load off of you?
  • Who is doing all of the date planning and social calendar maintenance? I tend to be more of a planner (and my friends are definitely planners), so sometimes what I want is “I don’t care what we do, but I want you to make all the plans and work out the logistics and I want to get to be the passenger.”
  • Do you need to have more sex? Do you need to put that on a schedule or make an agreement to try to have sex a certain number of times per week or month?
  • Do you need some sacred time each day or each week where cell phones are switched off and laptops are closed?
  • Is there something specific you could do to help them and make them feel more supported? My mom was the one with the longer hours at work and eventually graduate school, so my dad was the one who picked us up from soccer practice and had dinner on the table 5 nights/week (often with a plate waiting for her in the microwave). She did more of the bill-paying and paperwork. They split the cleaning and the yard work and the weekend cooking/driving/parent stuff. It was definitely a negotiated agreement, but not in a tit-for-tat way, more in a “this is what will work for everyone and keep things running” way.

This is all concrete negotiable stuff that doesn’t necessarily flow easily and effortlessly from feeling love or romance or massive pantsfeelings for someone. Paraphrasing one of my favorite quotes from Walk The Line:

Johnny Cash: These things will work themselves out. 

June Carter: No, these things don’t ‘work themselves out’. Other people work them out for you, and you think they work themselves out.

So forgive yourself, and your partner, for needing to actually sit down and work them out. You’ve been together for a long time and some of the stuff that seemed automatic early on has shifted in the last 2-3 years. Assume good faith, assume that you will be able to work this out. Assume your partner loves you. Maybe they miss you, too, but just don’t know how to express it and need you to be the one to start the discussion.

I think there are some more specific questions you could ask your partner or think about with regards to their time and attention.

  • Is this a startup? Is this a period when they have to work ridiculous hours but later things will even out? When will “later” be in effect?
  • Is this a seasonal business, with a busy production season (like TV “pilot season”) followed by lulls? What does that yearly cycle look like? Can you schedule periodic vacations?
  • Could you make some kind of three-month plan for how things will work and then agree to visit the plan every three months?

Also, is your partner a freelancer by any chance, or running their own business?

Freelancers make the mistake of thinking they *have to* be available 24-7 or they will lose work. Clients are very happy to feed into this expectation. Then the freelancer gets overloaded and starts blowing deadlines.

If you’re a freelancer, it is more than okay to set office hours and times that you are available by phone and by email. It is also okay to charge more for work done after a certain time or a certain number of hours. “My available business hours are roughly 8am-8pm. If you need me to be reachable outside of those hours, or if the project requires work of more than 8 hours/day, those additional hours will be billed at 2x the base rate.” This comes in super-handy when you’re waiting for the client to approve something and they want you to be available to work on it the second they approve it but the approval doesn’t come until 10pm, so you wasted an entire day being on call and now have to stay up all night.

In the US, especially with the economy in the shape it is, there is more and more pressure to work long hours. This is terrible for us and not actually better for productivity or making money. I worked for a workaholic earlier in my career, back in D.C. He had NO life and was in the office for at least 12 hours/day, and he loved to walk the halls at 9pm and see everyone still hunched over our desks like fucking Bob Cratchitt. It was MISERABLE. We did not need to be there. We did not need HIM to be there. There was 90% turnover in his department in one year. It was bad for his health and bad for our health. None of us could use our awesome employee benefits like free tuition and free workouts at the Y because we were always at work. At times we became totally exhausted and unproductive. He probably thought we all expected him to be there and were hanging on his every word, when really, it was like “Take a night off. Please. Please take a night off.”

Not knowing what business your partner is in, it’s hard to know exactly what the culture and constraints are. For example, on a feature film 12 hour+ days (+ thinking about the movie and planning the next day at night) are normal for a few months, and unless you have a lot of clout you can’t really demand to go home early or block out certain times. But you’ll probably have substantial downtime between gigs.

But it’s easy to get into that startup mode, where everything is a crisis, and not know how to transition out of it when things settle down more. And it’s easy to make assumptions that your boss expects you to work all the time just because you have been working all the time, or assume your staff expects you to work all the time, when really you could arrange to be unreachable for certain hours simply by logging out of things and setting an away message on your phone or chat app or whatever. And it’s easy to be the person who says yes to everyone and everything at work because they have a supportive, willing partner at home and it’s easier and more comfortable to say “no” to that person. And it’s easy to get in the habit of checking “Just one more thing!” before bed and end up on the computer until 3 am while your partner falls asleep in their sexiest sleeping outfit that they put on because they thought you were going to do it and you’ve totally missed the window. Don’t be this song! It’s a sad song!

When talking about work, it’s easy to start using language like “I can’t do that” or “I have to do that” because the habit of authority and requirements and needing to ask permission is so ingrained. But often you CAN do that. Often no one will notice if you don’t pick up the phone between certain hours or if you log off the computer at certain times. So for the workaholics among us, I suggest you start framing it in terms of “I’m choosing to do x” vs. “I have to/can’t” and see if anything changes in your attitude or how you use your time. “I’m choosing to stay available to my staff all the time.” “I’m choosing to sit here at the computer even though I’m pretty sure my partner is waiting for me to come to bed.” How many of your choices are just habits?

All this is my way of saying that boundaries about how and when you work are good for people. If your boss/industry/job isn’t good at defining boundaries and expectations, you get to try to define them, and as you get more success and power at work it’s easier to define them for yourself and for the people who work for you. If you create the expectation that you’re always free, people will expect you to be always free. Letter Writer, I’m not sure that knowledge is directly transitive to your partner, but it’s something to keep in mind when you talk to them. How much “I can’t/I have to” language are they using? How much of the things they think they can’t/have to do are really requirements vs. choices? Can you ask them to re-evaluate that if it means being kinder to you and they can still be successful at work?

There’s a lot of framework here, I hope it helps you in having a discussion and figure out what rituals are the glue in your relationship.

Finally, I think it would be good for you and your partner (and take some pressure off) if you looked at your relationships with friends & family and also your own interests outside of couple time and work. In exchange for one sacred date night/week, is there one night a week you could be out of the house doing your thing, giving your partner some alone time to stay up working as long as s/he wants? If what you’re feeling is general loneliness and not just relationship-loneliess, there is maybe some stuff you can do about that for yourself.

I really hope you are able to work this out. You are far from the only one with this problem, so I’d love to hear how other couples solved this or are negotiating this in comments.


84 thoughts on “#363: My partner’s career is eating all their energy and attention.

  1. I’m finally de-lurking here to say… I was going to write basically the same question in. My boyfriend changed jobs a year ago, and ever since he’s been working much longer hours, especially a few times a year. Thanks for the question, LW, and Captain, thanks for the advice! It’s good to know I’m not the only one falling into this cycle/with this issue. From where I stand, I think the biggest question is how long this period of more work is going to last. If there’s an end date, then I feel the resentment levels ease off because you know it’s temporary.

  2. I have no advice, but the entire time I was reading this letter, I was singing the Bed Song to myself. Because Amanda Fucking Palmer is more fun than Jim Croce.

  3. Is your partner in academia by chance? Academia – at least my corner of the academic world – is just like this, and is *not* good for sustaining relationships. It’s not all work all the time forever, but there are years at a time where you may not see much of your academic spouse/partner – the first year or two of a PhD program (classes + grantwriting + teaching + reading + research design = NUTS), then the last year of a PhD program (writing, writing, and more writing, plus postdoc/job applications). Then there’s the postdoc period – busy! and probably nowhere near grad school city! – and, even worse, if your partner manages to land that elusive TT job, you can forget seeing much of hir for a couple years. Summers may be better – but, in my line of work, summers are spent in the field doing research, often far from home and/or internationally.

    But, from what I’ve heard (and crossing my fingers, because I’m in the postdoc stage), it does get better – academics are always busy, but it’s not quite as nutty after the first couple years of the permanent job. Meanwhile, relationships with academics are *hard*. I’ve had a series of failed long-term relationships now thanks to my travel and work schedule, and in the last year alone myself and over half of my academic friends in long-term relationships split up with our partners.

    I don’t have anything further to add to the excellent advice above, but wanted to warn you that if your partner is in academia, you may need to settle in and wait a while longer before things get better. Best of luck to you both!

    1. Sasha, I just wanted to chime in and send Jedi hugs. I’m adjuncting my first solo class this semester, and I think my marriage really misses the year I was ABD, not teaching, and working on grant apps just from 8-5. I’m fortunate in that my partner was in a PhD program and now is in a fairly demanding new job, but I miss the old days of dinner at 530 followed by watching movies. Now it’s more like dinner at 7 and maybe we have a chat before bed.

    2. I was about to bring this up! And: I think it starts getting worse again at some of the higher levels because the bureaucracy starts piling up. My father is a professor, and he’s been working twelve hour days and most weekends ever since I remember. Most of it is actually paperwork that doesn’t have anything to do with his research in one form or another, as far as I can tell. And then you add conferences, seminars, and other travel-involving things to that – also becoming more common in later stages of the career. Especially during busier times, I frequently didn’t know what continent my father was on at a given moment.

      I obviously don’t know what my parents did to keep their relationship going, but I do note that there is regular sitting-in-the-living-room-drinking-tea time scheduled in the evenings, he occasionally takes my mother on conference trips with him and they do sightseeing afterwards if he’s going somewhere interesting, and he takes Sundays off on occasion. Looking back, he also made an effort to spend time with me and my brother – I’ve definitely heard of more absentee fathers.

      I’m a PhD student in my last year (ohgodohgodohgod) and I have to admit I am looking forward to leaving academia and having a job with set hours. I don’t have a partner, but my social life has *really* suffered over the last few years. :/

    3. I’m not sure it has to be like this, even in academia. I’m in my first year of a tenure track job and I’m working hard to still have a life outside of my job. It means that I have to stay VERY organized and concentrate on my productivity when I am working, but I’ve found some great strategies that are helping with this side of things. There’s a blog called Get a Life PhD that has some great tips and I use writing strategies from the Academic Ladder website combined with the Pomodoro Technique.
      I think the Captain’s points about assessing your own work load and expectations are useful, even when the culture of academia tries to convince you that it should be your entire life.

      1. Thanks, Sassafras – I checked out those websites and there’s some really good advice there! I have several academic friends in the first couple years of TT jobs and – to my eye – they’re all very organized and productive people, yet I’m seeing and hearing them complain a lot about not having any time for a life. Whereas the senior, tenured profs I know are still busy, but have more spare time. So maybe my early-career friends are not as productive as I think they are, or maybe things are different in my specific field? Either way, I know *I* could definitely improve my productivity, so I appreciate the suggestions.

    4. Encourage your partner to take up hobbies and make friends outside of couple time; he used to fence, and we’ve blocked aside nights for me to work and do chores while he fences. If you live together/near each other, scheduling meals or working at each other’s apartments can be a good way to get things done while spending time near each other. He plays video games, I analyze some data; I read books, he writes papers. Relationships with researchers/engineers/scientists/academics are not for the ‘clinger’ or ‘spontaneous romance’ type of partner. I’ve not seen that ever work out well.

  4. Something that concerns me a little is that to a significant extent your question can be paraphrased as “how can I do a better job of sublimating my needs in favor of my partner’s, so it is less painful for me and so seamless he/she doesn’t even need to be aware there is sublimation going on?” Your partner is giving you somewhat short shrift, and your focus is on minding less.

    Everything the Captain said sounds great to me. But I also hope you’re not so afraid of being “needy,” or not so awed by your partner’s ambition and commitment to career that you feel like your domestic/relationship needs are inconsequential. Pursuit of Happiness matters so much to human beings that it got put in the Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right! It is not silly or immature or selfish to care about being happy. It’s actually what life is all about.

    When you’re writing your journal, I suggest you make a list of what things you need to not be actively unhappy on a day-to-day basis — a fairly minimalist standard. Then make a new list for the things you need to be actively happy. And then make a list for things that you think would be a total bonus, but that are not beyond feasibility… not things you need every day perhaps, but that you need once in a while. And — go for it — what would bring you joy? Do something similar for longer-ranges, like 3 or 6 months rather than day-day. What do you need to feel connected to your partner? These are all legitimate things to think about, and to try to come up with answers to.

    To the extent you can get some of these met other than by your partner, it’s probably a good idea to do that for now. But I also think a conversation is in order in which you ask what you can expect in the months/years to come… not in an ultimatum-y way, just a “trying to figure out how to get my needs met, know you’re busy and don’t want to burden you, but how much of this can I count on you for, and how much should I be finding other ways to take care of?” And your partner *should* care about your happiness, or the word ‘partner’ is a misnomer.

    Career is important, and often sacrifices must be made up front, especially, to get established. However, sacrifice can be habit-forming. It can lead to a loss of a couple’s easy intimacy that if no one takes steps to rectify it can lead to a growing gulf — as one or the other person becomes a little scared to spend time with the other person because they’re not sure what to talk about anymore, and they’re afraid time together will make that obvious. The goal that must be reached before the relationship gets attention can keep moving, like a carrot dangling on a stick that is constantly being moved. Just this *one* more project! Just ’til I make partner! Just ’til I finish my residency!

    I’m not saying this in a doom-and-gloom way. Just to say be careful about doing too much sublimating, too too much deferring of happiness to an ever-elusive someday. Relationships need investment and nurturing just as much as careers do.

    1. I agree with this comment. I think the letter-writer should ask for things — very specific things (dinner once a week, possibly at specific restaurant, etc), not vague things (spend moar time with me!!), things that will probably make them happy and help strengthen the relationship. If the relationship gets completely neglected in favor of career, at some point both of you will look back and wonder how it all dissolved when everyone was trying so hard. And at some point, maybe, she will be confused that she never noticed where things went wrong, because you were focused so much on trying to “be supportive” that you never spoke up for needs that both of you really shared. Yes, work is important. And when work is so important it’s hard to remember that there are things other than work that you need. But that doesn’t mean you stop needing them just because there’s no time to work out the logistics.

      I say this as somebody who — well, if my significant other were the kind of person who wrote letter to Captain Awkward, he probably could have written this letter about me. Work is trying hard to be my calling and, God, callings take up a lot of time and energy and headspace. And it kills me. I think part of it’s how much women are brought up to be the ones who are Responsible For the Relationship — you pour yourself into work and watch things die around you and have to triage just to get everything done and meanwhile you’re hating yourself because nobody ever seems happy and housework and no regular meals ever and you can’t take proper care of your body and you’re disconnecting from your partner right when you desperately need to be connected so you can be supported so you won’t go nuts. And then when things go badly you have to pour yourself into your work even more so you don’t have to think about it.

      I think the best way the LW can support their partner is probably to help them create spaces to just be with them (possibly also involving the food and/or sleep it sounds like they need to get) and unwind enough to not think about work briefly, it might help both of them fulfill their needs. With logistical support for making those things happen, so that the LW is offering help with the thing they are simultaneously asking for, and decreasing some of their partner’s planning burden. (Since their partner’s brain may not be able to handle planning more things anyway.)

      Of course, disregard to the extent that I am projecting my own situation onto theirs/yours…

      1. The thing, Jobs are really good at demanding what they “need.” They have concrete tasks of the kind that go on to-do-lists, colleagues and clients with clear expectations, and deadlines that are like “Submit bid documentation by 3 pm Sept. 26 or we won’t be considered for the contract;” “File Opposition to Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment by Oct. 1 or the court will award judgment in adversary’s favor,” “Submit final draft of article by __ or it won’t be included in the publication,” “Prepare presentation by Tuesday or you will make an ass of yourself in front of the whole department!”

        Relationships’ demands are more nebulous and put-off-able. “Spend quality time with partner soon….” (Deadline: before she gets hopelessly pissed off and has an affair or leaves). “Be better about paying attention/being present when we’re together.” (Before she stops caring whether you come home or not). Exactly what you have to do isn’t as clear, nor is the date by which you have to make that the top priority lest dire consequences ensue. Good intentions are easy to have fall by the wayside when That Work Thing interrupts with its demand.

        Which is all very well and good in individual moments — but cumulatively it can be highly problematic. Which is why partners of career-oriented people need to figure out what they need, articulate it reasonably, and make it a concrete thing that can be put on calendars and made sacrosanct, or at least quasi-sacrosanct.

        1. Thank y’all. As a postscript, this might also provide a good non-accusatory way to discuss the issue: say up front that you’re not saying your partner has their priorities out of whack, but that it is Work’s inherent nature to barge to the head of the line every time… that it tends to be insatiable, and in fact sometimes the more you feed it the hungrier and more demanding it gets*…. so without being all “me me me,” you’ve realized that if the two of you don’t put your heads together and find a few ways to make Work give him/her up from time to time, it’s not going to happen. And you do deserve better than picked-over Partner leftovers *all* the time.

          *Like, where you put in all kinds of time and effort to get that promotion, which wins you more responsibility, requiring more time and effort to do even a competent job in the new position

    2. I agree with alphakitty’s point that sweeping yourself under the rug of your partner’s career is not a good idea. Not to be too voice-of-doom about it, if you neglect your own needs you can only end up miserable. And then not only will you be miserable, but partner won’t be happy either on the occasions when she can be bothered to pay attention, and will eventually drift away to greener pastures. For both your sake and hers, you need first of all to maintain your own life.

      So you need a combination of dealing with your own needs (I need you to go to the library on Thursday nights so my knitting group can come for dinner) and talking with partner about the maintenance of your relationship (one night a week must be devoted to something we both enjoy, with phones turned off). You may want to gently express concern about partner compromising her health with bad personal maintenance, but it’s neither your life nor your body. Concentrate instead on setting a good example by maintenance of yourself, it will have an effect. If only because you can casually inflict upon her your thoughts about what is important maintenance to you :-).

      One important point I’d make is that presumably a career involves money, and so the routine “wife” functions should be subcontracted, at her expense. Don’t waste precious time together doing housework, and most important of all don’t do them yourself, at least not her share. Spend her money hiring a housekeeper, having the groceries delivered, sending her shirts to the laundry. Free your time to do things for yourself, hang out with friends if nothing else. Do not buy her family’s Christmas presents, or cook elaborate dinners for her colleagues. It is best for you both to separate firmly the relationship maintenance from the domestic maintenance.

      Consider also that 3 years of this is a long time. If partner doesn’t express missing you, maybe she isn’t. Putting your career first, in that infernal grind that is very difficult to break (if only because employer has gotten used to expect it) is definitely putting partner second. Maybe it’s time to check carefully whether partner has slipped into this unknowingly and would welcome help to reverse course, whether she’s taking you for granted and needs to be gently reminded it won’t do in the long run, whether she just has ceased to care enough about you and is too tired to do something concrete about it. Maybe she needs to be gently encouraged to evaluate whether this is really the life she wants, and even to look for a more low-key new job? This could be painful for you, indeed, but much less than waking up 10 years down the line with your life parched on all levels and nothing to show for it but someone else’s career.

  5. For a long time I was in a long distance relationship (and then a long-distance marriage), while both of us were in fairly demanding PhD programs. I think the Captain is spot-on about the importance of certain routines to connect–I just want to add that it’s totally okay to stop and re-evaluate routines if you decide they aren’t working, assuming your initial effort to do this with your partner goes well. For example, I noticed that I was putting too much pressure on myself to stay on the phone with Husband!ABD for lengthy periods every day, and it was a lot better once we said, “Hey, let’s call every day to make sure everything is fine and say ‘I love you,’ but other than that we’ll catch up in detail on the days we both have more time (often days neither of us was teaching, for example).

    1. Yes, this!
      I was living with my parents for about 4 months recently for work/family stuff, and visiting my partner about every other weekend. For probably three months of this period, we were on IM or Skype or Facebook ALL THE TIME. It actually sucked. Most of the time we had nothing important to talk about, and then when we talked on the phone or actually saw each other we’d used up all the “here’s what happened to me this week” stuff and were reduced to small talk. Or not talking.
      It sucked. We ended up doubting ourselves because it suddenly felt like we had nothing to talk about ever – we worried we had nothing in common after all, we were drifting apart, OMG O NOES, and then we were like, “Let’s stop IMing all the time.” We started scheduling a once-every-couple-days phone call that we were both responsible for (he called me, then I called him, then he called me, etc.) All of a sudden we were looking forward to talking again, we had things to talk about, even our chemistry when we saw each other was better. I credit having dedicated time for each other, rather than constant half-attention while we were both busy with something else.

      1. That’s brilliant. I think I just realized why I was never good at LDRs. 🙂

        It makes sense – you wouldn’t expect every single moment of in-person time with someone to be Super Extra Fun High Quality Time!!, so why expect that of a phone conversation? Sometimes you just don’t have any news.

        Huh. Now that I’m out-of-state from family and such, that realization might be handy. :p

      2. Oh my gosh I need to remember this for next time boyfriend and I are states apart. Because exactly that happened, the not feeling like we had anything to talk about ever, because constant half-attention

  6. This is a great question. From my own experience, I have been in two types of situations with partners who had larger work commitments than me. In one case, my partner made it very clear that work was 100% his priority and that our relationship was pretty much a distant second. We constantly had a dynamic of me being sad about not seeing him and not feeling like he was putting enough effort/attention/interest into our relationship, and him feeling nagged/pressured/etc. Ultimately, this relationship didn’t work out because we fundamentally had a mismatch in where our energies were headed. He’s now in a happy relationship with someone who is more career-focused than I was/am and in general just is more independent, which is great!

    I’m currently dating someone who also works longer hours than me and in general is more “gung ho” about his career than I am. But, the big difference is that he’s very clear that our relationship is the priority for him. He loves his job (most of the time!) and is committed to it. But he also took a day off when I was in the hospital (not something previous partner was willing to do in a similar situation), he’s in touch with me via text during the day or when he works late, makes sure we get blocks of ‘us’ time and special date nights, and in general he just does lots of little and big things to let me know I am loved and important to him.

    Only you can know whether your partner is in the first category or the second. I think a big clue is to really observe her reaction when you try to talk about this. Does your partner make a lot of excuses or even explicitly say that career is the priority? That might work for some people, but it sounds like it would not work for you. Or, does your partner affirm that you are a major priority and try to take steps to make sure you can actively feel that?

  7. Hi LW, sort of in a similar boat here. I just got my first-ever grown up job, at a homeless shelter. I’m there 4 or 5 nights a week, always at the same time. And my boyfriend? He just got hired in the meat department of a giant store that rhymes with “Clam Subs” and he has ZERO predictability. If he’s scheduled to open, it means waking up at 3 am and leaving the apartment at 5. If he’s scheduled to close, he might not be home until 10 or 11 pm. Sometimes he has to close one night and open the next day. So much fun!

    For a while, we always had Wednesdays off together, but then Clam Subs said he had to be available 24/7. So now, we just get our schedules, plot them out on the calendar, and when our schedules line up and we have a random Tuesday or Saturday or whatever off together, we make plans to do something. It helps to keep us both sane and connected, because previously, he was my stay-at-home boyfriend, cooking delicious food all the time, and I set my own hours as a balloon sculptor.

    1. Total digression here, but can I just say that the employer attitude that says that it is somehow okeydokey for them to demand (except maybe on a once-in-a-blue-moon emergency basis) that any employee come to work on four hours of sleep… fuck that attitude. FUCK IT RIGHT IN THE EYE SOCKETS. In my perfect world, I would go all Dark Galadriel on their asses, and the board members and execs would have to work the same hours they demand from their employees. ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR, GODDAMN.

      I like your solution, though. I think I need to do that with my husband, because his schedule is pretty much the same M-Th and mine is all over the damn place, if predictably so. We get to, like, Thursday evening, which is my first night at home of the week, and we go, “Huh. Who are you again? You look vaguely familiar.” It sucketh.

          1. Health service schedules terrify me. Like hell I want my body in the hands of someone who hasn’t slept for 48 hours!

        1. Only letting an employee have 4 hours off before their next shift might be (I have no idea) but depending on your job and how far away you live from work only 4 hours sleep definitely isn’t unheard of. I worked shifts in a local shop and fairly often had a morning shift scheduled immediately after a night shift. I only lived a 5 minute walk away but it was still a case of coming home, waving at my boyfriend before getting into bed and leaving before he woke up the next morning. There were people working there who lived an hours drive away and sometimes had to open up after closing the previous night (meaning they had to be there 30 minutes before everyone else) and they definitely wouldn’t have gotten much more than 4 hours sleep.

        2. What, an employer’s creating a schedule like Mr. Sarahcircusnachos’? I wish it were illegal everywhere. People are not tissues to be used up and thrown away!

          It’s sadly very common, especially in the retail sector, for people to be given extremely irregular schedules and to have no control over them. I’ve had students come up to me crying because their bosses insisted they had to go to work instead of coming to my evening classes, and the students were trying to improve their English so they could GTFO of retail.

          (BTW, we shouldn’t be demanding it of medical interns, either. Yay, extreme fatigue in your health care worker. What could possibly go wrong? Gah.)

  8. I actually have been planning on writing in with the opposite problem – my schedule just recently aligned better with that of the guy I’m casually dating, and I’m suddenly feeling smothered – so this post is really timely. Especially thinking on concrete things to suggest when I ask for more space, since I know the guy is going to take it as a sign that something’s wrong with him. Thanks Cap; good luck, LW.

    1. If you’re feeling smothered, there may just be something wrong with him. Pay attention to those gut feelings..

      1. Or it might be the anxious vs. avoidant attachment styles that CA talked about. Or different expectations about the amount of time that should be spent together, which could be resolved or at least helped by using their words. Or maybe they’re both great people who just aren’t a good match for each other. I don’t think that one partner feeling smothered is necessarily a sign that there’s something wrong with the other partner.

        1. It’s not *necessarily* a sign that there’s something wrong with the other partner, but it *can* be a red flag. My abusive ex-bf – as is common for so many abusers – used to make me feel smothered by demanding all of my time and attention, even when I had important work I had to take care of.

          Her partner may just have an anxious attachment style to her avoidant style – but it could also be an abuser’s red flag. I think it’s fair – even wise – to warn someone to watch for that. If it’s harmless, then no harm no foul.

          1. It could also be a terrible combination of both, like my last relationship! #neverdatingagain

      2. I get where this comment is coming from but nope! This house is not full of bees. He’s a great dude. He can be anxious and I struggle with high avoidant tendencies and it’s harder now that we’re on the same schedule and I don’t have automatic me-time anymore. I’m taking Cap’s advice of setting concrete boundaries and see where things go from there.

        1. I think that’s a really healthy approach. Mr.Blake and I had to go through a similar process (Me Avoidant, You Clingy type deal) but we were a bit more… messy and unarticulated about it. There were a couple (ok, more than a couple) moments of “Auugh! Get off my arm, I’m just going to work for a few hours! I promise I’ll come back afterwards!”

          Which, given the attachment styles perspective, totally makes sense.

          I might also recommend developing some sort of code phrase or signal for when you’re feeling smothered – someone on another thread referenced xkcd’s Cat Barf comic (http://xkcd.com/791/). Mr.Blake and I do some of that, and it works very well. It’s a way of saying “Hey, you’re tweaking me out” in a gentle and humorous way that won’t leave the other partner feeling hurt.

          i’m glad your house is not full of bees. Rock on with your bee-free self. 🙂

    2. I know what you mean. My husband works one and a half jobs and when he goes down to one job in a month or so I KNOW I’m going to feel like he’s all up in my business. I don’t like disruptions to my routine and having another person around an extra 15 hours a week is a pretty major distruption. Itll be fine, it just takes time to wear new ruts.

      I’m also going to encourage that he pursue some hobbies he hasn’t had time for lately so I can still have my eating-junk-food-on-the-couch-while-watching-hours-of-Deadly-Women time in peace.

  9. There is ultimately going to have to be some minimum level of compatibility between the two partners’ level of focus on career, or else no amount of negotiation is going to succeed. PhysioWife and I are both extremely career driven, and we each leave the house by about 8AM every weekday and don’t return until 8PM or later. We also tend to do some work stuff on the computer on the weekends, although neither one of us every goes to our workplaces on the weekend.

    Here are some strategies/tendencies that are really helpful to us:

    (1) Every weekend morning when the weather cooperates, we leave all electronic gizmos at home and go out for long walks of at least two hours, and on occasion most of the day. We do a lot of substantive talking on these walks.

    (2) We have learned to feel connected and together when we are in our living room together, each working on our respective computers. We will say things to one another every so often, and always listen and respond respectfully, but with the understanding that we are not expecting full attention to shift away from work.

    (3) We are both multi-taskers, and neither one of us feels the need to ever sit on the couch with no distractions and FOCUS ON TALKING ABOUT OUR RELATIONSHIP AND MAKING DECISIONS or whatever. We just kind of talk about things bit by bit on an ongoing basis, including on our walks.

    (4) Because we are both highly career driven and work long hours, neither one of us is almost every waiting around pining for the other. And when we make plans for dinner or whatever on a weeknight, we always plan to meet at one of our regular places where we know the owners/staff well and feel comfortable and happy having a couple of cocktails and chatting while waiting for the other.

    (5) We both have a huge amount of respect for each other’s professional accomplishments and goals, and take a lot of pleasure and pride in each other’s successes. And we talk a lot (frequently on our walks) about what our work is about, our experiences and decisions and challenges and successes. This means that when one of us is forgoing together time for work, the other has a very clear idea of what that means, why it is happening, and the long-term goals it is in service of.

    (6) Neither one of us uses work as an excuse to avoid being together or doing other things.

    1. Yet another academic here, to provide some context. (This thread sure seems to have touched that nerve!)

      There is ultimately going to have to be some minimum level of compatibility between the two partners’ level of focus on career, or else no amount of negotiation is going to succeed.

      Absolutely agreed. However, there’s a very real difference between “compatible” and “the same”. And that’s not obvious from your post (though I might certainly have misread). There are a lot of ways for relationships to work, and “similar goals” is certainly one, but “complementary goals” is, too.

      A much higher percentage of academics have spouses/partners who are not employed full-time than in the general population. What it comes down to is, we find jointly agreed-upon-ways to make sure everyone’s needs are met. If that means I am the workaholic and my wonderful partner does more than their share of childraising, and *we are both happy*, then… well, that’s compatible.

      (Independently, there are certainly issues raised there, like the gendered expectations of who is supposed to be happy in what role. But ultimately, there are a lot of variations in how two+ people can be happy. Maybe that’s what you meant! But I don’t think it hurts to make it explicit.)

  10. My husband is a work-a-holic. He works somewhere between 60 and 80 hours a week, so yeah, he works a lot. I’m a free-lancer so my work load is mixed between really busy and twiddling my thumbs but I also work from home which makes it a lot easier to make our schedules match up. So here are some things that we’ve negotiated and work well for us.

    1. Location, location, location. Since I work from home (so this may not work for every one) we live really close to his place of employment. This makes it really easy for him to go back and forth as needed and not waste a lot of time commuting. Truly, even though it’s way more expensive, it has been the best thing ever for our marriage.

    2. Dinnertime. This pairs in with living close to work. Unless all holy hell breaks loose at one of our jobs, we eat dinner together at around 6:30 every night. Even if he has to go back to work afterwards, he comes home for dinner. He calls when he’s getting ready to leave, I usually cook (or order takeout) we eat and chat and then he does the dishes before heading back in if he needs to go. This is only interrupted by the sort of catastrophe that also means an all-nighter, in which case the spouse not having an emergency brings dinner around.

    3. Bedtime. I’m a night owl and prefer to work on super intensive parts of projects late at night when my clients aren’t interrupting me. So my husband pretty much always goes to bed before I do. But I always come in for a snuggle before he goes to sleep which improves our sense of connection and our sex life.

    4. Magic time. Saturdays before noon are non-negotiable even if all holy hell has broken loose. Sometimes that means we’re sleeping in. Sometimes that means sex. Sometimes that means doing some chores that needed doing. Generally, it means breakfast, picking up the groceries and then doing something fun.

    5. My time consuming hobby. Um, people who ask for relationship advice would probably ask about me as well. I’m a video gamer. So, one of the non-negotiables in our marriage that allows him to work so many hours is that I get to buy games– it’s a line item in our monthly budget. It’s not just that, but I have groups I’m involved in, a few classes I periodically teach, friends and family I spend time with. That’s actually part of why we picked each other– he has an intensive career that means a lot of moving and a lot of time at work. I like to free-lance and I have several time consuming hobbies. And I’m a strange person who likes moving to new and different places.

    6. Priorities. Our relationship is a top priority in both of our lives. There isn’t just one of us putting in most of the effort. We both make an effort to be present when we’re together and not thinking about other stuff (and we have a strict no smartphones in the dining room or bedroom policy). For example, today I was having movers come in to give me quotes, and he took the day off for no other reason that the fact that I’m uncomfortable having strangers in the house. I’d have been fine if he didn’t stay home with me, but it is equally important to him that he support me when I need it.

  11. “Do you need some sacred time each day or each week where cell phones are switched off and laptops are closed?”

    I love this. My partner and I set aside what we call an “internet-free hour.” We set the timer, put away phones and all internet decides. And we start an artificial conversation. Inevitably it lulls. And we joke about the lull. and then there is awkward silence. And then.. suddenly we are talking about science and proposals for social problems and politics and making up stories. Then there is a lull again. It’s wonderful.

  12. Wow, LW, you could be my partner writing in to Captain Awkward about our relationship 🙂

    I ended up in a very demanding job/ career about a year or so ago, in a company that had just fired tons of staff so everyone was pushed to work harder and harder to keep pushing out our product the same even though we have 20% of the staff.

    As a result, I was working 12/13 hour days every day, weekends, holidays, everything. I work from home so when my bf would get home at around 8p.m. I was still working. Every day.

    What made things worse was one of my colleagues would phone me up at all hours, including late in teh evenings, and demand I help her. If I didn’t answer she would keep phoning, then send ANGRY EMAILS or scream at me that I was an irresponsible, unhelpful, bad person.

    I ended up giving up my hobbies, which include stuff to keep me healthy, eating properly, social life and my relationship suffered horribly not only because I was not emotionally present for my bf but because I was increasingly tired, then exhausted, then angry because my work would not leave me alone.

    I couldn’t even get to sleep because my company would call me as late as 11pm, waking by bf up as well as me, after which I had to stay up late to wind down.

    It got the the stage where I took an evening off (starting from 8.30 pm. after a 12 hour day) to go to a restaurant with my bf, my work called me while I was there and said I had to get the bill, go home and work on an EMERGENCY.

    All this time I said I HAD TO work, because if not then I would get horrible repercussions from my boss and Crazy Calling Colleague.

    The advice above, about how maybe I CHOOSE TO not HAVE TO is hard to read but it is totally true.

    In all this, I was not treating my bf very well at all.

    So now I have insisted that I will work more normal hours, even though my company still ignores that (last night? Six phone calls, one after the other, when I did not answer – then an ANGRY TEXT). Every day I have to have an actual argument about my workload. But at least I am not working those hours, and I am working on my relationship. And I am looking for another job.

    So my message is to the LW – you have needs too in your relationship, and maybe like me your partner is so caught up in work and thinking HAVE TO instead of CHOOSE TO that he is neglecting to see that.

    1. Lilly, I remember you posting in the comments a few questions back about your colleague who wouldn’t stop calling you.
      I just wanted to say good for you for setting boundries! I wish you all the best for your job hunt and hope that you find something new soon!

    2. I remember the horrible phoner!

      I’m sure your boss and your Unreasonable Calling Coworker are stretched thin themselves, but they also sound super-inefficient and are making the fact that they can’t get their work done within a reasonable schedule somehow your fault. You may not be able to diplomatically say this out loud, but frame it in your head as “This is only an emergency because YOU could not pull things together in time during normal business hours.”

      A few suggestions:

      Get a second cell phone or a Google voice number. Give work one number as your cell phone number. Use the other as your personal number. Outside certain hours, the work phone/number is completely turned off.

      Document the calls and texts from Unreasonable Calling Coworker. If she yells at you and verbally abuses you regularly, consider recording them. Document the extra hours and work this person makes for you. Assign a dollar value to interruptions and last-minute special projects. This could be useful come raise/performance review time. “Given this particular coworker’s demands, I ended up working 20% more than is reasonable. If I am expected to be on call 24-7, I would like my compensation to reflect that.” (Down side, they may agree to your demands and then expect you to be on call 24-7, but it’s not unreasonable to put an economic cost on their behavior).

      It sounds like you set office hours – maybe something like 8:30 am to 8:30 pm where you are reachable. That’s STILL 12 fucking hours. So carve out a regular lunch break and a regular workout or hobby break and during that time turn your phone off.

      Tighten up your game. When you do go into the office and see these people face to face, make sure you are dressed impeccably. Make sure you are meeting your agreed-upon deadlines to the best of your ability. Proofread your emails. It helps if you are really pulled together (and gives you a psychological advantage and will help you get a new job).

      1. Agree with all this, but just popping in to add the obligatory “before you record anyone’s conversation with you, check your local laws.” Some places it’s fine, some places it’s illegal without their consent.

        1. You could still write down the conversation verbatim and the time and date, if you can’t make an audio recording. I hope you get out of this awful job soon, it sounds like a nightmare.

        2. Possibly even if it’s illegal you could record, use it to write a transcript, and then junk the recording. A transcript is still at least better than “then she said something about blah blah and I can’t remember exactly but at some point there was also…” (If you happen to know shorthand you can transcribe during the conversation, but not many people do. Laptop and fast typing speed another option, though more audible.)

      2. Hey Captain, I’ve been meaning to mention for a while – I don’t know if you know this, but Google Voice is only available in the US. It doesn’t even extend to Canada. So while it’s a great option for Stateside writers, it’s sadly not available to many of us (which is a shame, because I really want one.)

      3. Thanks so much for all of this advice!

        The background is that my particular industry is struggling and my company had huge layoffs before I joined and cut salaries and benefits meaning that we have a fraction of the staff we need to cover the work we do. Add that to a macho culture of We Never Get Tired!, stir in some people who are scared to slack off in case they lose their jobs and you have a recipe for Terrible Management Pie. So my boss every day will argue with me about what my workload should be.

        But this situation is not my fault, as you say… 🙂

        The idea of recording phone calls is excellent, and I had not thought too much about logging the incidents because I get so upset about them. (Where I live it is totally legal to record a phone call or a conversation between you and another person without their knowledge, as long as you are taking part in the conversation). I will definitely start logging the calls and think about recording them.

        For the LW, what I wanted to say is that it is so, so easy to get caught in a terrible whirlpool of working too hard, and ignoring your partner, and I’m glad my partner spoke out and told me his side, because it woke me up both to how I was neglecting him and being a bad partner and also to how the work was really killing me.

        [ NB Crazy Calling Colleague is completely unreasonable, she lives to work & expects everyone else to as well, and the “help” she wants is usually for me to read a short report for her and “tell her what it says” or explain something simple to her. It’s a power game, I think. She is a bit older than I am and Jekyll and Hyde alternates between being overly sweet and calling me “darling” and “honey” or “sweetie” and praising me and then being ANGRY when I don’t do as she says. It’s fairly unsettling.]

  13. LW, it sounds like you feel as though your relationship is this secondary thing that has to take a backseat to “important” matters, like your partner’s career. It’s not, it’s a real part of both of your lives, and it needs maintenance and upkeep like anything else you plan on having around for a long time. Also, sacrificing eating and sleeping normally for work? That’s well within the rights of being in a relationship with someone to talk about. I mean, not in the “SIT DOWN AND EAT YOUR DAMN DINNER OR ELSE” way, but more of a “Listen, I know work is important, but this whole not eating and not sleeping this is making me a little worried that you’re actually a vampire” kind of thing.

    My wife has an uncle who works for GE, in some kind of high-paying, very important, “call him at 4:30AM or else something will explode” kind of position. As you might imagine, he worked some crazy hours, the worst of which was a stretch of six months where he barely slept and was almost never home for more than three hours at a time. At the end of it, he had a nervous breakdown and was confined to bed for a month. This is obviously kind of an extreme case, but I’d prefer not to see it happen to other people.

    You’ve got to talk to your partner about this if you really do intend for it to be a real long-term thing, because just trying to “not be resentful” is a recipe for a breakup, or worse, a long, bitter relationship based on repressed anger, which is good for nobody. And please, try not to view things in terms of “useful” and “not useful”. A relationship isn’t objectively measured in units of Helpful Vs. Unhelpful. We’re people, not cyborgs programmed to Get It Right every time. Thinking like that trends dangerously close to keeping score, which is a great way to torpedo any relationship, romantic or otherwise.

  14. Hi! I’m the LW’s partner. She emailed me today and said, “So a few weeks ago, before we took that weekend away together and had all those really great conversations about time management, I wrote to CA asking for help with your workaholism, and today they posted it. Wanted to give you a heads-up so you’re not reading it going ‘Is this me?’ because it is, or was, but I feel a lot better now so please don’t panic.”

    (For the record, I didn’t panic.)

    I can therefore say with some authority that this is all absolutely excellent advice. I am in fact a freelancer; I have a part-time job, technically, but I treat it like a freelance gig (as I’ve been doing for five years now) and do actual freelance stuff as well. More to the point, I’m used to being able to improvise my time management a lot the way that freelancers do, lazing around one week and working 80-hour days the next. (“80-hour days” is a typo but I like it so much that I’m leaving it.) I’m also a chronic volunteer and social butterfly. In the year since LW moved in with me and my other partner, whom I shall call non-LW, I have learned that my improvisational skills are not up to the task of magically giving enough time and attention to two partners plus job plus friends plus volunteer commitments plus myself.

    So in the weeks between when LW wrote in and when this post went up, I sat down with my partners and I drew up a time budget. I’ve been saying for years that time is the currency of relationships; now I have an hour-by-hour schedule of how I spend it. This was really emotionally hard for me, thanks to the evil I-should-be-smart-enough-not-to-need-this voice, but now that I’ve had a while to get used to the idea, it’s starting to feel bearable.

    At least on paper, the schedule gives enough time to each of my commitments. It helps my partners feel respected; LW said it really mattered to her that she was important enough to be budgeted for, not just worked in here and there when I had free time, and while neither of them is prone to jealousy or competitiveness, it really doesn’t hurt to show them that they get exactly equal scheduled time with me. It helps me get enough sleep and slacking without feeling quite so much like that time could be better spent on “productive” things. It helps restrain me from volunteering to take on more and more and more tasks at work or elsewhere, because now I know exactly how much time I have set aside for those things, and I know the commitments I have will fill that time.

    I left weekends unscheduled other than nightly teatime with LW and sleeping on the same schedule as during the week. The three of us will decide together how each individual weekend will go, which could mean anything from “housework, I guess? if we feel like it?” to “here are the detailed plans for our weekend out of town”. There is some flex in the weekdays too; for example, dinner happens at the same time every night, but some nights that means coming home for a family dinner and some nights it’s dinner out on my own before I go to my big weekly social thing and some nights it’s a date with LW or non-LW or a friend or my mom. My hope is that I can still do some improvising and not feel resentful of having so much of my schedule be completely predetermined.

    I did my best to budget for things that I already do, same way you pave over the paths that people wear in the grass. My habit of bustling around right before bed, feeding the cats and loading the dishwasher and tidying up and otherwise burning off excess energy, is not likely to change–so now the hour before I go to bed is on the budget as bustling time. We are all keeping in mind that as with any budget, we can make changes as circumstances change or if we realize something’s getting short shrift.

    We also talked about how me getting enough sleep and food definitely IS my partners’ business, because when I don’t sleep or eat enough, I get cranky, irrational, anxious, and unpredictable, which obviously affects my relationships. Lack of sleep also aggravates a couple of chronic medical conditions that make me less fun to be around and less capable of holding up my end of the housekeeping, as well as being unpleasant for me. So rather than seeing sleep time as optional, I’m trying to see it as a thing I do for the people I love. My body clock is massively wonky, I’m what LW calls “sleep-anorexic”, and actually getting eight hours of sleep every night for a week will be a major milestone if it ever happens. I’m also about to take an overseas trip, so add jetlag to the mix. But this is important, so I’m trying. Same with regular meals, another place where improvising just isn’t cutting it: I will get more in the habit of bringing in lunch because if it’s sitting on my desk in front of me I’m more likely to eat it before 4 p.m., and dinner is on the calendar every single day (with non-LW in charge of it, which means it will happen because he loves feeding people), and so on.

    You are absolutely right that none of this could have happened without LW coming to me and saying “This is a problem” and the two of us and three of us sitting down to discuss how to make it less of a problem. The sleep thing was actually the big catalyst; one night when I was sleep-deprived and exhausted, I did a thing that LW had asked me not to do and stated was a very important thing to her, and while she is gracious and kind and forgiving, we were both appalled by my behavior and immediately agreed that I needed to change things so that I never again hit that point of sleep-dep-drunk. (Hat tip to CrystalPyramid for likening sleep-dep to alcohol in a conversation elsewhere.) It’s all part and parcel of the same thing, though, because I get sleep-deprived when I feel like I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in and I stay up hopelessly late. Ideally, budgeting will help a lot with that. And I will try to remember that when a thing can’t be done in the time that’s budgeted for it, maybe next time I need to not sign up to do things like that thing, whether it’s work or something else.

    Of course I’m writing this at nearly 5 a.m. and my bedtime was three hours ago, but it’s been an unusual week and I think I’m going to cut myself some slack here. Mostly I wanted to say thanks for taking this seriously, and for being so careful with pronouns and gendered assumptions (my preferred pronoun is actually “they”; that wasn’t just LW masking identities), and for giving my partner such good and kind advice. I hope the above ramble is useful to some of you who are trying to tackle similar issues.

    1. Whoa, we almost never get the other side of the story! I hope things will work out better from now on. You guys are certainly not the only ones in this boat.

    2. Reading Comrade PhysioProffe and case-in-point’s posts, it was clear what their success stories most had in common was good communication, mutual respect, and genuine concern for one another’s happiness. Sounds like you’ve got that, too! It bodes well.

    3. As CA said, great to hear the other side, especially since I am the academic workaholic* in our poly* relationship. Thank you for sharing. It helps.

      * Not saying you are any of those! But it touched those nerves and it’s great to feel less alone.

  15. This recently came to a head in our household. Here’s how we worked through it…

    My partner is an academic in a postdoc position, in an area where he can work from home, and he is basically desperately analyzing data from nine in the morning until nine at night. I’m an academic (of sorts) in a moderately secure technician position, so I wander home from work at seven-ish, prepare the food, gesture vaguely at the housework and then please myself for the rest of the evening. He isn’t there-there even when he’s there. But it works for us. Here are some quick ways that we check in with each other:

    The 90 Seconds Rule, in which I come home from work and we have to spend the first 90 seconds that we see each other in focused greeting. The “arriving” partner drops their grumpiness or workday feelings outside the home doorway, and the “greeting” partner puts down whatever they’re doing; both partners engage in a brief affection ritual of their choice. You can kiss, nuzzle each other like cats, or simply say “90 seconds! 90 seconds!” while playing a game of eye-contact-chicken. Essentially, this sets the nice stage of “the first time I see my partner after a while will be a positive bonding experience! My partner is more important than my work/my grumpiness!” (Last time I suggested this here, someone said they hated the idea, so I’ll just say that YMMV.)

    Announce a time-out for Happiness Feedback Loop. With your full attention on each other, smile genuinely at each other. You might have to imagine the act of laughing hysterically, or remember the last time you laughed so hard that you were in danger of peeing your pants. This will usually start the seed of a smile on your face. Your partner will probably smile in response – keep making intense eye contact and grinning. Try to increase the smile on their face until you make them laugh. At some point, probably before 10 seconds, it will become unbearably awkward and someone will burst out laughing. Although it is weirdly awkward (try it – it really is) it’s a really good reset button. Especially you’ve started circling and snapping at each other like caged wolves.

    No Blue/Fluorescent Light For 1 Hour Before Bedtime. Lights in these wavelengths are stressful and disrupt circadian rhythms; if you’ve ever worked with research mice or lab rats, you may have noticed that they don’t live under cool fluorescent lighting. It stresses them out, makes them irritable and disrupts their sleeping/breeding patterns. Blue light makes you more alert, which is great at work, but difficult at bedtime. At any rate, putting down blue-light emitters (iPods, televisions, illuminated phone screens, laptops) and turning off your fluorescent lights will probably cheer you up, and the reduced distractions may encourage you to turn towards one another.

    Self-Care. This has to happen, for you and for your partner.

    Investing in Grumpy Partner. All work and no play makes your partner grumpy, strung-out and very, very dull – decreasing the reasons why you might want to stick around. You’d think that any of their free time SHOULD be spent on you, but that’s actually not the case. Love and attention don’t come from empty wells, so help your partner fill their well. We realized that my partner had simply stopped looking for ways to make HIMSELF happy, and when we did spend quality time together, his energy was pretty diffused. So we thought about what he likes to do for himself, bought him a woodturning lathe and stuck it on our little back balcony. If WE have room for a woodturning kit in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Britain, you have room to bring something lovely into your own lives.

    Introvert/Extrovert? Again, it might seem counter-intuitive to spend your partner’s precious free time on Not-You. But if they’re an extrovert, they’ll renew themselves by enjoying the company of other people. If they’re an introvert, they’ll renew themselves with a personal activity like running or going to the gym. You want your partner to refresh and renew; if the well is filled, you can take from it. Explain that this is actually something very necessary for their ~CAREER~ as well, particularly if your partner is a creative person – without self-investment, they’ll burn out and then they’ll be jobless and alone. Diminishing returns!

    You can’t change your partner, but you both deserve to invest in yourselves and each other. Sorry for the long comment. Best of luck!

    1. There is a program called f.lux http://stereopsis.com/flux/ that makes your laptop/smartphone/iPad display show warm colors after sundown in your area. I have found it enormously helpful both in helping me get sleepy and in helping my partners stay asleep when I use the laptop or ipad in bed. (I’m not involved with the company at all.) Just FYI.

      1. Wow, this is the best thread ever for night-owl me. I wear amber glasses at night to help with blue light (can get ’em on Amazon for about $5), but they’re hard to use with my favorite sleep-inducing iPad games, so this is a great solution. Just downloaded it and am loving it already.

      2. Thank you so much for the link. You may have just helped me solve a problem that’s been messing up my life and both of my relationships for years.

    2. “putting down blue-light emitters (iPods, televisions, illuminated phone screens, laptops) ”

      This is a great idea. My sweetie, who suffers from insomnia, was having issues with this sort of thing as working on a laptop in bed was one of the nightly rituals. Then she found the f.lux program that automatically dims/redshifts laptops and ipads with the sunset times. It has made a huge difference for her. They have Mac, PC, and i-device versions. website is http://stereopsis.com/flux/ I put it on my PC and she has it on her Mac and iPad. Nope, neither of us work for the company.

    3. I love this comment SO MUCH, because the tools that you’ve developed here are small-scale and low-pressure. To explain where I’m coming from, my now-ex and I were forced by our circumstances to be in a LDR for about half of our relationship, which meant that sometimes we wouldn’t see each other for weeks and then there would be THE MAGIC WEEKEND that often required an expensive airpline ride to schedule. This, more often than not, was an anxiety circus, because not only had we missed each other painfully but also there was all this PRESSURE to make the visit WORTH IT and to MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME and so on. So if we happened to have a fight, it was never “just” a fight, it was also a waste of time, like oh God we have only 72 hours together and we just spent 2 of them fighting, what is wrong with us. All kinds of things became fraught, like, this sex had better be GREAT because I won’t have any more for two months, etc., which, spoiler alert, does not make for great sex.

      (And, if I may reach further back for a moment, my parents fell pretty hard for the “Quality Time” fad of the eighties, which meant that there were set hours of the day I “had” to spend with them instead of being on the phone or watching TV, and it was super uncomfortable and miserable for everybody since for their Quality Time all they got was a really sullen and resentful teenager.)

      So for me personally, the very idea of a scheduled Date Night is sort of panic-inducing, because it reminds me so much of those super-intense weekends where the pressure was on for everything to go perfectly Or Else. Even when my relationship with my ex was at its best, and even when we were both working really hard in good faith, that could be a huge problem. The good Captain’s advice to negotiate and set boundaries is excellent and very important, but I think (for some people in some situations) “phones off and laptops closed!” might cause more anxiety than it eases.

      A ninety-second greeting, however, just sounds so lovely and inspiring, because it’s its own tiny perfect jewel, and more importantly, if you fuck it up once it doesn’t OMG RUIN THE NEXT FOUR DAYS, and it doesn’t seem to create that urge to indulge in what I’ll call the Insomniac’s Subtraction (“I have to be up in three hours and nine minutes! I have to be up in three hours and eight minutes! I have to…”).

      tl;dr, I think it’s good to think small, and not put too much weight on the rituals — at least at the beginning. Let your rituals grow organically rather than basing them on clock-watching, if that’s what works for you.

  16. All great ideas and insights. The only other thing I’ve learned is about distraction. My former boss used to work 50-60 hour weeks, two children, senior position, tons of travel, taking on extra work and hassle so she could make the lives of her team easier. She managed to keep all these things going without screwing up her family life, because she had a genuine ability to focus entirely on the person and thing she was with at the time. If she was worried about something, she would say, ‘I am worried about x. Can we do anything about that now? No? Ok. Will think about it another time.’ And then focus happily and fully on the person she was with and the thing she was doing. She would switch focus plenty of times a day, but everyone got her full attention when they were with her/in touch with her.

    I’ve never seen anything like it, and I try to emulate her as much as I can. It’s a useful skill to practice recognising when you’re not fully present ‘cos you’re chewing over something, and then snapping yourself out of it if you can’t take immediate action. Sometimes it’s useful instead to say to your partner, ‘Actually, this thing about work has been bugging me all day, and I’ve just had an idea, so I’m going to shut myself away after dinner for two hours to work on it, but first give me five minutes to make a note.’

    I try to encourage my partner to vent about whatever it is from work he is stressing about, and then to decide whether he would like to do anything about it this evening or this weekend, or whether he’s going to put it away and we’re going to enjoy some time together. Sometimes he needs time to come down gently because he’s all upset, and we do that – but if he doesn’t become fully present with me over the course of an evening, I call him on it. Not very kind in the short term, but it seems to help him to stop torturing himself pointlessly with work in the longer term.

    1. This is a very good point. Multitasking is not just overrated, it’s actively harmful for me. I suspect the same is true of many other people.

    2. Meditation. I don’t have time to explain in great detail but this focusing on what you’re doing in the moment is pretty much exactly what meditation is all about training.

  17. Neither of us has Intensive Workingness but we do date other people. Therefore, we make sure to keep dating each other, too, or sadness ensues.

    Ask each other on dates. Go for a walk, or go for dinner, or go to a movie.

  18. Not much to add, other than my husband and I’s connection ritual – Friday night game night. Board games, mostly cooperative (because I don’t do competitive well!). We buy a bottle of booze, junk frozen food and drink and eat pizza rolls and play Arkham Horror all evening. It’s been SO much fun!

      1. 🙂 We actually brought a couple of games to the last Shakesville meetup, and now have several friends hooked on Arkham Horror! The first taste is free, and all that….

    1. Awesome, my partner and I just got Arkham Horror. He’s a board games nut and I’m not so much but this game is great.

  19. I just ran across this article yesterday, even though it’s from March, and it seems incredibly appropriate to this conversation: http://www.alternet.org/story/154518/why_we_have_to_go_back_to_a_40-hour_work_week_to_keep_our_sanity?page=0%2C0

    Seriously. We fought for generations for the 40 hour work week, so why is it disappearing in white collar jobs? (Oh, right, because if you pay fewer people the exact same amount of money you did before you laid people off, you can try to squeeze the same amount of work out of them as before the recession, because they’re afraid now. And this is why corporate profits are high even while the economy is still stagnant. No, I’m not peeved at all, why do you ask?)

      1. ARGH! THAT’S where I got the link from! I had the tab open, and I was going back over my facebook page trying to find who had posted the link so I could leave a comment there, and not seeing it! And now I know why.

        I reread the letter before posting my comment, but I didn’t reread your answer. Now I feel super bad at the internet. 🙂

        1. I wouldn’t have actually gone and read it if you hadn’t linked it a second time, so consider that a win. 🙂 It’s got some very good points about sleep deprivation – running one hour per night short on sleep (which I am always doing) is roughly equivalent to a .10 BAC, according to the military study they’re citing. Gotta rethink that one.

    1. I have a kind of pet theory/rant about this, which is that economic forces have and will squeeze us mercilessly unless we set firm boundaries (as a society and individually) about our times, because there are very few *physical* limits on the time we can give to work. Mental? Sure. Emotional? Sure. Can we work until our marriages die, our kids are neglected, we don’t enjoy life any more? Oh yes. We need to put our feet down and say, no, life is not for work only. But as you pointed out, it’s a scary time and many people are living hand to mouth, so it’s much easier said than done.

      Also, haven’t read the article yet but I don’t think this infringement is limited to white-collar jobs only. Blue-collar folks are working their asses off too when they are able, but they maybe just do it by having multiple jobs.

    2. Unions and strikes, I’m just saying. Workers are losing rights because most aren’t fighting for them… but mainly because those who are fighting get no solidarity from other sectors and unions.

      England middle-ages peasants worked less hours to pay for renting their land than workers do today to pay the mortgage. Add to this the extra hours spent every evening at the office, just because. It’s totally nuts.

      1. I’ve been watching workers’ rights erode in my country, AGAIN (it happened in the 90s as well, then Labour got into govt and fixed some of it though the union busting was unfortunately a little too effective to recover from fully) and I believe there’s yet another bill up that’s going to take away more. It’s horrible. And they refuse to raise the minimum wage as well even though both major opposition parties were campaigning on it. At least they’re finally having to fix the situation where carers of people with disabilities who are family members weren’t getting anywhere near the amount of compensation they should have been – it’s been over ten years since people started really fighting it and it’s finally gotten right through the courts. I think in home carers who sleep over are having to start getting paid properly too.

        It depresses me especially because I want to live alone. But when it’s so hard to get by on two incomes, I’ll never be able to manage it on one.

      2. I’m basically pro-union but from personal experience feel that unions need to acknowledge and better address their flaws, especially the way that, in union shops, it can be way too hard to fire someone who really isn’t particularly interested in working at all. Labor activism is a tough nut to crack.

  20. My husband and I will be celebrating our 10 year marriage anniversary this year, and we are very happy. But, we are both on the avoidant side of secure if I were to take a guess. We are also both introverted, him more so than I. He’s in the military, and is often gone for long stretches. We’re looking at a possible year-long deployment early next year!
    But one thing I have learned is that making time for each other is *absolutely necessary*. It’s easy for an avoidant type to let days or weeks pass with no meaningful connections. That’s why it’s even more important, if you know you are avoidant-ish, to make the extra effort. We often have to point blank tell each other exactly what we need. Like, “Hey, I am feeling needy tonight I need CUDDLES NOW.” It helps to have a sense of humor about it, too.
    We’ve had lots of low times in our relationship, especially before we learned to really articulate our needs. And FEELINGS!RESENTMENT CONFESSION makes both of us withdraw. But this is no excuse, relationships are like plants. Ignore them, and they eventually die. Even if your relationship is like a hardy cactus, you’ve gotta water it at least once in a while!

  21. My husband is a grad student, and one of the things that makes his work schedule work for us is that a lot of his work has to be done in a lab. There are things that could come home, but he does nearly all of them also at his lab, during his regular work hours. So when he’s home, he’s really home, except for the very occasional big deadline. Of course he still can’t always leave after 8 hours, but it’s a lot easier for both of us to enjoy him having a late night and then actually coming home and putting work away for a bit than for him to be doing a powerpoint while I watch TV.

    I also go to the gym after work, which among other stress-relievers means I’m not home every day at 5:45 wondering where he is. So, seconding the suggestion that the LW find other things to be involved in during the week

    1. That is what I wanted to say but I wasn’t sure it would be seen as a helpful suggestion. At least for me, what I hated about having a very busy partner is that he was only irregularly busy, and I never knew when, so I’d sit around night after night and then the one night where I’d made plans would be the night he’d come home early. argh.

      My partner and I are a long-distance relationship where we’re each freelancers, so we each do the feast or famine thing at different times. We have rituals, like watching an episode of West Wing every night before bed (and now we’ve run out of West Wing, so we’re trying to find something else), and we go to bed at roughly the same time, and we always take our showers together and we often talk during that time (especially if my daughter is at home). We also tend to be in the same room geeking, even if we aren’t talking to each other because we’re busy doing our separate things, and we have an IM window open all the time whether we’re together or not so we can do the sort of relationship-building small talk (“hey, look at this neat interview with the xkcd guy I found” etc.) It’s been more than four years so we seem to be doing ok so far.

  22. I’m a freelancer, and someone in my business taught me such a basic, minimal boundary-setting rule that has brought untold sanity and peace to my life:

    No answering work e-mail between midnight and 8 AM.

    Besides that you shouldn’t be answerable to anything or anyone after midnight, it teaches you a couple other useful things: to be disciplined enough to prioritize your work and get all the important communications out by midnight, so then you can relax. And also, that no one actually dies for not having 24/7 access to your time and energy. You are actually not their life force, and they can manage themselves until you wake up in the morning to give them an answer.

    (Substitute whatever reasonable, arbitrary hours you wish for midnight and 8 AM.)

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