Carolyn Hax: Dealing with a workaholic: Your business vs. his business

Carolyn Hax
Columnist August 12, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My relationship with a lovely man is fading due to his obsessive work habits. When we first met he was unemployed, so the dynamic was completely different. I am at a loss on how to deal with this. I am not the controlling type, but he has been driving me nuts for a long time (two-plus years). Any suggestions on how to constructively draw the line?

Workaholic

The line belongs right between what is your business and what is his.


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

His business: How he treats you (and how he consents to be treated).

Your business: How you consent to be treated (and how you treat him).

If you don’t like the way he is treating you, then you articulate how you feel and what changes you would like to see.

If he doesn’t make the changes, then you get to decide whether you want to stay in the relationship as-is or whether you would rather break up. No trying to change someone: Not only is it not your place to decide who and how someone should be, but that also encourages you to imagine what you want instead of seeing what you have. He has been “driving me nuts” for “two-plus years.” And you are still with him . . . why, exactly?

The your-business-vs.-his-business plan is a set of instructions that applies no matter what the issue is, whether it’s socks on the floor or working too much or verbal abuse. Following them will succeed every time, if you define success as “giving you clear choices based on the facts at hand.” What doesn’t work is waiting for someone else to make your relationship into what you want it to be.

Dear Carolyn:

My daughter is in third grade, and her teacher lost her mother last week. I’d like to know what we, as parents, should be doing right now for the teacher. Sure, send a card and flowers. But, we’re not close friends or family, so I don’t know what her day-to-day needs are. I asked the school if I should come volunteer a couple of days next week, but they don’t even know if she’ll be back by then. Do you have any suggestions?

Anonymous

My main suggestion is not to overdo it. When people are grieving, they often use work as their place to be normal, to escape being The Person Who’s Grieving. Even expressing condolences can affect people’s composure when they’d rather stay on an even professional keel.*

You have a generous heart, and the offer to volunteer in the classroom is a good one that you can re-make when the teacher is back, ideally through the school and not through the teacher herself. Having your daughter make/write the card would also be swell — just keep your involvement to the kind that the teacher can respond/react to in private.

*Since things are never easy . . . some people are terribly offended when no one says anything about their recent loss. That’s why it’s so important to acknowledge the loss in some way if you haven’t been asked not to. Just, again, err on the side of discretion in professional situations.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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