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Marriage Counseling--Are You a Workaholic?

Justin, a thirty-five year old executive at a high-pressure investment firm works 60-70 hours per week. Even on vacation, he often slips away from the rest of the family to go on-line, check messages and answer phone calls. Until recently, he saw nothing abnormal about his behavior; in fact, everyone at his job works like that.

In the United States, we value work. Americans labor longer hours than workers in any other industrialized nation. In fact, in Western Europe, Americans are viewed as a “nation of workaholics.”

According to a 1998 study by the Families and Work Institute in New York, the average American now works 44 hours of work per week, which represents an increase of 3.5 hours since 1977. This is far more than the workers in France (39 hours per week) and Germany (40). According to a new report from the United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO), “Workers in the United States are putting in more hours than anyone else in the industrialized world.”

The ILO statistics show that in 2000, the average American worked almost one
more week of work than the year before; working an average of 1,978 hours – up from 1,942 hours in 1990. Americans now work longer hours than Canadian, Japanese, or Australian workers.

What are we working for? It’s not vacations. The typical American worker has an average of two weeks of vacation as compared to four - six weeks for their European counterparts.

For happiness? According to regular surveys by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago, no more Americans report they are “very happy” now than in 1957, despite near doubling in personal consumption expenditures. Indeed, the world’s people have consumed as many goods and services since 1950 as all previous generations put together, yet report that they are not any happier.

There are many costs in working so hard. People tend to cut back on sleep and time with their families. A recent survey found that almost a third of people working more than 48 hours a week said that exhaustion was affecting married life. Nearly a third admitted that work-related tiredness was causing their sex life to suffer, and 14% reported a loss of or reduced sex drive. They also complained that long hours and overwork led to arguments and tensions at home. Two out of five people working more than 48 hours a week blamed long hours for disagreements and said they felt guilty at not pulling their weight with domestic chores.

So how do you know if your job has turned into workaholic habits? Here are some of the warning signs:

*Your home is organized just like another office.
*Colleagues describe you as hard working, needing to win, and overly committed.
*You keep “technology tethers” like cell phones, pagers and laptops with you all times, even on vacations.
*Friends either don’t call anymore, or you quickly get off the phone when they do call.
*Sleep seems like a waste of time.
*Work problems circle in your mind, even during time off.
*Work makes you happier than any other aspect of your life.
*People who love you complain about the hours you work and beg you to take some time off.

If you experience some of these warning signs on a regular basis, it may be time to
re-evaluate how you are handling work in your life. A healthy marriage takes time and commitment. Don't be so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.



Barbara Bartlein, RN, MSW, is the People Pro and a relationship expert. A clinical psychotherapist, she has worked with couples for over twenty five years. She is the author of "Why Did I Marry You Anyway? 12.5 Strategies for a Happy Marriage," which received a five star rating on Amazon. She can be reached at or visit her website at

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