The last thing I wanted to hear when I was going through burnout was “that I was a workaholic.” First of all, being referred as such would have implied that I was not in control of an area of my life, that I had an addiction. Not me! I was always in control of everything. Or so I thought.
I began thinking to myself, what is a workaholic? According to Wayne Oates, who coined the term, it connotes an addiction to work. Typically, workaholics are people for whom work has become a single, all-involving preoccupation. It is the only thing in life that seems to matter to them, the only thing that makes them feel alive. They invest all their time and energy in it, so there is little or nothing left for other people or activities. That sounded too much like me!
“The workaholic enjoys nothing except an occasional good meal, constant supplies of work, and a good bed to fall into from sheer exhaustion. This goes on until death”–Wayne Oates — Confessions of a Workaholic
Just as devoutly religious people get their sense of “significance” from their religion, workaholics get it from their work. Since they don’t need much besides work to meet their needs, most limit themselves to relationships that don’t interfere with their work. Some workaholics choose to remain single for that very reason. Some find a workaholic spouse that won’t interfere with their schedule. Others simply marry workaholics with the idea that somehow they change the person they are marrying into the person they want to live with.
In the most common situation, one spouse is a workaholic and the other is quite the opposite. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that this situation makes for a very stressful marriage. As a reformed workaholic, I can assure you that the more we experience stress in our homes as a result of our workaholism, the more we seek opportunity to escape. We go to work early, we stay late and we bring work home.
When both mates are workaholics, their involvement with each other is, of course, very limited. In this case, the children are neglected and suffer. Many people can identify with growing up with a workaholic parent, but as a child I knew what it was like to have two parents who were both very hard workers. They absolutely loved their work. For the first twelve years of my life, I did not know what a family vacation was, nor had I ever seen my parents even take as much as a day off to get away and spend time exclusively with each other – in order to rest from their work and invest in their relationship.
The most traumatic experience for workaholics is burnout caused by the very thing they love – work. Since relationships have not been a high priority, to whom does the workaholic turn to for support? In my experience as a workaholic going through burnout, I looked around me for support and found myself pretty much alone.