He worked on their honeymoon, through celebrations and during the birth of their child. But having a career-obsessed husband isn't without benefits, says Lola Borg. Photo: NAOMI ELLIOTT
We all know at least one of those couples who do everything together. They don't take separate holidays or spend a night apart, and get twitchy if they're not within 50 meters of each other. I'm never going to be part of one of those couples. The reason that I'm married to a workaholic is my husband, Barry, does a job that appears to involve a lot of pressure(he's in media) and spends most of his waking hours working, thinking about work, talking about work and obsessing about work. Like some 70 per cent of the population (according to a recent survey by a flight comparison website), my other half obsessively keeps in touch with his office, even when he's on holiday. For us, every trip is a 'work-ation'. One year, he even had a candidate flown out to the Spanish villa we were sharing with another family to conduct an 'urgent' job interview. I still have the poor bloke's mislaid Gucci sunglasses and, since you ask, no, I wasn't that thrilled about being spotted in my bikini by a prospective employee.
Barry even worked on our honeymoon - unsurprisingly, another work/pleasure trip - so I knew what I was in for. OK, it was Los Angeles, but still. I have a lasting memory of leaving him and the messed-up room-service tray in the honeymoon suite; him pounding on the keys of his portable typewriter (as it was then), while I skipped off to the local mall. Over the years, work has managed to niggle its way into celebrations, parties, family meals, marriages, deaths and even births (thinking it would be a long night, he brought work to the hospital when I went into labor with my daughter and I was too delirious to notice). His work is the axis around which our household orbits and, yes, he checks his smartphone before his head has even lifted from the pillow in the morning. But don't feel sorry for me. I'm getting along just fine while he's glued to his laptop, answering emails.
In fact, I feel a tingle of pity for friends whose husbands sigh as they wait outside changing rooms on joint shopping trips, or who never let them out of their sight. Coined in the 1970s, the word 'workaholic' was originally defined as anyone who toiled more than 50 hours a week. Today, this is a standard week for many of us in the UK. Laptops and smartphones have blurred the lines between home and office; economic stress and fear about job security have led to a culture of presenteeism, in which no one can be seen to be slacking off. It's never been easier to work hard. And more of us than ever are self-employed - 4.6 million, according to the Office for National Statistics. That, according to one hard-working, self-employed woman I spoke to, means it's almost impossible to not be a workaholic because there's no discernable cut-off. There is a dark side, of course - when it tips into truly obsessive behavior - but we live in a culture where 'workaholism' is bandied around to describe anyone who grafts hard. Self-confessed workaholics include Kim Kardashian ('If I'm doing something, then I'm 100 per cent involved - that's what it takes to be super-successful') and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg ('If you count the time I'm in the office, it's probably no more than 50-60 hours a week. But if you count all the time I'm focused on our mission, that's basically my whole life.')
Workaholics can be found in any career. Theresa May might be one. Margaret Thatcher, who slept just four hours a night, certainly was. And for all the well-publicized health impacts (workaholics are more prone to stress, anxiety and high blood pressure, and often have perfectionist traits), being one can also have favorable by-products: for a start, workaholics are unlikely to be hovering around the breadline. As the cliché goes, 'The harder you work, the luckier you get.' And take it from someone who lives with a workaholic, there are plenty of benefits. Firstly, it means the freedom to structure my time as I choose. A week away, kicking my heels up with the girls? No problem. This simply frees him up to devote more time to his first love. Equally, I have never fretted about the possibility of Barry having an affair. It would take up too much valuable emailing time. And there is another dimension. The doggedness and the sheer grit that are the condition's hallmarks are traits I admire, as is the idea that, for my husband, failure is not an option. And there's something about the semi-detachedness of our life that I feel perfectly at home with. Like many partners of workaholics, I was brought up in a family teeming with them, so it's woven into my DNA.
Admittedly this is not everyone's experience. 'My husband works insanely hard,' says Jenny, 48, from London. 'He runs his own company and we have a lovely lifestyle as a result. But he's never off his mobile - in bed, at the dinner table, in the car. 'I don't mind so much, except on holidays. The children and I make jokes about how, every year, he walks up and down the beach in his shorts, with his phone glued to his ear, trying to find a signal.' She laughs but admits she doesn't find it that funny. 'Being a workaholic isn't the eighth deadly sin,' says Denis Sharp, a Somerset-based psychotherapist who sees the issue a lot. 'It's important not to confuse it with problems such as gambling or heavy drinking. However, it does have an effect on partners.' Working too hard, he says, 'isn't a problem until it becomes a problem'. Meaning? If one partner perceives the other's overworking as selfish or damaging, or if it has an impact because that partner is not available, physically or mentally, it's a problem. 'But sometimes the other person is happy with the situation,' says Sharp. If you're both workaholics and perfectly satisfied with the level of attention you get when your iPad-dict glances up to make occasional conversation, there's no gripe.
That would be me, then. Sharp stresses how much our background and upbringing shapes our attitude to work. Certainly, it's uncanny how often children of hard workers marry their parents' doppelgängers and also how workaholics seek one another out; Kim and Kanye being just one example (he berated her for planning to work on Mother's Day).David Beckham, who has worked tirelessly to build a multimillion-pound fortune, wished wife Victoria - who once said, 'I don't have to work, I need to work' - a happy anniversary with the words, 'I was lucky to meet someone who has the same drive'. Full confession here: I'm a borderline workaholic too (although I much prefer to think of myself as hard-working). I'm not quite at the iPad-at-breakfast stage, but I can easily find myself at my computer in the evenings and on weekends. Isn't that what every self-employed writer does? And, of course, in my family, this is normal behavior, so I'm not getting called out on it. In fact, I suspect my husband is secretly relieved.
Daniella Delanoye, 43, is a life coach who asked her workaholic husband to draw a pie chart of how much energy and time he felt he put into all areas of his life. He guessed he dedicated 70 per cent to work. '"Are you having a laugh?" I asked him,' says Daniella. 'I felt it was more like 90 per cent. Work was taking all of him and he just wasn't aware of it'. Having children, now eight and 10, she felt, shifted the balance. 'I often say to him, "Perhaps you hide behind the computer because it's easier than looking after the kids."' Most of the time, she admits, she's fine with him working hard. But sometimes she needs more support and he isn't always there to give it. But, as with me, Daniella has found that there are upsides: 'My girlfriends think I'm lucky because he never wants to know where I am. And, however, mad he drives me, I remember that I once went out with someone who wasn't a workaholic and hated it. I like people with drive and ambition and, yes, I do enjoy the fruits of his labor. So it's not as clear-cut as it might seem.'
The author is an eminent journalist