Reader T. G. writes:

My boyfriend works late every night, beyond what he’s scheduled to work. At first, I asked him to come home on time at least once a week. He couldn’t do it. Then I asked him to at least call and let me know if he was going to stay late. He can’t do that either. So I just sit around waiting for him for two or three hours after he’s supposed to be off work, not sure when he’s coming home. I feel like he’s chosen his job over me. He feels like I’m trying too hard to run his life. What’s the best compromise in this situation, or do you think I should just leave him?

Dear T.G.:

Workaholics are hard creatures to live with unless you, too, happen to be one. They don’t see a point in coming home when they could be working, regardless of how delightful you are as a partner. In fact, many people become workaholics when their home lives go bad; for many folks, work is a viable place to be when you dread going home. While your bf may be a natural workaholic, keep in mind that by asking him to do something against his very nature you might be exacerbating things. If he sees you as trying to control his life, he may be even more reticent to come home.

However, I cannot lay blame on you at all for his inability to come home on time or call to let you know he’s going to be late. That is his own choice, and you can’t take responsibility for his own actions.

What I want to try here is to reframe the situation a little.

yes, these are bolt cutters

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If he were a friend of yours, and not your boyfriend, you’d think he was really being inconsiderate. You might consider not hanging out with him anymore. You wouldn’t be afraid of losing his friendship, because his friendship kinda’ sucks. But since he’s your boyfriend, you’ll put up with a lot more than you would with any other relationship.

Okay, yes, significant others are supposed to hold a special place in our lives. That’s why they’re significant. At the same time, I’ve seen far too many women in my life put up with far too much just to keep a relationship that, were it under any other name, they’d dump in an instant.

I think as women we tend to think that the highest stakes in a relationship is losing the other person. Society, hormones, whatever it is, something tells us that we have to be in a relationship, and obviously keeping a partner is the highest priority in that situation. I think we should try to think about it differently. It’s your life, and maybe the highest stake is being unhappy. If being with him makes you unhappy, leaving is a better solution than trying to stay.

In fact, literally “leaving” — just going somewhere else — can create a world of difference in a relationship. If he doesn’t come home on time, go do something else rather than waiting around for him. This could accomplish one of two things for him: scare him into realizing you’re capable of actually leaving, or give him a bit of space so he realizes you’re not going to try and control his life. But most importantly, for you, physically leaving the premises would be taking a step towards being independent enough to actually be a participant in the relationship itself. You can’t have an equal partnership if one of the partners isn’t complete. There’s no need to sit around waiting for him to come home. Do other things.

I think as women we spend a lot of time being codependent and thinking about what the other person needs, rather than what we need. Quit thinking about what he needs. Think about what you need. Get what you need. That’ll take away the smothering feeling he’s got, for starters. But you need to empower yourself. You can never know what he’s thinking. It’s impossible. If he’s not expressing what he needs, you can never know that, either. You have to know what you want and what you need, and be able to express it. If your partner is mature, he’ll do the same. If he can’t meet your wants or needs, or if you can’t meet his, well…

Okay, okay, okay, someone recently accused me of just saying “dump him” every time I write this blog. I don’t mean that. Compromise is an important part of relationships. I admit it. I confess. No two people are exactly the same, and therefore, no two people are going to be able to have a relationship without compromise. Compromise is good. There are lots of things in life that are workable. Relationships require a lot of work and compromise.

But it has to be an equal attempt at compromise from both partners. From what you’ve told me, your compromise is living with the feeling that he’s chosen his job over you (which sucks!). He has compromised… nothing. That’s not fair, and not right. You have expressed a need, and he hasn’t met it. If he is incapable of compromising in a way that meets halfway (calling you if he’s going to be late seems pretty reasonable to me), then yeah, maybe you should go.

You have to decide how far is too far for you to compromise. As I’ve said in previous posts, sometimes there are personality quirks that you can live with, and sometimes there are personality quirks you can’t stand. Maybe you can’t stand a workaholic. I know I can’t stand someone with ADD. We all have our limits! He will probably never change, and if that’s the case, you need to decide if you can live with that. But you have to know your limits before you can effectively compromise.

Only you can change your priorities, and you certainly can’t change his. If you think you can learn not to care that he’s at work all the time, by all means, go for it. Changing your mindset can be healthy. But if it really bothers you, and he’s not willing to compromise in a way that helps you out, it may not be worth it to keep trying.

So get out of the house for a while without nagging him about where he is. Try distracting yourself and doing something you enjoy, rather than worrying. Be a complete person without him, and you may find your relationship makes a lot more sense with him.

2 Responses to “compromise”

  1. 1 VMM
    July 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    “Be a complete person without him, and you may find your relationship makes a lot more sense with him.”

    This is a sentence I need to either write down or tattoo on my hand these days. Well said, Kat Cox!

  2. 2 damfino
    July 1, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I echo that! Great last line – very true! This questioner was me a few years ago – now I’m in “complete” mode and very happy (but with a new relationship)!

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