"He Works So Much That He Had a Heart Attack"
Charlene: 39, tax attorney
Gordon: 41, corporate attorney
Married: 17 years
Kids: Ernie, 16; Leo, 12; Sally, 4
Wendy Walsh, PhD, Los Angeles, CaliforniaThe Background
Gordon is a serious workaholic and Charlene is frustrated that she can't get him to slow down. Gordon had a recent health scare that landed him in the hospital. Now their conflict has begun to feel like a life-and-death issue.Charlene
Gordon has always been incredibly driven but lately it seems like he's working himself to death. He skips lunch and has a dinner of pizza and soda at the office. When he finally gets home he's on the computer till after I go to bed. Last year his doctor told him he needed to take better care of himself -- he was overweight, he was looking run-down, his blood pressure was high. I begged him to ease up but he wouldn't listen. Instead, he'd tell me to stop nagging and we'd wind up yelling at each other.
About a month ago he pulled two all-nighters in a row to close a deal, chugging energy drinks to stay awake. I'd been out of town on a business trip and I was on my way home from the airport when a neighbor called to say Gordon had passed out and the paramedics were taking him to the ER. I drove to meet him there, crying the whole way. It turned out he'd had a mild heart attack and had to have a stent put in. Thank God there was no major damage, but I've never been so terrified. What scared me even more was that he kept on working from his hospital bed, checking in with clients, and joining meetings by speakerphone. Even the nurses couldn't get him to stop. Within a week he was back at the office.
I'm so worried about him, and about what this is doing to our marriage and to our children. I barely get to see him anymore and I want him to be a more involved father. But the way things are going right now, I'm afraid I'm going to wind up a widow.Gordon
Look, I don't have a death wish. I wouldn't mind taking it a little easier and spending more time with Charlene and the kids, if I had a choice. But in my profession, late nights go with the territory. I'm trying to make partner at my firm, and you definitely don't do that by going home at 5 o'clock every night.Charlene
I know the drill -- I'm a lawyer, too. And you've got to make some hard choices in this profession. We had our first baby right after we were married and I knew I'd have to compromise to balance my career and my family. I ended up going into private practice so I could make my own hours. Gordon works for a big law firm and I get that the demands on him are heavy. At a certain point, though, you have to be able to draw the line and say, "Enough." Gordon won't do that.Gordon
It would be easier for me to say "enough" at work if Charlene would say "enough" when she's spending our money. She loves nice things -- designer shoes, fancy handbags, a car that costs more per month that our first apartment did. She likes high-end restaurants and Caribbean resort vacations, too. Meanwhile, her income barely pays for the nanny and housekeeper we need to keep the household running with both of us working. It's up to me to pay for private school and tutoring for the kids -- and the name-brand sneakers they seem to outgrow every few weeks.
And speaking of houses, we had to sell ours at a loss when the recession hit. Charlene seems to be forgetting that for that stretch a couple of years ago when neither of us was getting enough billable hours to pay the mortgage. One reason I'm working so hard now is to dig us out of that hole. We're renting a condo, but we've talked about buying a place of our own again. How is that supposed to happen if I'm leaving the office before everyone else each night?Charlene
It's true that I like my little luxuries, but I don't think I'm being wildly extravagant. I always stay within our budget. And those vacations are important to me -- they're practically the only time we're all together as a family, just kicking back and having fun. But last summer Gordon was so busy that we never went away at all.
As far as the housekeeper and nanny go, his criticism is really unfair. It's great for us to have some backup. We really couldn't get through the day without a few extra hands. But I'm the one who has to supervise them, which winds up being a part-time job in addition to the full-time one I already have. Gordon helps out as much as he can. He drives our boys to school most days and he makes sure to get to their soccer games on weekends -- though he's on his iPhone the whole time.
But I do all the scheduling for the kids, oversee their school projects and ferry them to playdates, music lessons, and birthday parties. I plan our social life and holiday trips. I handle the household bills. I make sure we have clean laundry. Gordon is too busy to deal with those things.Gordon
I work 90-hour weeks. She wants me to wrap birthday presents?Charlene
I'm not saying I mind doing those things. But doing them all by myself feels lonely. When we first got together, I thought Gordon was the most loving and caring guy I'd ever met, besides being the smartest and most ambitious. But lately, the loving and caring parts have taken a back seat.Gordon
I wouldn't work the way I do if I didn't love her and care for her! It makes me proud to be able to give her the things that make her happy. I know she didn't have much as a kid, and neither did I. Being able to live the way we do has been like a dream come true for both of us. Maybe she's right that I've been pushing myself too hard, but I'm not just doing it for my own sake. If I'm going to change my ways, she's going to have to change hers, too.