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Volume 07 | July 2008 | When the Past Spoils the Relationship You Have Now

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Part 1 - Welcome!
Part 2 - Feature Article - When the Past Spoils the Relationship You Have Now

You cannot change the past.
What you can do is make sure it doesn’t spoil your present and your future.
A 10 step strategy to changing the way we interpret other people’s motives

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Part 1 - Welcome!

Dear Partner of a Workaholic,

Welcome to this our seventh newsletter written especially to support Partners of Workaholics who have excessive work habits. In this newsletter we will provide support for those of you who have to deal with a partner whose excessive work habits means they work all the time and ignore you.

Being the partner of a workaholic offers many challenges. The sense of loneliness and rejection can impact hugely on how you feel about yourself and how you react to to your partner. I have noticed that many partners of workaholics tend to assume the motive for their partner’s behaviour is about them. This impacts on their sense of self work and confidence. They feel rejected, lonely and unhappy.

The reality has turned out to be very different. Most workaholics are behaving in the way they are because they are driven by their own needs. The knowledge that they are in some way failing their partners simply adds to their need to succeed and actually drives them to the place where they feel more successful and whole – the world of work.

Changing the way you interpret other people’s motives can have a profound impact on the way you feel about your situation and about them. That change can bring about a difference to the way you respond to a situation. Once there is a change in the pattern of our behaviour it offers the possibility of change in the wider arena.

This month’s article offers a 10 step strategy to changing the way we interpret other people’s motives.

Some of you may have heard the feature on Woman’s Hour on Thursday 25th April which focused on the difficulties living with a workaholic creates. If you would like to hear that feature please visit the BBC web site at

Are You The Partner Of a Workaholic?

  • Do you feel as if you play second fiddle to their work?
  • Is it left to you to make excuses to the children, to family and friends because they are late or too busy to attend?
  • Do your partner’s excessive work habits impact on your life and your relationship?
  • Do you send the evenings on your own – even when they are in the house?
  • Is your partner too busy or too tired to pay you the attention you need and deserve?
  • Is your life being affected because of the demands of your partner’s work?
  • Do you feel your own sense of self and your confidence are being eroded because they pay more attention to their work?
  • Are you feeling lonely and left out even though you are in a relationship?

If the answer is yes to three or more of the questions above you may be in a partnership with a workaholic.

You may be thinking:

“I didn’t need to see those questions in order to recognize that things between my partner and I are difficult because of his or her work. What I need to know is what to do about it!”

Workaholism is no different to the other “….holisms” in that the problem can very difficult for partners and families to deal with.

In the first instance you may recognise that there is a difficulty and be worried. Your worries may be for them, their long term health and well being. You may worry about the fact that the children hardly see their father/mother or that when they do they are too tired to show a real interest in them. Your worries may be about the impact work is having on your relationship and how it makes you feel about yourself.

Unless your partner accepts for themselves that they have a problem, it is extremely difficult to make them face it. Your concern may simply be ignored or be misconstrued as nagging. Until they acknowledge that they have a difficulty and they determine that they want to change their lives, you will need to deal with the impact it has on them, you and the rest of the family.

Am I saying things are hopeless? No of course not – quite the opposite in fact.

What I am suggesting is that you need to understand what being a workaholic is about. Each person will have their own personal reasons for becoming a workaholic but if you have read the information on the website you will know that there are a number of reoccurring themes. I suggest you watch and listen for the clues your partner will undoubtedly offer, as to why they have become a workaholic.

When we work with an issue which appears to be outside our control it often feels insurmountable. It is my experience that we need to work on these external things by working on ourselves. There are things we can't change, but what we can do is change the way we feel about the issue and how it makes us feel. The paradox is that as soon as we make the mental shift in ourselves there is frequently a shift in the underlying problem too.

Being the partner of someone, who is too busy to notice your needs, can begin to make you feel less attractive and really knock your self confidence. The reality is that in the majority of cases being a workaholic is about them and not you.

I suggest that you work on ensuring that you feel good about who you are and confident enough to help them to deal with their issues as and when they are ready to.

When I first began Recovering Workaholics I created it for people who wanted to redress the work/life balance in their lives. Those who wanted to enjoy their work but who were keen to create a life full of passion, enjoyment and fulfilment. It soon became evident that there were many people who were partners of workaholics and were desperately trying to manage the impact that their partners work habits had on their relationships and their lives. Sometimes the loneliest place is when we are with others.

Partners often contact me saying how alone they feel and how difficult it is to solve the problem because ultimately the change is down to someone else.

The article this month is designed to let you know that whilst you may feel very lonely, you are by no means alone. If there are particular issues or examples of difficulties you would like to explore through this newsletter please contact me and I will do my best to cover them in future newsletters.

It may feel like a huge challenge but you can help your partner to change their beliefs and behaviours but before you do so you need to examine and adapt your own.

If you would like some help to do this coaching can help.

Recovering Workaholics is a growing concern. We offer 1:1 coaching, and training to facilitate those who want a truly satisfying life. Understanding what drives us to work to the point where love, happiness and fulfilment are the poor relation is the first step to creating a life you truly love. We can help you work towards achieving your “dream” life.

We also offer support for those who are facing retirement or who have recently retired or experienced redundancy and who are finding it difficult to adjust to the change.

If you know of anyone who would be interested in working with us please let me know by contacting me at

Make 2008 the year when you took consistent action to make a positive difference to the quality of your own life and for those who share it with you.

With best wishes,

Gina Gardiner
Helping you create a life you love!

Recovering Workaholics
Tel in the UK: 01708 703 959
Tel from outside the UK: +44 1708 703 959

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Part 2 - When the Past Spoils the Relationship You Have Now

You cannot change the past.
What you can do is make sure it doesn’t spoil your present and your future.

We all operate in three time dimensions; the past, the present and the future. Where we choose to focus our attention has a profound effect on the quality of our lives.

The past has the potential to teach us much. Taking the learning that the past has to offer and applying that learning to the here and now gives us the opportunity to develop new beliefs and ways of behaving. If we make the right choices we can live in a present and look forward to a future free of limiting beliefs and negative patterns of behaviours. If we fail to learn the lesson life has a habit of re – presenting opportunities to learn that lesson time and time again, until we actually learn and change.

An example of this is where people choose the same sort of partners time and time again with disastrous consequences. A client had suffered through a string of terrible relationships. When we analysed what was going on she had always chosen her partner on criteria which were based on their external characteristics, looks, life style etc. When she began to think about the values she thought important and likely to sustain a long term, loving relationship she realised that her ideal partner would need to be from a very different mould. A few weeks later she met such a man and they are now enjoying life together.

Negative emotions are extremely expensive in energy terms and are corrosive to a sense of self worth and well being. Holding on to anger, frustration, hate or a sense of rejection does nothing to get back at the person who has caused the initial hurt. It is like giving yourself a draught of poison and expecting the other person to suffer. Understanding that you CAN choose for things to be different, giving yourself permission to express your feelings and then to forgive absolutely gives you a sense of freedom, control and serenity.

I have worked with many clients who have let go of all their baggage many years after experiencing abuse or unhappiness and in doing so created a different and very positive present and an exciting future for themselves. This does not mean forgetting all about what ever has created the problem, it is about deciding to let go of the negative emotions surrounding the problem, taking any learning from the situation to use in the future. Absolute forgiveness leaves the path clear for peace and space for growth.

When your default setting takes you to the negative emotions which have built up over time there is a tendency to interpret peoples motives in a particular way. You consider every action or lack of action, every word or lack of one from the person who we feel let down by as being hurtful. You continue to interpret their motive in your particular way so each situation becomes more proof. Hurt piles on hurt and you feel less and less good about them; and about yourself.

Does your default setting take you to negative place? Think about the emotion you feel most commonly about the relationship which is causing you pain.

In the last week, which are the five emotions you have felt most commonly? List them. If you have spent much time feeling negative emotions may be it is time to break the pattern and do something about making changes to your life?

Our past does not have to be our future. We can actively choose to do things very differently. To create a set of empowering beliefs which support the very best future for us.

There needs to be an understanding that this is not about giving in or thinking about who is in the right and who is in the wrong. It is about choosing whether you want your present and your future to be better.

Those who have suffered abuse as a child, been bullied or who have lived in unhappy circumstances have the choice to let their awful circumstances blight not only their childhood but their adult life too. They can bring with them the sense of lack and belief that they deserve no better or they can let go of the past and the negative emotions created by their past. They have an alternative choice which is to make a conscious decision to make adult life count for something else and if they have children, to ensure that their childhood is very different. You have that same choice. A useful place to start is to look at your pattern of interpreting the other person’s motive

There are 10 steps to changing the way we interpret other people’s motives

Step 1 – Identify your emotions.

Identify all the negative emotions you feel on a regular basis. Make a list.

Step 2 - What makes you feel this way?

Look at your list and identify what makes you feel that way. What specifically makes you feel that way?

How much of the way you feel is actually based on something from your past. Does it remind you of the way you were treated by a parent or a previous partner? It is not uncommon for a tone of voice or specific actions to trigger powerful emotions from past situations. Have the two situations become confused? Do you need to deal with your baggage from this past relationship rather than let it spoil this one?

Step 3 – Change your physiology.

Changing your physiology – the way you stand, breathe, your facial expression all impacts on the way that you feel. If you are feeling sad, or angry or rejected change your physiology before you attempt to change your thinking.

You can do this by giving yourself a physical shake, by dancing round the room, gurning in the mirror, hopping on one leg or doing a silly walk. Doing anything which dramatically changes your physiology will also change your mood and emotional state. Tackling life in a positive emotional state allows you to access many more inner resources. This is useful in life generally not just in this instance.

Scratching the CD in your brain and interrupting old patterns gives you the choice to do things differently.

Step 4 – Consider a different possibility.

Consider the possibility that the motive you have attached to the person and situation could be in reality different to the one you have assumed.

Is your partner doing and saying (or not doing or saying) something specifically to hurt or annoy you or could there be a different reason? Could it be that their behaviour is more about them?

There are many reasons which could be at the centre of their behaviour. They may lack the inner resources, the skills or the understanding to behave differently. They may be hurting and finding life hard and be simply focussed on their own hurt and sense of lack.

Step 5 – Interpret the motive differently.

Consider how things would be different when you choose to interpret their motive to their actions as being less about you and more about them.

Step 6 – Change the trigger to the negative emotion

People have a tendency to make conditions for feeling emotions. They often make the conditions for feeling positive emotions very difficult to achieve and those for feeling negative emotions very easy.

I will only feel happy when I have the perfect partner, a top notch job, a huge house, children who never argue and always keep their room tidy, a holiday home on a desert island and.. and.. you get the picture. Even when they achieve all the conditions for achieving happiness the likelihood is that they will simply add more conditions.

I feel rejected every time my partner is late home from work, or when they don’t have time to talk to me when I phone them at work, or when they respond to a phone call from work, or when they bring work home or when they don’t hear what I say or when they disagree with me or.. or …

You can choose to do it differently. Our emotional state is actually a choice we make.

Make it easy to feel positive emotions. Here is an example:


It is a new day, I chose to be happy. Every time I see someone smile, or I give or receive a hug or a kiss, or I see the beauty of nature or I focus on helping others or I ask for or accept help I will feel happy. Notice the emphasis is on the or rather than the and.

Make a decision to make it more difficult to feel negative emotions.

I will feel rejection only when they kick me in the shin, spit in my eye and tell me they reject me.

Rejection only comes if I were to consistently believe in the illusion that it is all about me and when I consistently focus on what I don’t have rather than what I do.

Instead I choose to take the opportunity to make the first smile, ask about them, lighten up and enjoy.

Create your own list of conditions for achieving positive and negative emotions.

Step 6 – Breaking the pattern.

Most partnerships have a pattern of behaviour and response. Eventually the responses within the relationship become automatic. This is particularly true of relationships where there is negative behaviour going on (including that of parent and child). Each person takes on a role and the initial trigger and response become automatic and an ongoing cycle of negative behaviour is created, There is little room for interpretation – it is as if each person is programmed to behave in that specific way and indeed that is exactly what is happening. Until someone breaks the pattern the cycle the hurt and unhappiness will continue.

Think about how you have responded to your partner in the past.

Now think about how you might do things differently

Step 7 – Identifying different responses

Think about how it feels to take an active choice to do things differently, to take control of the situation and to know that you have so many more options.

Identify the three situations in your relationship which currently give you the most pain. Change your perception of the motive behind the actions which are the problem. Think about how you might do things differently in each situation and create a list of as many possibilities as you can. It is important that this comes from a positive place within you. This is about changing your responses to the situation not about trying to change them.

Rehearsing your new alternative in your head can be very helpful. Have several alternatives ready for the right circumstance when they happen so you feel prepared.

Step 8 - Trying out the non judgmental response

Be curious about how things are going to work and remember you are just trying things out, you may need to try the same thing several times or try several alternatives before finding ones which work for you. Remember too that trying something once is unlikely to be a magic bullet.

A small change consistently applied can make an enormous difference over time.

Remember that the tone of voice, your body language and facial expression are all incredibly important. Simply saying words is not enough. See yourself as others see you, watch what is really going on.

Step 9 – Evaluate what is going on

If things work well – celebrate. If it doesn’t appear to work as well as you would like ask yourself “What can I learn from this?” think about whether you simply need to persevere with the same thing or whether things need to be done differently in the future.

Make you the focus, you are the only thing you can truly control. This is not about failure it is about experimenting until you find the way which works.

Step 10 – Get some support and help

Dealing with your sense of self worth and sense of who you are makes an enormous difference to how you feel about life and relationships. Dealing with your own emotional baggage and learning to forgive others and yourself will give you the very best foundation to enjoy a wonderful present and an empowering future. Working with someone you trust and who can help you manage the process can be incredibly helpful.

You cannot change the past.
What you can do is make sure it doesn’t spoil your present and your future.

Working with a coach can be incredibly helpful when working on developing a healthy sense of self worth but there are things you can do to help yourself. Try the ideas above. We would love to hear how you get on and if you have other ideas which have worked for you.

To arrange some coaching support please contact me by email at or
Phone in the UK 01708 703959 (or International +44 1708 703959).

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Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

If there are any topics you would like covered in future issues please let me know on or complete the feedback form at

What do you think?

Warmest wishes,
Gina Gardiner

For any further information about Recovering Workaholics or to discuss your coaching needs contact or
Phone in the UK 01708 703959 (or International +44 1708 703959).

Gina Gardiner recognised by "Investors In People" as creating an "innovative and exemplary training programme for emerging and middle managers" and by Ofsted as an “inspirational leader”. Her experience includes that of “Change Management” and in supporting organizational leaders in developing strategic vision and creating a “can do” culture.

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