“I don’t think this company is cut out for married people.” Those were his first words to me. He had taken a position as a manager in a new facility and had work with his senior manager to find some really competent, though fairly new, assistant managers to join him. Even so, he was still working hard, about 80 hour per week, and was exhausted. While 80 hours a week may be necessary from time to time, it was not what the company expected on a consistent basis. His supervisor knew that a pace like this would be a disaster for this guy and he suggested he give me a call. Having worked as a coach and counselor around his company for several years, and knowing numerous managers who were happily married, I asked what gave him this impression. He said, “Man, everyone I know in management is working ungodly hours. All the managers and assistant managers I know are either going through a divorce or are having trouble in their marriages.”
As a strong believer in the value of a good marriage, I expressed concern, then asked him, how he and his wife were doing. He said he thought they were doing okay. I asked, “Does she complain about your work hours and time away from the family? ”He said, “Well she used to complain, but she knows what it takes to do this job and she knows this is just the way it is, so she doesn’t complain anymore.” My next question caught him by surprise when I asked, “So, when do you think she is going to leave you?” A little taken back by the question, he said, “No way my wife is leaving me. We love each other and we have a little child and we are doing great.” I cautioned him about his optimism, letting him know that when spouses are concerned about a problem they begin by bring it up for discussion and negotiation. That is what I call the “yellow flag” of caution. If they get no response they may periodically raise the “red flag” of anger. If they still get no response they tend to become quiet, either to just go along to get along, or determine whether this is the life they really want to live, and if so, how they are going to live it. I went on to tell him that the next flag he will see will quite likely be the “white flag” of surrender, when she walks out the door. I also told him that I have found that most men say they were completely surprised when their wife tells them they are leaving. They tell me that they thought things were okay, that they had discussed the work/life thing. They often go on to say she was still cooking meals and having sex with him, that she was congenial and everything seemed to be going fine. They couldn’t imagine their wife leaving them, especially when they were working so hard to provide for them.
And that is when he stopped the conversation, with an “Oh my God! This is just what happened to my brother-in-law. My wife and I knew there were problems in his marriage for 10 years, but now he has been kicked out of his house, is sleeping on my couch, and all he can say is that he didn’t know anything was wrong and that he thought everything was okay. That’s going to happen to me, isn’t it?” I told him that while I couldn’t predict the future, I have seen this happen to many marriages. He said he didn’t want this to happen and would definitely commit to doing whatever it would take to keep his family intact.
I suggest that his first strategy may be to turn over some responsibilities to his assistant managers and begin working fewer hours. He responded by suggesting that he didn’t think they were ready yet. We discussed delegation strategies and how he could begin letting go and he said he would give it a try. Three weeks later he called me back and said he was working about fifty-five hours a week now. I asked him how he made this happen. He said he gathered his assistant managers together and told him of his decision to make sure he and his family survived and thrived while trying to do this job, and that he needed to divide up some of the responsibilities. He said they responded by telling him that they wondered how long it was going to take him to let go and trust the team he had put in place. He said it is so much better being coach than it is trying to be the entire team, playing everyone’s part by himself. He also said the he and his wife had a great discussion about his renewed commitment to his marriage. They both agreed that, together, they will make this marriage and this job work, but if push comes to shove, he would chose their marriage over his job.