‘My husband has taken over the family business and it’s affected our marriage’

Tell Me About It: He works almost 14 hours per day and rarely sees me or the children

PROBLEM: Up until two years ago I lived abroad with my husband and our children. I had a part-time job and my husband was managing a small subsidiary of the family firm. It was always the plan that we would return to Ireland for the last five years of my father-in-law’s working life and that my husband would be trained into the full operations of the business before eventually taking over.

I loved where we lived, but was always happy with this plan and confident in his ambitions. Four months after returning home, his father died suddenly and he was handed the keys to a large business, that he and generations before him had invested their lives in.

He had a difficult relationship with his father, hence the reason that he had made the decision early on to live away from his family for as long as possible. However, he was barely able to cope with his grief, let alone keep a business afloat during the midst of the pandemic. It was very early on when I started to silently question some of his decisions – for example he started to give pay rises to senior but seemingly unreliable members of the management staff as he feared they may be poached by other companies.

He works almost 14 hours per day and has started to neglect his self-care and rarely sees me or the children. He has told me that the business is on shaky ground and that he feels he has bitten off more than he can chew, but that he will stick with it and make it right. This is not as simple as it sounds: there are dozens of people that depend on the business for their livelihood, and I fear that his stubbornness could cause a lot of hardship.

I know that he would be furious, but I spoke about my concerns with his mother. She is in agreement with me, and we both feel that he should at least temporarily appoint a director or CEO until he feels ready to completely take over, which may or may not ever happen. As owners of the company this would have little impact on our income and in fact may greatly benefit our lifestyles.

I just know that to do this, he would feel like a failure. But if he doesn’t decide to make some sort of change very soon, it will have a detrimental impact on his health, our marriage and his family business.

ADVICE: It seems that your husband is overwhelmed, and it is very difficult for him to step back and have an objective view of his life and business. This is complicated by grief, and he may be struggling with the complexity of grieving for a father he needed to get away from, while being responsible for the same man’s legacy. The first thing that is needed is a break from work so that he can get some rest and allow his decision-making to work naturally.

Then he may be open to some other suggestions and one of these would be to engage a personal business coach/consultant who could support him to make good decisions for both himself and the business. This suggestion can be presented not as failure but rather a savvy approach to personal and business success.

Your mother-in-law could help with a suggestion of someone who might cover the holiday, but it is important to give him time to both agree with this and to feel fully involved in the execution of this break

However, the first part of this is an appeal to him to take a break away with you and you can raise this with him in a way that puts your need at the centre of this suggestion – this would allow him to take up the offer without it being seen as being about his incapacity.

Your mother-in-law could help with a suggestion of someone who might cover the holiday, but it is important to give him time to both agree with this and to feel fully involved in the execution of this break. Ideally, you are talking about taking two to three weeks off as it is likely that the first two weeks will be spent simply recovering.

Once he has had a chance to rest, he is more likely to be open to hearing your concerns and you can talk about would help achieve happiness for your family, plus success for the company. It would be good for both of you to listen to the other’s wishes and fears for the future and agree not to come to any conclusions for some time. This will require patience from you and faith in your husband’s capacity to choose well for himself and his family.

If he knows that you are behind him, even if you want change, it will give him a solid basis from which to challenge the trajectory that has been laid out for him by his father.