Linda: Corporate marriage syndrome occurs when the company requires allegiance to the corporation over and above the employee’s time and energy devoted to family. Lucia was in one of these marriages for five years, and although she did not know that that how she was living at that time had a name, she certainly knew the experience intimately. Corporate marriage syndrome eroded the well-being of her partnership with her husband, and fragmented their family. This couple came just a hair away form divorce.
The company head was a demanding taskmaster. In an unwritten code, all of the employees in the department were required to work eighty-hour weeks, which included travel time to commute to major cities around the country. Everyone worked these excessive hours because they all knew that there were numerous candidates waiting in line for their position if they didn’t tow the line.
Such an understanding had people going into work with illness, high fevers, and horrible back pain. They wouldn’t use their sick or vacation days, in order to show who was working the hardest and to compete for the status of who was most devoted to the company. The employees each chronically worked long hours into the night, worked and traveled on weekends and even holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Only Thanksgiving and Christmas were sacred, but only because there would be no one with whom to do business on those days. Any other time of the year, employees were scheduled to serve the corporation. Not all corporations demand so much. But for this organization, the company head regularly tested loyalty in order to see it demonstrated that his needs and the corporation’s requirements always came first before the well-being of the employee or their families.
When Regan took his corporate job, their youngest child was eighteen months old, the boys four and seven. Lucia’s burden of responsibility was much like being a single parent. And having no family in the area, the children’s care was up to her. Lucia was running too fast to see straight. The wives of the employees had little connection with each other. Lucia says, “Looking back on those years, for us to have a support group to speak openly about what was occurring would have made it easier to bear. I assumed that I was the only one struggling. It’s likely that all the wives were suffering in silence. Every few months it was terrifying to hear the reports that one of the other couples in my husband’s department were divorcing.”
The twelve years before Regan took the corporate job had been largely harmonious. That harmony was shattered by the corporation’s overpowering needs. Lucia and Regan had differences before he was a corporate man, which they had worked out amicably. But during this time, the irreconcilable difference kept them both in a chronic state of irritability. Lucia’s stance was “I want you to leave this job. It’s causing great harm to you, me and our children.” Regan’s stance was, “I love my job and I’m not giving it up.”
Lucia began referring to her husband’s career as the “mistress.” She felt that Regan loved her more than he loved her, because he spent more time with her. She felt that his job was an enemy she couldn’t fight, so she waited for him to finally came back into the family. Lucia told me that for most of the time, she wasn’t sure that she could stay strong enough to last the ordeal. It was a long five years.
Apparently there are families who can thrive in the midst of the huge demands some corporations make on their employees. But some people’s personal values about marriage and family coming first before career development are in clear, stark opposition to the corporate value placing work in the highest position. Once we both Regan and Lucia faced how damaging corporate marriage syndrome was to their family, they made some sweeping changes. After Regan left the corporate world, they temporarily lived on less income, resided in a smaller house, took the kids out of private school, and drove an older car. Things began to improve enormously once he resigned his position. They went on to make changes in how they manage their time, keeping work in its place, taking lots of time to make marriage, family, friendship, and exercise the highest priorities in their lives.
Lucia was able to see how at risk the whole family was much sooner than her husband, but once he could see the truth, he was permanently changed. In Regan’s words, “We gladly made these sacrifices, and what we gained in exchange for letting go of the material well-being was an emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being that was well worth the trade off. Our life as a family after extricating ourselves from the corporate world was immeasurably enhanced. It was a close call, but we made it through, wiser than before about what really maters.”
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That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Got Stronger at the Broken Places is newly published and has been met with rave reviews. The book is a very personal joint memoir written in alternating chapters describing their experiences during a ten-year period of their marriage in which they endured a series of challenges and ordeals that brought them to the brink of divorce. The book details the process of their descent into relationship hell as well as the process that enabled them to re-establish a connection that was stronger and more mutually fulfilling than what they had ever previously experienced.
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