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Do Successful Executives Make Lousy Husbands?

A guy works his tail off climbing the corporate ladder. He sacrifices everything else to achieve success for himself and his family. In the meantime, his wife stays home with the kids and the housework. Ultimately, she divorces him. Why? Because, she sacrificed too, and got a lousy husband for her trouble.

Think that's an old story out of the 50s or an exaggeration? It's not. It's all too common, especially when it comes to CEOs, executives, and business leaders. There's quite a bit of data, not to mention anecdotal information, to support the idea that lopsided marriages just don't work.

And that means workaholic and travelaholic executives who "do it all for the family" may one day come home to an empty house. In Getting to 50/50, former Goldman Sachs managing director Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober, who runs a private equity fund, draw some fascinating conclusions:

  • The divorce rate is lower when couples share housework
  • The divorce rate drops sharply when the woman works too
  • The risk of divorce is lowest when the man earns 60% of the income and does 40% of housework
  • Among couples over 40, two thirds of the divorces are initiated by the women
The wealth of research seems to indicate that, regardless of how hard men work, how successful they are, and how much money they bring home, most women seem to have a real problem when their husbands are slackers at home and aren't around to help raise the kids. And they often feel resentful for having to sacrifice their own careers.

And I can substantiates that data with my own personal experience. For a long time, I was one of the those workaholic executives who travelled and worked most of the time. I felt entitled to forgo the housework, not to mention being selfish about my spare time and insensitive to the sacrifices my wife made. Not that she ever complained, but let's just say things are very different now.

Over the years, I've seen a lot of guys screw up their marriages by assuming that anything goes as long as they bring home the bacon. But when it comes to clueless executive husbands, this guy I used to work for, the president of a public company, definitely takes the cake. We'll call him John Smith. One day Mrs. Smith called John's office at around 6 pm:

"John Smith's office, Cathy speaking."

"Hi Cathy, it's Mrs. Smith. Listen, John was supposed to be home half an hour ago to play tennis with his son. Has he left yet or is he running late, as usual?"

"Well," Cathy hesitated, "I'm sorry, but John isn't here."

"Well, where is he?"

"Um --," long pause, "John got on a plane to China hours ago."

Now, I suppose that every relationship is unique, but the data doesn't lie and neither does my experience. Bottom line, if I had the chance to do it over again, I'd do these three things differently:
  1. Sacrifice a little work time and at least make an effort to do some housework every week.
  2. Encourage and support my wife's career, even if it means slowing my own climb up the corporate ladder, regardless of the disparity in pay.
  3. Google "narcissist."
How about you? Is your work-family life out of balance? And do you think anything changes if you reverse the genders?
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