IT People Are From Mars: Why Your Marriages Are From Hell or Headed There

We asked you, IT pros: What do you wish your spouse knew about your job? Surprise: Your answers spoke more about your communication mistakes at home than they did about your spouse's shortcomings. Read on for advice on how to fix this before a nasty crash.

Tue, May 26, 2009

CIO — Recently, I posed the following question to the CIO Forum on LinkedIn: What do you wish your spouse understood about your job?

A dozen IT executives and IT directors—11 men and one woman—responded to the question publicly in the forum or privately via e-mail. Only one respondent, Jim Weeks, answered, "Nothing. She knows it all." Weeks attributed his wife's understanding of his job to the fact that they work together at Greenwich Hospital—she as the telecom manager and he as the CIO—and that they collaborate on projects both at work and at home.

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Most of the 11 other respondents' answers to my question expressed some frustration with their jobs or with their marriages, or both. (The one woman who responded to my question wrote about the guilt-trips her kids lay on her for having to work long hours.) Their responses boiled down to the following five themes:

  1. I don't want to discuss the details of my workday when I get home.

  2. Don't call me at work unless it's an emergency.

  3. If I don't return your phone call, it's not because I'm mad at you/don't love you. It's because I'm busy.

  4. IT management is not a 9-to-5 job. It's complicated, demanding and stressful.

  5. I'm not a tech support person, and I can't fix all of the family's home technology problems, especially when I'm at work. I spend my time on strategic issues and networking with other C-level executives.

Sound familiar?

Wanting to get some insight into the CIO Forum members' responses, I presented the five points to Stuart Schneiderman, a psychoanalyst turned life coach who helps executives navigate their relationships and careers. His take? Well, IT folks, take a deep breath because you're not gonna like it.

Schneiderman thinks the IT leaders' wishes speak more about their own foibles than they do about their spouses' shortcomings.

"The way some of these guys are treating their wives is just terrible," he says. "I don't think they harbor hostility; they just don't understand what their behavior means, how it's being received [by their spouses], and how to go about changing it. Presumably, these guys know how to manage people, but they're not using their management skills at home."

Schneiderman makes an important point about management skills. If IT leaders mistreat people at work, their organizations don't run effectively, he notes. And that's precisely the problem they're facing at home, he says: Their home organizations are dysfunctional because they're not treating their spouses well; they're taking them for granted.

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