Divorce when you’re a C-Suite woman

written by

Emma Heptonstall

Emmaheptonstall.com Image

date published

4th July 2022

Did you know that women CEOs are twice as likely as their male counterparts to get divorced? A recent Swedish study found that the chances of women being divorced three years after their promotion to CEO level were doubled compared to men in similar roles. Are you surprised? Probably not! The pressures on women at the height of their careers have never been greater. In this blog we look at how to handle divorce when you’re a c-suite woman.

Why is divorce more likely for C-Suite women?

There are no easy or clear answers to this: the research was inconclusive. But researchers put forward a theory as far as heterosexual couples go at least. Husbands find it difficult to be married to high performing women. Whether this is to do with social norms, personal stressors or their own insecurities isn’t clear. But, sadly, it’s still more acceptable for men to be CEOs than women.

It may also be that as women reach the heights of success in their careers they are no longer willing to tolerate unhealthy behaviours in their marriages. The study didn’t find that women left after finding other partners. It was that their existing marriage was no longer manageable for one or both parties.

Whatever the reason, divorce in the C-Suite is not uncommon.

So if you’re in the C-Suite and your marriage is under strain, know that it’s not just you. It’s not that you’re out of line, or being out of order. That might not make it any less stressful to deal with. But you are not alone.

How to navigate divorce when work pressure is high

When you’re in a CEO or similar role, you don’t have the time or the headspace for divorce. At least, that’s how it feels. But divorce is happening. So how can you cope with it?

Acknowledge your emotions

You’re a CEO, not a robot. Yes, you need to keep going. You need to keep showing up at work. But you can’t push your feelings down forever, they need an outlet. So, give yourself one. You’ll find it takes so much of the pressure off. Book a therapist or a coach to help you understand and process what you’re feeling. In my experience of coaching high flying professional women, these are some of the common themes:

  • Shame: you might feel like a failure for your marriage breaking down. And you’re not supposed to fail. You’re the one who’s supposed to have it all sorted. Women at the top are rare enough, you don’t want to let any of the ideals slip.
  • Guilt: that you’ve invested so much time and energy into your work. Perhaps your marriage would have worked if you’d done less? Perhaps, secretly, you’ve always been more in love with your work than your spouse?
  • Anger: that your husband (or wife) hasn’t supported you in your career. Or that you’ve had to manage all the family life as well as your work responsibilities, and they haven’t done their fair share.

Know that while all these feelings are real, and common, the stories you tell yourself won’t be the most helpful or most honest ones. I can tell you now that there’s no shame in getting divorced if your marriage is unhealthy. On the contrary, it’s the most positive move you can make. Unhealthy, difficult emotions don’t disappear through being ignored, they quietly fester. So prioritise the work of understanding and releasing them with a professional.

Set key messages

I hope we are moving away from 20th century ideas of having to be silent about our emotional and mental health at work. As we get deeper into the 21st century it’s, thankfully, becoming more acceptable to show up at work as a human, with real human problems and foibles.

As a leader in your organisation you have the opportunity to set the tone. And it is a delicate balance. You will build a lot of trust with your team if you’re able to share something of what’s happening, and how it might temporarily impact on your working life. You’ll also lead the way for others to be honest about their struggles, which over time leads to a more empowered and engaged work culture.

But work is still work. While you are there you are in your leadership role, and you have responsibilities to your clients, shareholders and staff. Work out the key messages you are willing and able to share with colleagues, and keep the rest of your divorce out of working life. They do not need to hear about the fights with your soon-to-be-ex, or decisions you have to make about financial settlements.

It’s much easier to be boundaried around what you share with your working world if you have spent time deciding on your key messages. You can then just share them as needed, and not be drawn into distracting discussion. This is something I can help you with if needed.

Use your leadership skills

You haven’t got to where you are now without a hefty dose of resourcefulness and vision. And that resourcefulness and vision will help you get through this divorce.
As CEO, or in similar senior leadership roles, your job is to grow and develop your organisation and its influence. To do this you need to look forward and paint a picture of what the future needs to look like.

That’s exactly what you need to do with your divorce. Get clear on your vision for your divorce and post-divorce future. Then you can start to assemble the resources to make it happen, just like your COO would: more on this next week.

A leader isn’t a victim. She holds her head high and she keeps going. Sure, you’re going to have messy days. And that’s okay. But you know you have what it takes to weather this storm. You don’t need to engage in petty point-scoring, either with your soon-to-be-ex or with gossip-mongers. You know the best way through this is to keep going. Stay dignified.

Start to assemble your team

As a CEO you know that success lies in assembling the right team. You need people with the right skills and attitude around you to achieve your goals. That’s just as true in divorce as it is in business. We will look into what you need for a C-Suite Divorce Team next week. But, for now, focus on finding people who can help you set your vision. That’s where it all starts.

A therapist can be useful because they can help you unpick old stories and trauma if needed. Even more important, though, you need to look to the future. And that’s where a coach comes in.

My 1:1 divorce clients are women who know they don’t want to mess around. What do I mean by that? I mean they know they don’t yet have all the answers. And they know the importance of setting a clear direction. So they get trusted professionals in to help them.

With my experience as a lawyer and my training as a coach and high conflict diversion specialist, I can help you get straight to the heart of what matters in your divorce. We don’t get distracted by generalities. We get into what you need, now. And what future-you needs too.

Book in a call to see how I can help you get your divorce sorted.


About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of  The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com

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