Sometimes the best help we can get when a business crisis threatens to crush our spirit comes from our spouse. Here’s how you and your significant other can climb out of a hole together…
First of all, coping with crisis stress can be brutal.
- An education leader was falsely accused of racism. The crosshairs of community and news media were squarely and unfairly on him. While our team met to resolve the problem it was painful to watch him. Face flushed and veins protruding it looked like his head would explode. He’d let out long agonizing sighs.
- A college president for 20 years being pounded by faculty and media for admittedly controversial actions was trying to repair the damage. The tension on this 70-year old was so great that his wife begged him to retire.
Bearing the pressure of a crisis can be as difficult as solving it. Family strain can be substantial. Yet your best resource for psychological survival can be next to you: your spouse.
Nationally known psychologist and author Wayne Sotile helped me compile his top suggestions to give a couple of dozen spouses of college presidents meeting in Wyoming. I share them now with you in hopes they’ll ease the bad times and strengthen the family during a work crisis.
Expect nasty marital exchanges. Example: Spouse: “You’re putting too much back on the family,”” I’ve told you that they (the college) are taking your life away”,” the college is not doing enough to protect you.” President: “This is part of the price you pay for me to have this job.”
Expect disquieting emotions from the president: Embarrassment (when feeling vulnerable), withdrawal (when feeling out of control), anger/indifference (to mask vulnerability.) Men will tend to withdraw. Women will likely seek help from others.
How the spouse can help. 1) Be a hero. A hero creates safe spaces for the other. 2) Say, “Put me on the same page with you while we tackle this together.” 3) Be supportive and caring especially if the president is a scapegoat.
How the spouse and president should communicate: The president must update the spouse and avoid keeping secrets. Tell each other how you’re coping and be clear about what you need. Consider saying, “I need you to listen to me now” or “remember this is a painful chapter in a long, successful marriage and career.” Avoid inflammatory language. Each side wants to know “am I safe” so use words and actions that reassure each other that they are indeed safe.
How to help the family: Approach it as a family challenge. The president should avoid allowing shame and embarrassment to prevail and instead explain to the children in age-appropriate ways what is happening. Create as much normalcy as possible. Tell pre-teens “things are going to be okay.” Tell teens “things are going to be okay” but provide more information. Tell everything to adult children. Use the crisis as an opportunity to teach a valuable life lesson: even good people sometime make mistakes or have bad things happen to them.
“We are going to come out of this stronger” should be the mantra for the family when the president and the family fear being overwhelmed.
Leaders in crisis need their team at work to help them out of a crisis, but the team at home may be the one that really matters.