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What Happens When Work Takes Over Your Marriage

What Happens When Work Takes Over Your Marriage

Shelley Stone, CEO of tech company Conch, thrives on the fast, frenetic, Type A pace of her life, waking at 3:30 am for "me time" while multitasking on the treadmill, scheduling sex with her husband, power posing to rev up her adrenaline, and, when she can, squeezing in "quality time" with her two young children. It's a lot to ask of anyone, and while Shelley's career is flourishing, her husband Rafe is starting to chafe at the relentless pace. In this excerpt from The Glitch, the couple fights in their hotel room in Cap Ferrat, France about Shelley's relationship with work. Earlier in the day, they lost track of their 4-year-old daughter for several hours while they were both on business calls. For Rafe, if not yet for Shelley, it is a sign that something in their lives has to change.

“Of course,” she said. “Do you want a security detail as well?

The hotel can probably arrange it.” “Can they?”

“This kind of hotel? Sure,” she said. “Routine for them.” I raised an eyebrow. Sometimes she reminds me of me.

“Really? That seems like overkill,” Rafe said, coming out of the bathroom with his toothbrush in his mouth. A little foam bubbled out from his lips—I registered Melissa’s brief, clinical, nurse-like moment of professional disgust.

“You know, it’s probably overkill, but let’s do it. Just to be on the safe side. Just until we’re sure everything is OK.” Rafe rolled his eyes at me, toothbrush still in there.

Melissa nodded. Once Rafe appears in a towel she tends to clear out quickly. She took the children away, mid-dinner, Blazer holding his bottle, and balanced on her arm Nova’s barely nibbled-at “plat enfant” from room service. I heard their bath running, distantly, in another part of the suite. Rafael and I were at last alone.

“I am so wiped out I can’t wait to crash,” I said, setting my alarm for 2:25 a.m. so I could call into the directors’ meeting back in California.

“Did you ever get back to Brad?” Rafe said, lying on his back on the big upholstered bed. I groaned.

Rafe tossed a large tasseled pillow up into the air. It hit the chandelier, which tinkled.

“Do you think this is working?” he said.

I had stepped into the bathroom to remove my makeup and I came out dabbing at my eyeliner.

“Do I think what is working?”

“Our, uh, situation.” He gestured airily—headboard, you, striped curtains, the sea. He looked at me, with the advance guilt of regretting what he was going to say next. “Our life.”

I stopped dabbing the washcloth and closed my mouth, which was hanging open. “Is this something about Melissa? She’s fantastic. I don’t blame her for what happened today, do you? I mean, maybe she should have spoken up and said that in her opinion it was too much for us to take both kids for the whole afternoon, but it’s our job to make sure she feels comfortable speaking up like that, and for her to manage up takes courage . . .”

“God, no, she’s great. She’s our fixer,” he said. “God, Shell, can you just . . .”

“Do you think we need to hire more help? We’ve got a good team in place and my understanding is they’re feeling a good balance of challenge and capacity, but—”

“Just turn it off for a sec.”

“Turn off what? My phone’s over there. My Conch is in the bathroom.”

“Turn it down a couple notches. Slow down. Talk to me.” “I’m talking,” I said factually. “I’m talking about how staffing levels at home might be adversely impacting the ability of our nanny to make decisions—”

“Can you hear yourself? Can you just stop talking like that?” “What?”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I didn’t mean it the way I meant it either.” He threw the pillow into the air again and we both watched it come down. “Look, if today isn’t a wake-up call, what is?” He looked straight into my eyes. “It’s all I can think about. She could have died.”

I nodded, but I thought he was being dramatic.

“I took that call,” Rafe said. “I shouldn’t have. But you know what? You shouldn’t have taken yours.” A glimpse of white teeth, curved creases at the edge to set it off. A smile between parentheses.

“Why would your call take precedence?”

“Because I was already on the phone! You know what? It doesn’t matter. We’re living too close to the edge. Our streak was bound to end—that’s a gambling metaphor.”

“I caught that,” I said mildly, unhooking an earring.

“Ugh.” He squeezed the pillow. “I hate what this has all become. It’s just . . . work.” He rolled onto his side and lowered his voice. “Can we keep it going? Are we keeping it going? Think about if we’d lost her today.” He looked at me, straight on—his brown eyes, intent and boyish, fixed on this possibility. “This would be a different night. This date—we would remember it forever. The beginning of a horrible new life. Can you imagine? It could have happened. It basically did happen. If she could wander all the way to the street, she could have wandered into the ocean just as easily. God knows what that guy was up to. Who was that? It’s only luck that she’s here, alive. It’s no credit to us.”

I came and lay beside him on the bed in silence, considering this. The lowermost crystals of the chandelier moved ever so slightly in the breeze from the open French doors to the balcony. A strand of spiderweb connecting two of the crystal drops sagged nicely, in a perfect parabolic curve, forming a little bridge that a spider could cross.

“We’re lucky,” I said. But I didn’t mean it. We’re smart. “She’d be gone,” Rafael said. “We’d have lost her—there’s a stunning finality to that. You don’t get a do-over. Can you imagine it?”

I tried to imagine it, the way I thought he wanted me to. I pictured the inquest, what they’d say: “So, Mr. Pérez, you were on your phone? Ms. Stone, you were too? You didn’t think of hanging up to search for your daughter?” He was right that it’d be awful: the jury laughing, the headlines in the paper, our jobs lost, our reputations, everything, and of course, that was leaving aside the worst part, Nova dead.

“She’d be gone and it’d be our fault,” he said.

I shook my head very hard. “Rafe, no! That’s the counterfactual, the what-if. We can’t let ourselves get upset about that. Everything’s like that. There’s always a grisly alternative scenario. Behind the worst thing you can think of, there’s always a worse one. People don’t want to acknowledge it, but risk is always alongside us. Even Melissa said it could have happened with her there.”

We both knew this was a lie; it would not have happened if Melissa had been there.

“We didn’t have to both be on our phones, though,” he said. “Other people, you know, can turn them off. They leave that stuff at home. I call my brother and he doesn’t even know I called! He definitely doesn’t get back to me. Regular people who are only VPs go on vacations where they don’t even check their email except in the morning and at night. They don’t have to be on. They don’t have to answer every time it rings. They don’t have to get up at two in the morning after a beast of a day.” He eyed the alarm clock with disdain. “They don’t always, always have so much riding on their shoulders. I’ve got to say: that life is very appealing.”

I looked at him with shock. What about it was appealing? “Haven’t you had enough yet? I thought someday you’d have had enough. I thought we were both hard at work building something amazing but someday we’d be able to step back and admire it. I’ve believed that, all this time. But it’ll never be over. You’re never going to be finished. You’re never going to slow down.”

“Well, not yet,” I said.

When we were first dating, I didn’t really understand why Rafe liked me. I knew why I liked him, and I felt flattered someone like him was paying attention to me, but I couldn’t quite make it out from his perspective. Once I asked him.

(Thrive Global)

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