Q: I am in a group of workers who is always left out — wives who work for their husbands for free until we are divorced and left with nothing. I have friends who have made the same mistake as I did, and someone needs to warn them not to do what so many wives do out of love. We devalue ourselves, our experience and our education by working for free because we want our husbands to succeed in whatever businesses they create. We dedicate our time, intelligence and know-how to become the best workers our husbands could want. Imagine being able to hire a person you trust and know is intelligent and efficient enough to do whatever work is needed without complaining or saying, “It is not my job.” Wives do this to ensure their husbands reach their business goals and feel successful.
We would never think to submit timesheets so we could be paid for our time and dedication, not to mention whether it equals a full-time job or a part-time job. We give up the pursuit of a career that fulfills our interests and passions and would likely reward us much more fully than working nonstop for someone else’s glory.
My husband always reminded me, as my friends’ husbands said to them, that he was doing it for “us.” The truth is he did it for himself. He could have sought a job working for an established company where he would have made a regular salary. He could have put in the time and worked his way up to any amount of money, based on his education, background, experience and ability.
Starting a business from scratch takes an immense number of hours and hard work. My husband hoped it would bring greater status, immediate rewards and the freedom to do everything his way. That is why starting a business was for him. If I, or any of my friends who gave the same commitment to their husbands as I did, had charged my husband a realistic salary, he and the other men who want to be self-made entrepreneurs could not have afforded to do what they wanted. Starting a business is a gamble, so the excuse that they are doing it for their families is simply that — an excuse to accomplish their own personal business goals.
So, imagine how it feels to have given up developing a real career to eventually be told he wants a divorce and that it is his business because he did the work to build it. It’s a monumental betrayal, and fighting the division of income from the business requires an astute attorney, one whose fees are usually out of reach for an unpaid worker.
If you surveyed the number of women who have lived through this same experience, you might be stunned at how many wives submit to this arrangement. Of course, we never think we will be thrown out without consideration of the time and devotion we put into the business. And most of us have also raised children while working. Please tell women not to give up their potential for developing a career or any business that they wished they had pursued. There must be documents to protect us before we enter into such endeavors. When in love, no one thinks they will be treated this way, but time has a way of changing things.
A: I have heard of many such situations, which is why I am sharing this one. Many couples reject prenuptial agreements because they think it begins a marriage with mistrust. The workplace often offers employment contracts to various levels and professionals, and it doesn’t mean people mistrust the company or the person. It clarifies a situation, which can resolve a problem before it happens. A corporate lawyer or a labor and employment lawyer can provide work-related contracts before agreeing to sacrifice one’s own career potential for a husband’s business pursuits.
No one can deny that life presents twists and turns along the way and that changes occur on every level. Maintaining the status quo is rare. People have a choice as to how they approach any relationship — business and personal. Because life offers no guarantees for any situation, people rely on well-written contracts. Everyone deserves protection, even if a person ends up never needing it.
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