update: my husband is my boss — and we’re getting divorced

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose husband was her boss — and they were getting divorced? Here’s the update.

I appreciated the advice and the comments. I most of all appreciated a clear view of my situation.

The divorce will be finalised in six months and I have moved out. Not having to be in contact with my ex-husband privately has helped a lot. In the comments there were questions on the age and paternity of my daughter: she is a very young adult and my now ex-husband is her father, but since he abandoned her so heartlessly I cannot bring myself to use the word “our.” She says she has lost her father and that is the truth. She is thank god doing well now and does not need medical treatment – or the insurance – anymore so that is a big relief.

I always knew that my place of work had an unhealthy culture but I am happy to be confirmed in that belief and shown just how toxic it is. However, the situation now is clearly untenable and I am looking for another job, of course. It is difficult but I hope to be able to land one in 2021.

Regarding my current job. I continue to keep the divorce a secret and plan to do so as long as possible. So far, my soon-to-be ex-husband has agreed. He is going to have a new boss very soon,, and that will probably be someone from the outside who may not be onboard with the prevalent unhealthy culture – at least not in the beginning, so he is afraid of what will happen if the abandonment and affair comes to light in a way he cannot control.

Someone asked in the comments if my husband is the boss of his new girlfriend. And yes he is: she is a member of the same department as I am, and the affair has been going on for years behind my back know now, Thank god I do not work in teams with her and never see her due to Covid, because that would be untenable.

I thought my ex-husband was a bad manager even before the divorce, and that, and the loss of respect I have for him now, makes going through meetings with him very difficult – thank god for Covid restrictions. We have very few meetings now. I have declined the “career development meetings” that employees are offered here; there is no point, since I have no faith that he is the least interested in me developing my career. T

The reason I have kept my silence is that the director gave me a new assignment – a large project – not long after i wrote to you. This assignment may well be my ticket to another job, and if I had disclosed the divorce to him it would have cost me the assignment and most likely my job.

Actually, what I took most at heart from your advice was the level of toxicity in the organisation: I realise that my faith in the director is misplaced and that he has a large part in creating and sustaining this culture. Believing that he would want to change this culture or even take my concerns about retaliation from my ex-husband seriously is naive and any faith that my husband’s new boss is going to be a better manager is naive too. So I will leave as soon as I can, keep my silence as long as I can and when my husband goes public with his mistress, now girlfriend, at my workplace I am going to behave with as much dignity as I possibly can.

Of course I will warn any of your readers, indeed anyone, against working in an organisation that allows one spouse to manage the other. It is, as you and others said, a huge red flag and the only thing there is to do is to get out as soon as possible. So that is what I am going to do.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Ms. Yvonne*

    LW, this situation is awful. Sounds like you have made the best of the sh!t sandwich you’ve got. All the best, may you land a new job ASAP!

  2. Mental Lentil*

    I’m so sorry you are going through this, but I’m happy that your daughter is doing better, and that you are working to put this behind you. I wish you the best of luck with your job search.

    I am going to behave with as much dignity as I possibly can.

    This is a good choice. People will remember your husband for being a philanderer, and they will remember you for handling everything with dignity and grace. Rising above is sometime difficult in the short run, but generally best in the long run. Someday this will all be ten years ago.

    1. Ezri Dax*

      So glad to hear your daughter is doing better, OP! Here’s hoping that you find a wonderful new job soon!

  3. Forrest*

    OP, you sound like you are doing wonderfully, but just as a suggestion, I would start seeing a therapist and continue to see them as you leave this job and transition into a new one. I think you are seeing a lot of the dysfunction now, but I think something like 6 months after you move into your next, hopefully less-dysfunctions workplace the RAGE is going to hit you like a ton of bricks and it would be good to have a place to handle that.

  4. Miss Marple*

    LW, you are an incredibly dignified and strong woman. Your husband does not deserve you.

    I hope your pragmatic and wise decision will help you through the toxic environment you find yourself in.

    Wonderful to read you are biding your time and your new project is your ticket out of that company.

    Wishing you all the best in getting the job you deserve. Your attitude is setting you are beautifully for better times.

    1. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

      LW, you are definitely an inspiration and a great role model for your daughter. I am so glad to hear she is doing better and that you are taking steps to protect yourself and prepare an exit route from this extremely toxic job. I wish you all the best with your job search.

  5. Thankful for AAM*

    Just another internet stranger out here rooting for you!
    You are a role model of dignity and grace and I wish you the best!

  6. Elizabeth West*

    I wish the OP a wonderful new job, far away from this toxic and horrible situation and her lunkhead of a soon-to-be-ex jerk.

  7. Batgirl*

    OP, you haven’t mentioned consulting a divorce or workplace lawyer? Please do consider lining up both. I understand that you feel strong enough to carry on in this poker game with the hand you’ve got, but there are other, more direct resources, you’re not using. It’s also… kind of a house of cards. If the ticket-out project is dependant on secrecy then it could all fall through at any minute. You need a safety net plan in case it does. It’s tempting for betrayed spouses to believe that they control all the secrets (whether to speak out or not), but you’re dealing with a very untrustworthy person who flip flops in his agreements with you unexpectedly, who is only interested in keeping you on the dark. Besides, no one controls the truth. It can come out without anyone meaning to. Plan for that eventuality.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Plus the husband’s GF works there and who knows how vested she is in keeping everything a secret

      1. ObserverCN*

        I was going to say something similar. OP, I hope you have a terrific lawyer (or more than one if needed), and I wish you the best!

    2. WonkyTonk*

      House of cards is right – it’s not hard to see how easily this secret could get out. An indiscreet word in the office, a coworker overlapping with someone from LW’s personal life, the girlfriend getting impatient…so many ways for this to abruptly blow up. Please do consult with an employment attorney as well as a family law attorney, as Batgirl recommended! Having a consultation is *not* a commitment to take any action, and many lawyers offer the initial meeting for free or low cost. Talking to a lawyer will give you an idea of the available options, including how you can best protect yourself under the applicable law.

      1. Florida Fan 15*

        I wonder how much of a secret it really is. I always know way more about my co-workers than I want to and, most of the time, it turns out they think nobody knows.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I was thinking this, too. All it would take is a tiff between the ex and the GF for the GF to blow it up and the LW take the fall, which would make no sense but since nothing else in this situation does I think that pretty much anything is a risk. Obviously how to handle this is the LW’s decision but I am uncomfortable with the amount of power she’s ceded to her ex and his girlfriend. She can’t actually control whether the secret comes out and protecting the secret at so many costs could end up serving her very badly.

    4. Smithy*

      I think that this also makes sense given the arrival of the new director – new oversight may have people feeling particularly nervous in their standing. Particularly if they know that previous dynamics (i.e. being managed by a spouse/romantic partner) are not professional best practice.

      It may very well be the case that right now the OP is a critical point person on a very prestigious/large grant or something similar that gives relative comfort of their professional security. But because of all the personal dynamics at play – should the OP’s husband/new partner feel less secure, they may be more motivated to assorted shenanigans with a new director. It’s just a lot, and having a “if it hits the fan” plan in place, makes a lot of sense.

  8. CoveredInBees*

    Ugh. What a horrid situation you’ve been put into. It seems like you’re doing all the right things: keeping things professional at work, trying to find a way out, and generally putting one foot in front of another. Wishing you lots of continued strength.

  9. Dust Bunny*

    I think we made this point thoroughly the last time but in case you had any lingering doubts: The culture at your current workplace is an absolute disaster and not normal. Not at all normal.

    Best wishes finding something else because you really need to get out of there.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes, *not normal.* Just the fact that OP’s ex-to-be manages both her *AND* his gf….that’s just so, so, so wrong. YIKES.

  10. Nanani*

    In a just world, LWs ex would never be allowed to manage anyone ever again.
    Your employees are NOT your dating pool, bro.

    1. EPLawyer*

      that;s the part that amazes me. If LW spoke up — she wouldn’t have the project and might even be fired. SHE’s not in management. Her ex is the one who is a manager, has all the power and is abusing it.

      Sadly though, she is right. The wrongdoer in these situation always skates and the victim gets busted.

  11. High Score!*

    Wow. Hang in there. Good luck in your job search. And plz keep providing updates. We’re all rooting for you!

  12. X. Trapnel*

    Firstly, all the best to you and your daughter, OP, and I hope that 2021 brings you both health, happiness and better circumstances.
    I wish I’d known about the married couples managing each other red flag when I had my last brief foray into the corporate world! The place was a clusterfudge of dysfunctionality but our great grandboss was married to our grandboss. The grandboss was, to put it mildly, a colossal PITA – a micromanaging snoop with a paperwork obsession who treated us all like recalcitrant toddlers. One of my colleagues got a little tipsy at the company Christmas function (yes, it was daft of him, but he was no more than a wee bit relaxed and jolly). Great grandboss asked him jokingly what he thought of working for grandboss. Wanted his “honest opinion”. Colleague gave it to him. In vino veritas etc. Guess who was walked out of his office come New Year. This was a guy who’d been over 20 years with the firm and who’d represented it very successfully in that time.

  13. Florida Fan 15*

    I’m very glad to hear you’re planning to get out of this freak show, OP.

    A couple of things in your follow-up that give me pause though:

    You say your daughter no longer needs medical treatment or insurance. The medical care part is great, I’m so glad she’s better. But the insurance? Why doesn’t she still need that? Not needing medical care today doesn’t equal not needing insurance. Everyone should be insured — the whole point is to be covered in case something happens.

    Second, you state your husband has agreed to keep your divorce secret because he’s “afraid of what will happen if the abandonment and affair comes to light in a way he cannot control.” I’ll bet he is. But I hope you aren’t allowing his fear to factor into your decision making. He’s treated you like a doormat and you don’t owe him or his feelings jack. I also hope you’re not keeping silent about the divorce out of a feeling of shame or guilt — you did nothing wrong. Keep silent if you think it’s best for your career, that’s it.

    Finally, you don’t say, but I hope you took Alison’s advice about talking to a lawyer (or more than one). If you haven’t, please please do. No one in this place is going to look out for you and you should have someone in your corner, ideally someone with no emotional connection.

    1. Evan Þ.*

      Hopefully LW’s daughter doesn’t need it anymore because she has a job and insurance of her own? You’re right that she should definitely have some insurance.

    2. That’ll Happen*

      With the OP using English spellings (s instead of z), I’m guessing she is not in the United States, so insurance was supplementary and their daughter might’ve been seeing a private doctor for her care.

  14. Nicole*

    I hope you find new work soon and that it’s leagues better than the place you’re at now. You deserve it!

  15. anonymouser for this*

    I’m so glad your daughter is doing better, OP, and that you are able to look at your situation with clear eyes. While not completely comparable, I had been working in a department that was known throughout our organization to be dysfunctional, to say the least. Our VP (my grandboss) was mercurial, disruptive, fed by drama, played favorites, and I was not on her good list. After five years of building up my staff and doing amazing work, she found a way to reorg me out of the department entirely. I was able to stay for five more months while I looked for another job.

    I had a choice: I could badmouth the department, file a complaint, and generally make trouble. But after a lot of thought, I didn’t want to do that. The toxicity was already there; I didn’t want to add to it. So I resolved to look for a new position, and behave like a good person throughout the process, no matter how difficult it might be. At the time, I wrote a sticky note with my aspirational attitudes:


    I still have this sticky note in front of me. They kept extending my end date, and I found another job in a different department, even during COVID, and I love it here. If I’d created a stink, it could have gone badly for me, and I don’t regret being level-headed.

    It sounds like you’ve made that calculation. I wanted to share my experience in the hopes it can give you some comfort.

    All the best to you.

  16. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I’ve worked in places where people deliberately changed departments or jobs because their partner/lover was their boss. Which I believe is the best plan.

    But having your spouse in a different branch where you’re not his supervisor is not always better. My Hubs had a boss whose spouse had similar credentials but was working in a different branch. She would go home, share her day and spouse would then tear apart what my husband did because, well, similar credentials. Boss would then return to my hubs and dissect the work based on what her spouse said, rather than the actual work hubs did. It was an awful situation.

    Good luck to you, LW. I hope you find a much better job in the early months of 2021!

  17. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Whew. You are a far better person than me because I wouldn’t cover for my lousy cheating bastard of a soon-to-be-ex by staying quiet. I just hope it doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass.

  18. MissDisplaced*

    I wish this had been a better update in the sense that this company takes a hard look at the behavior of their managers, and also for the OP’s daughter.

    If you can, OP, begin looking for another, better job. You can do much better than to be treated like this or afraid you will lose your job.

  19. Foreign Octopus*

    In the words of Michelle Obama, “when they go low, we go high”.

    If it comes out and you’re still there, you’re not the one who’s going to need to retain your dignity.

    Good luck and please let us know when you’re free of this hell loop.

  20. Solitary Daughter*

    Boy, I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with all that, but I commend you in every single way. You’re showing more maturity than probably most other people would in the situation. I wish you a better job soon, continued health and improvement for your daughter, and the peace that comes from escaping and maintaining distance from jerks!

  21. Manana*

    OP I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through all this but I KNOW that you will find a great job at a healthy organization and you and your daughter will thrive!
    Between your first letter and this follow up, one thing is glaringly clear: your ex is an unmitigated piece of shit. I believe you will find, if you haven’t already, that the toxicity of your workplace extended far beyond the office and permeated every corner of your life. Your ex has been there for TWENTY YEARS and has, based on just your letters, started romantic relationships with at least 2 of his employees to the detriment of their careers and mental well-being. He is a crucial factor in how garbage your workplace is and very likely brought that energy in with him, not the other way around. I’m glad your daughter is so clear-eyed about the failure of a person her father is and will come to appreciate this awareness for the rest of her life. You’re doing the best possible thing for her and yourself, and you should be incredibly proud. I’m rooting for you!

  22. stk*

    LW, thank you for this update! You’re one of the people I’ve most wanted to hear an update from – your situation just broke my heart and made me so worried for you. I’m glad you and your daughter have each other as support. Good luck with the big project and moving on to somewhere much, much better.

  23. animaniactoo*

    LW, I wish you the best in finding a good job somewhere else that allows you leave this place in the dust and never look back – not for the benefits, the salary, or the quality or level of work that you are working on. Also wishing your daughter the best in her continuing recovery.

  24. Quill*

    God, this place is still full of bees, but I’m glad that you and your daughter are doing better. Best of luck to getting out!

  25. CubeFarmer*

    Wait? Your STB ex-husband is having an affair with a direct report? That is a complete mess, and if this were a normal workplace, very likely against HR policy for several reasons. If that relationship ends badly, I would not put it past this woman to accuse him of sexual harassment, and be able to make a fairly good case. LW’s husband seems to be a potential liability to his company.

  26. Boof*

    Internet hugs and fuzzy OP, hang in there, and glad to hear your daughter is better and COVID at least allows a bit of distance from the awful situation.
    But seriously, for my sake, when you are ready to leave can you just send an all staff email about your ex’s terribleness? You can say I made you do it. (ok maybe that’s too much but ffffff I think most of us would cheer if you gave his boss(es) a heads up that he’s had an affair with a direct report and treated you badly on purpose, one can’t help but think in order to enable this, once you were on your way out)

  27. Finland*

    I’m extremely happy for you that the divorce is going to be finalized, but I am not sure at all about making agreements with your soon-to-be ex-husband about anything (including secrets) without a lawyer present. It sounds like he will always be concerned with his own well-being at the expense of yours and your daughter’s. I wouldn’t agree to do anything to salvage/preserve his career without knowing full well, in consultation with a lawyer, exactly what that could mean for your future.

    I think that by allowing your husband to go quietly into the night and escape from his “former life” with his reputation and dignity intact, you and your daughter might suffer all the bumps on the road because he doesn’t at all seem to be caring about your reputation and dignity, based on his years of abusing you on the job so as to maintain his reputation for not playing favorites (while cheating with your direct coworker(!)—how did he openly treat her at work??), to threatening or implying that he’d to cut off your daughters insurance.

    He will be in a position of power over you for a while still and, currently, it appears that he is wielding his power over you to keep you silent. Make sure you get a competent, skilled, and vicious team on your side to fight this man. You deserve nothing less!

    1. Finland*

      This is a bit of a stretch, but if you’ve never seen the movie Waiting to Exhale, I think it would be very fitting for you, especially Angela Bassett‘s parts. It’s an oldie, but goodie.

  28. Chriama*

    > I wouldn’t agree to do anything to salvage/preserve his career without knowing full well, in consultation with a lawyer, exactly what that could mean for your future.

    Yes please, OP! You think that right now you can trust him because you both share the same interests. But you don’t know what calculations he’s making or at what point he’ll decide his interests no longer intersect with yours. I’ve also personally experienced a work situation where a new senior leader came in and my direct manager, who had more access to him, was able to form a relationship that made the manager totally rely on him in ways that didn’t play out well for me. While you’re thinking exH is going to keep his head down, he may be planning how to get ahead of you with the new manager. You already know he’s capable of immense deception, and he’s good at it! Or, as others have mentioned, maybe the affair partner accidently or purposefully lets something out.

    I will say that mistreating you because of a relationship breakup sounds a lot like sexual harassment, and no matter how crappy your company seems you probably have more legal rights than you realize. But you can’t trust anyone there to inform you of them or uphold them for you.

    I’m glad you and your daughter are doing well, and I hope you find a fantastic new job and new partner and that 2021 brings many good things your way.

  29. learnedthehardway*

    I am amazed at the OP’s professionalism, fortitude, and character. I do want to reiterate the suggestion that you get divorce and workplace lawyers to weigh in on your situation BEFORE anything happens that you can’t control. Simply knowing what your rights are will help you should your ex or the other woman decide to say anything.

    All the best as you navigate through this incredibly difficult situation.

  30. Former Employee*

    Best wishes to OP for a happy holiday season.

    Despite the workplace being a drama club production and the about to be ex husband playing the part of the villain, the OP has much to be thankful for, especially the improved health of her daughter.

    And it’s better to know the truth about one’s cheating spouse even if it’s a painful truth.

    Here’s hoping the OP finds a terrific new job with a lovely work environment in the new year.

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