His or Hers? Whose career is more important?
It’s a conversation that doesn’t start with asking the question outright. It starts with a job offer, maybe the desire for a new career, talk of graduate school, or any number of life-path defining choices–and suddenly you’re talking around whose career takes precedence without really meaning to. This tension, the push and pull of figuring out how two people in love will build an enjoyable life together (one where the bills are paid) tears some couples apart.
Fifty years ago, the conversation around whose career was more important was on the table in very few households. He made the money, she stayed home with the children. This arrangement worked because it was more possible to live on one salary and women didn’t have the same opportunities as men. But along with the enormous strides women have made in the workplace and our shifting cultural norms, comes a new tension in relationships. I see this tension in my peers and have felt it before in my relationship with Michael.
If you both want to go to graduate school–who will go first? If you get a job offer in another state–will he pack up and move for your career? What if you want to be a stay at home mom, but he’s thinking of taking a job with low earning potential? Is the career of the breadwinning spouse more important?
I received an email from a girl lamenting that both her and her husband were called to be writers–but “we can’t survive off two creative salaries”. The buzzword of Christian “calling” can add an extra layer of disillusionment to the dilemma. Another email came in from a girl frustrated that her husband wouldn’t move to LA with her to pursue her acting dream. He owns a very profitable business and would have to start over in California.
I don’t know the answer to your particular situation, but I do know there’s an ugly side of masculinity that declares, “my job, my money is the only thing that matters because I’m the man.” It’s this exact way of thinking that cripples men when they taste failure.
There’s also an ugly side of feminity that rears her head and says, “My career is a part of who I am, so take it or leave it.” It’s this side that tells us women they are less than when we sacrifice for a man.
When Michael and I started dating, we lived across the world from each other. Our careers, even our callings, seemed mutually exclusive. I felt very unsettled knowing that if I married Michael, I would need to leave China and know that I would not live there again. Similarly, he loved Germany and wanted to stay.
A year into marriage, the discussion came up again. Michael wanted to attend Seminary, I wanted to get my Masters in Counseling. We could not afford to do both, so we had to make a decision about who would go to school first. He found a job where he could do both, so I put graduate school on the back burner.
Last Christmas, an opportunity for Michael to work in another state presented itself. We had to discuss if the opportunity was even worth pursuing.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that marriage doesn’t work when either party digs their heels in and says, “I’m not budging.” Nor does it function when it’s all about one spouse’s career, their dreams and passions. There are seasons where his career might be more important and there are seasons that yours might be.
What Michael and I have learned is it’s not really a question of career, as much as it is a question of sacrifice. Because love, without sacrifice, is meaningless.
I don’t believe in being a martyr and giving up everything you want for a relationship; but I do believe there’s a beautiful middle ground overflowing with wisdom and servanthood and good communication and emotional health.
What we’ve discovered is the easy questions are ones like, “How much money do we need to get by?”, “What type of life are you imagining for us?” and “What do you want for your career?”.
But the hard question, the one that shows us what we’re made of is, “Am I willing to sacrifice for the one I love?”
Have you experienced this tension? Any words of wisdom to offer?
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- Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems | On Learning Generosity
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- “What Most Surprised You About Marriage?”
- You’re Not Important