His or Hers? Whose career is more important?


couple talking

Image Credit: Creative Commons, Laurent Scheinfeld

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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5 Responses to “His or Hers? Whose career is more important?”
  1. August says:

    I love your thought provoking posts!
    My parents met 27 years ago, my mother in the air force training for spy work, my father in the army building his, later very successful, career. They married 26 years ago, got pregnant almost right away and moved all over the county and even over-seas. There was never a question in their minds of who would “give up their career”. My mom has spent the last 25 years raising and home schooling 7 children, the youngest of us is still only 5. Though I don’t normally disagree with your posts, I have to say, I don’t believe life is all that different than it was 50 years ago. Our attitudes have changed. Being a stay-at-home mom is no longer good enough. It’s no longer fullfilling enough, nor does is reap the benifits our society desires. I’ve seen by my parent’s example that God has always taken care of us. Even in today’s financial climate my mother has never had to return to work, and God has always provided for each and every one of us (sometimes at the very last second).
    Sometimes it is a matter of faith, obedience and sacrificing having a bigger house, or a second car, rather than, “this is my calling” or “using the education” you aquired. We as woman may have to step back and look at God’s design in a marriage… I’m not at all saying working woman are out of God’s will! I have many women I love and respect who have had to work. I’m simply stating that the problem here may lie within what society has taught us rather than what God designed at the beginning.

  2. Marigold says:

    Because of the circumstances of most married couples and working, I can see how this is can be a huge problem. Even though now I’m single, I have thought about the lifestyle I would have to lead if I were to marry a certain man. If given the chance that my future husband was able to work a job that could support a family, I would be a stay at home mom, at least until they’re all in school then maybe work part time, but I wouldn’t be opposed to work full time either. God has blessed me with talents that are very versatile (tutoring, mentoring, interacting with people) that I feel will help me in the long run get a job in something that isn’t necessarily in my field of study.

    I feel that communication and remembering what marriage is all about (self sacrifice), is the key factor to getting through tough topics like this. Things like this need a lot of planning, discussion and support from family (especially if there is a move to a place where the extended family is farther away). Us women need to keep an open mind of what working a lot would do to our children (current and/or future) if both parents worked a lot where they didn’t have to. I know I was blessed to have my mother be a stay at home mom and I really benefited from that, but I’m not saying that a man couldn’t be a stay at home dad either. It really depends on the situation. God should come first, family should come second, and then the job.


  3. sue says:

    I remember one article about marriage, basically it says if you don’t have a capacity to please your partner, just don’t get married. it’s not about what’s in it for you, but more about what you bring to the table. Unfortunately many young people only took marriage vows as a to do checklist, what’s next after graduate, after securing that job, after getting that fancy car.. oh, yup, getting married .then, what’s next ? getting a second house ? Marriage is viewed as a thing, a mere status, instead of a mission from God, giving two people a sacred opportunity to preserve their union for rest of life. The longer you’re married the more it is actually down to alignment in values and life goals. If one or both couple work so hard to get there and feel more as self sacrifice, then his and her value and goals aren’t matched well, there is a chance one day one of them would feel left out or less than.

    Being married is actually a day to day demonstration to balance a mix of “actions”: compromising, pleasing somebody and prioritizing in all aspects of life. Compromising, pleasing somebody and prioritizing have nothing to do with resentment or being a doormat or submissive (but making sacrifices does). Couple got to pick a role, who’s the pilot, who’s the co-pilot, and sometimes one would let the other switching the roles, simultaneously. This is what I call as equality in successful adult relationship. it’s only a society perception that both couple got to work, how to manage finance and lifestyle is back again to value and life goals. Having career goals worked out is nothing compared with choosing the importance between couple and kids interests..

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