My partner and I always say we are in it together, and both have careers we’ve worked hard for and are successful at. I’ve relocated a couple of times around the country for his career, and willingly changed my lifestyle for him, believing he’d do the same for me. Recently, I had an interview back in our home town and ended up being offered a far better role and package than I expected. When I told my partner about the role and a pay rise that would change our lives, he dismissed my request to talk about it, saying he was busy. He clearly doesn’t want to leave our home or his job, but I feel he should support my career aspirations after I have supported his without question. Having recently discussed getting engaged, I don’t know if I want to marry a man who’d deny me this opportunity. How can we resolve it – and should we? Name supplied
The job offer is not the problem here. The issue is how you deal with differences as a couple. You and your partner say you are in it together, but it seems that you haven’t really worked out what you both mean by ‘it’ yet. And I don’t think that you are going to work anything out at all if you simply stay in this unspoken mode of supporting his career without question and thinking that he will do the same for you.
I would love it if The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work (Orion, £8.99) was a compulsory purchase with every engagement ring. The author, John Gottman, made his name because he was able to predict divorce accurately, 96 per cent of the time, based on the first three minutes of
a conflict conversation between a couple. The actual issue you are arguing about – whether it’s work, money, sex or which of you does the ironing – is much less relevant than how you have the discussion.
I hope that you will hear it positively when I say that a lot of the power to make a constructive first move in this case is yours. Research demonstrates that even in happy marriages, four out of five times it will be the wife who brings up the sticky issues, while typically the husband tries to avoid discussing them. To me, your letter sounds quite transactional: ‘You do this for me, and I’ll do that for you’, rather than ‘How do we approach being a dual-career couple?’ What can you do to get into a more generous and optimistic frame of mind and start this conversation gently? It’s true that a soft approach does not necessarily guarantee a happy ending, but a ‘harsh start-up’ guarantees a negative one.
I am curious, for instance, about the idea that a pay rise might change your lives; what aspects of change might you both like to explore, taking money out of the equation?
I’m writing this from the point of view that it’s worth talking and seeking to build a common view of your life together, because a genuinely happy marriage will be a huge source of strength for both of you. If you are both wordlessly looking at pictures of contrasting rosy futures, then I think now is a very good time to find that out.
Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email email@example.com, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line
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