When he works and she works, how does the marriage work?
It’s relatively easy to be supportive (and supported) before your marriage, when your career is basically just between you and God. A lot of young people mistakenly go into marriage thinking that they can continue that approach. All too quickly they realize that when two people get married, their careers do too; and that means they have a lot to figure out.
When everyone works all day, who’s in charge of grocery-buying, and who mows the lawn?
Whose travel schedule or promotion opportunity takes precedence?
Who takes time off when a kid, or elderly parent, or beloved pet gets sick?
Dual-career marriages can be vibrant and healthy, but you won’t get there by accident. Whether you’ve been married for weeks or decades, there are things you can do today to bolster and fortify your marriage for the future.
Seek spiritual alignment. Build your marriage with faith as its foundation. Over the 14 years that I’ve been married to Chris we’ve each taken turns in the “breadwinner” role, and in the primary caretaker role. We’ve each lost loved ones and seen our children through dark times, all while pursuing our own career goals. It hasn’t often been easy, but we’ve found that the more time and the more ways we’re able to devote to God together, the better every facet of our relationship gets.
Try to establish a routine time where you and your husband are connecting with God and building your faith together. Chris and I try to pray together every day, and we belong to a couple’s bible study group at our church. Some couples I know regularly work their way through books together or volunteer for missions opportunities. Others simply go to lunch after church on Sundays and discuss the sermon. Any time that you can spend focusing on God together will help you align your priorities and perspectives. It helps me and Chris to see each other as teammates, with God at the center.
What if you ask your husband to start doing something like this, and he says no?
There are lots of reasons why a husband might resist such a suggestion. Keep praying, keep going to God and leaning into His truth. Your man might not express his faith in all the same ways that you do. He may simply want to take the lead himself, or he might not be ready. Trust that God is at work in your husband’s heart, and remember that you are his teammate, not his Holy Spirit.
Understand and accept who he really is. That means understanding his strengths and his temperament, and helping him to do the same for you. I recommend taking a Myers Briggs type test or something like StrengthsFinders 2.0 together. Last year for the 4word Leadership Retreat, I asked all of the participants to complete a StrengthsFinders assessment and to share some of their personal results. I knew that the ladies would benefit from the insights, but I didn’t anticipate how it might impact their marriages. At this year’s retreat a few weeks ago, women talked about how sharing their results with their husbands had in some cases “revolutionized” their marriages and opened new lines of communication and understanding. By building knowledge and appreciation for each other’s strengths and unique temperaments, you can communicate with and support each other more effectively.
What if he doesn’t seem to want to support you?
Not all men struggle to be supportive of their wives careers, but some do, especially if she is experiencing more professional success than he is. Sometimes women ask me how they can “make” their husbands respect their careers more. I have an answer for these women, but it’s not usually the one they want.
You can’t “make” anyone feel or behave the way that you want them to, even if they really should.
You can ask them. You can pray for them. And, without condoning bad behavior, you can examine your own role in contributing to a difficult situation. I’m walking a fine line here, but it’s an important one. All too often, women get caught up in the injustice of an unsupportive spouse and they can’t move past it. But righteous indignation won’t really get you anywhere in this situation. You’re going to have to let it go if you want to move towards a better place.
Men are naturally wired to want to take care of their families and to desire respect. Conflict over a wife’s career sometimes stems from what is basically a good impulse: the husband’s desire to be a caretaker. Pride, insecurity, or plain old competitiveness can skew that impulse, leading to frustration and relational strife.
Keeping these natural desires and impulses in mind, you can take steps to honor God’s work in your husband. Show your husband that you respect him and value his contribution to your family, just as you want him to do for you. Let go of the money issue, forget about who is making more. In fact, don’t treat income as “yours” or “his” at all, especially when discussing financial decisions together. Be aware even of the little things, like joking in public that you “bring home the big bucks,” or calling him “Mr. Mom.” Should you walk on eggshells all the time? No. Is he off the hook for bad behavior? Not at all. But you’re not powerless. You should take responsibility for your part, because that’s what teammates do for each other.
Choose to believe the best of each other. I just finished reading Shaunti Feldhahn’s book, “Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages.” In it, Shaunti shares that one of the real keys to happy marriage is to always think that whatever your spouse is doing, that they are doing the very best they can to serve your marriage. Her point is that no matter what is going on or what conflicts might arise, everything about your relationship will be better if you choose to believe the best of one another. I love that, and I hope that it’s something that my husband Chris and I can always do for each other.
I know many good-hearted women who struggle to get past who or what their husbands are not:
“He’s not romantic.”
“He’s doesn’t listen.”
“He doesn’t do his share around the house.”
“He’s not showing spiritual leadership.”
Whenever I start to get upset over something that Chris is not doing, I try to remind myself of all of the ways that he does actively support and serve our marriage. It’s not about avoiding conflict or always about ignoring areas of weakness. Just get your heart in the right place first. Choose to believe the best of your spouse, and remember that he, like you, is fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s own image.
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