All marriages—even the best of them—are challenging. If marriage were easy, the divorce statistics in this country wouldn’t be so daunting. According to current CDC.gov statistics, one-fifth of all first marriages won’t make it past the five-year mark, and after ten years the likelihood of failure jumps to 33 percent. A marriage of two career-minded people, while increasingly common, offers some special complications and challenges.
It’s relatively easy to be supportive of one another’s careers before marriage. At that point, your career is basically just between you and God. A lot of young people mistakenly go into marriage thinking they can continue with this approach. However, these couples quickly realize that when two people get married, their careers do too—and that means they have a lot to figure out. For example, when everyone works all day, who’s in charge of buying groceries? Who mows the lawn? Whose travel schedule or promotion opportunity takes precedence? Who takes time off when a kid, elderly parent, or beloved pet gets sick?
Dual-career marriages can be vibrant and healthy, but you won’t get there by chance. 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.
1. Seek Spiritual Alignment
Build your marriage with faith as the foundation. I don’t know how my husband, Chris, and I would have navigated the last 14 years without humble hearts toward serving God first, each other second, and our family third. We’ve each taken turns in both the breadwinner role and in the primary caretaker role. We’ve each lost loved ones and shepherded our children through dark times, all while pursuing our own career goals. It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve found that the more time and the more ways we’re able to devote ourselves to God together, the better every facet of our relationship gets.
Try to establish a routine time when you and your husband can connect with God and build your faith together. Chris and I try to pray together every day, and we belong to a couples Bible study group at our church. Some couples I know regularly work their way through books together or volunteer for mission opportunities. Others simply go to lunch after church on Sundays and discuss the sermon.
As believers, we should be actively seeking God because we were made to know our Creator. It’s so good for our marriages! Any time that you can spend focusing on God together will help you align your priorities and perspectives. For me and Chris, this helps us see one another as teammates who have following God’s leading as our shared goal.
If your spouse is hesitant to begin praying together, keep going to God and leaning into his truth on your own. Understand that your husband 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.”
2. Understand and Accept Who Your Husband Is
Be intentional about learning more about your husband. Understanding his strengths and his temperament, and help him to do the same for you. I highly recommend taking Myers–Briggs or StrengthsFinders 2.0 tests together. Last year for the 4word Leadership Retreat, I asked all of the participants to complete a StrengthsFinders assessment and then share some of their results. I knew that the ladies would personally benefit from the insights, but I didn’t anticipate how it would impact their marriages. Since then, women have told me that 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.
In a perfect world, all of us—men and women—would wholeheartedly celebrate our spouse’s successes all the time. But this world is anything but perfect. 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 him to (even if he really should). You can ask him. You can pray for him. 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 having an unsupportive husband and they just can’t move past it. But righteous indignation won’t really get you anywhere in that situation. Instead, you’re going to have to let it go if you want to move toward a better place.
Men are naturally wired to want to take care of their families. They desire respect. Many times, conflict over a wife’s career stems from what is basically a good impulse: the husband’s desire to be a caretaker. Keeping that 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. Don’t treat income as “yours” or “his” at all, especially when discussing financial decisions together.
Be aware of even 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? No. But you’re not powerless here either. You should take responsibility for your part because that’s what teammates do for each other.
3. Choose to Believe the Best of Each Other
I just finished reading Shaunti Feldhahn’s book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. In it, Shaunti shows that one of the real keys to a happy marriage is to always think that whatever your spouse is doing, he is doing the very best he can to serve your marriage. Shaunti’s 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. This includes conversations about your individual places of work.
I tend to be cheerful and demonstrative by nature, but my husband, Chris, is less so. Sometimes this causes problems. Just recently, 4word launched a new online store offering products that support struggling women all around the world. It’s something that I’ve been working hard on, cultivating relationships with various businesses and organizations and looking closely at the different kinds of products we would offer.
I’m excited about it, and along the way I wanted Chris to be excited about it too. But there were many times when I would tell him something or ask him a question and his responses just weren’t all that enthusiastic. It would have been easy for me to get my feelings hurt, but I’ve learned to take a moment to remind myself that he loves me and cares about my feelings; he’s just built differently than me.
I have to remember that Chris is supportive of my job—he’s even enthusiastic about it. But his enthusiasm looks different than mine; that’s just who he is!
4. Love Who Your Husband Is
I know many good-hearted women who struggle to get past who or what their husband is 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 ignoring areas of weakness—it’s about getting 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. This will turn any challenge, including the special challenges that come with a dual-career marriage, into a chance to feel closer together.