Why I Chose My Spouse’s Job Over Mine

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Gave Up My Career“In March, the whole company is going to San Francisco for a week,” my husband Andreas told me one night last January.

We’d been living in Copenhagen since 2008. I didn’t have a job lined up when I finished graduate school in the U.S., and since Andreas did, I’d moved with him back to his native Denmark.

I hadn’t been home to the States in two years, so when he mentioned San Francisco, I shrieked, “We’re going home!”

The move to Copenhagen was meant to be temporary—a sort of gap year for me to write and explore. Nearly three years later, Andreas’s company had become a hit in the start-up world. Since we couldn’t walk away from the opportunity to see his work through to the next phase—and because I could be based anywhere as a journalist—we hadn’t left.

His and Hers Entrepreneurs

When Andreas and I met in 2006, he’d been building collaborative online software with two friends as a side project. By 2009, he’d joined his friends full time. Although we didn’t expect him to make much money, we agreed it was a great opportunity. He loved what he was doing and felt lucky to work with friends every day. How could I not support that?

At the same time, I was struggling to get my freelance writing career off the ground. Being one half of an entrepreneurial couple should have been reassuring, but it made me increasingly self-conscious instead. No matter how many hours I’d clock in front of my monitor, sending pitches and letters of introduction to editors, Andreas would usually work just as much—or more—than I did. Since I often had less to show for my efforts, I felt that I had to work even harder, which seemed impossible.

What bothered me most was the constant assumption that I—the woman—would readily take one for the team.

We also didn’t have financial reserves to fall back on. The cost of the move to Europe, and the associated immigration bureaucracy, wiped out our savings. For the first few years—especially as I was struggling to make what I considered to be enough—we were terrified.

At night, we’d lay awake, unable to sleep, talking about the best- and worst-case scenarios, wondering if we should be doing things differently.

Why I Was Convinced I’d Made a Huge Mistake 

While some people relish the opportunity to live overseas, I initially loathed it with a fierceness that was bewildering and unbecoming. Life in Europe is supposed to be glamorous and exciting, but the pain of being so far away from home—without knowing exactly when I’d return—permeated my emotional core.

What bothered me most was the constant assumption that I—the woman—would readily take one for the team. Putting my career on hold, as if my aspirations were less important, actually seemed to make sense to other expat couples we met. Most of the wives followed their husbands’ jobs from country to country, and it didn’t seem to occur to any of them that we might be getting the short end of the stick.

I worried that, despite our best efforts, Andreas and I wouldn’t be able to undo the precedent we’d set—that his career might always come first or his ability to make more money would somehow determine how we prioritized our goals. Shortly after moving, I’d realized that my career could only grow so much without opportunities to network in person. I was concerned that, in the long term, not being able to make a lot of headway at that time would mean that I’d forever make less money and have a lesser career—even if I didn’t entirely know what that meant.

  • guest

    This has been very encouraging for me, I made the same decision about three years ago and of late I have been going through a state of depression and self pity. Thanks for reminding me that it is a partnership

  • Michele J Sung

    Congrats to you and Andreas! Thank you for sharing your story, which is incredibly timely for me as I just resigned to be a trailing spouse and support my husband’s job in a different country. I think I am still going through the shock of having to choose, picking his career over mind, and giving up my career for now. What keeps me up at night is the uncertainty of what I will do without a job (I have always worked), how I will feel about living off my husband’s income and not my own (completely new to me) and whether I can find another job that I will enjoy. I like the happy ending to your story and I can only hope that mine will be equally lucky and fruitful. Thanks again for sharing your tale.

    • http://twitter.com/soulshock99 Morena Vattuone

      Hi Michele! 

      Morena here, reaching out to give you a virtual hug and say that I completely understand how you are feeling and all of your apprehensions are completely normal. I’ve gone through very similar changes with my partner as we build our lives together, navigating new cities, living far from family/support structures, new jobs, new businesses, new careers etc.  

      Sometimes we look at a situation/challenge in black or white terms — all or nothing so to speak. I, myself,have definitely been guilty of this. What I have learned along my path is to ask myself, “Okay, I’m going to list why all of this totally sucks!” The purging process and writing it down helps me. Everyone is different, so find what works for you. I write it down because it allows me to look at it all in a tangible fashion and it creates a physical separation between me (the good, positive, and resourceful being I prefer to believe I am) and the power-sucking fear/anxiety thoughts that, if not checked, can assume our beautiful brains like viruses!

      Then, I say to myself, “OK, of this sucky situation, what is the 2% good that can come out of it.” The key here is to be creative and force yourself to think of the positives that can come from these changes, what opportunity is there to grow. Hard to do when experiencing very real emotions of fear/anxiety but a good challenge nevertheless! :) 

      Challenge yourself with a new premise:  ”This move is NOT the death of my career.” Maybe it will morph in some new, unexpected way. Or maybe the “success” will come in the deepening of your personal relationship.

      When I read this article and subsequent comments, Tony Robbins’ quote that why we “fail” or why we get depressed is “Never due to a lack of resources, it’s always due to a lack of resourcefulness,” just rings so true. 

      I’ve lived it and I just want to say that change is tough — even when it’s positive, our minds/bodies seem to always want to preserve the status quo. No matter what, don’t judge yourself, and finding/cultivating a support system wherever you go is huge when tackling a whole new way of life. 

      Best of luck Michele!

      Morena Vattuone

       

  • JenInBoston

    I’m lost. Where was the part about how he compromised? There was a lot of talk about how you felt your career was suffering, you couldn’t network, you deserved less focus because you were earning less, you were expected to take a back seat, and you resented others’ expectations that your goals were secondary by nature. And then you overcame your bad feelings by….sucking it up and realizing that it’s your job to compromise because your “teammate” deserved that? Boy, am I glad your husband’s start-up panned out! Most don’t. Wonder how you’d be feeling if you were in the usual shoes: 5 years into DH’s start-up, little to show for your own professional dreams, and no end in sight to what you’re expected to take for the team. Re “Guest’s” comments below: It’s not weird to feel depression and self pity over your decision to subsume your professional aspirations in life and pretend that partnership with your front-and-center hubby who’s doing what he loves outside the home is just as fulfilling, and really the same, as doing what YOU love outside the home. Almost every bit of wisdom LV offers on this topic is for a woman never to fall into the reality of not being able to support herself, should the need arise. This article describes a very common family arrangement, but not one that I can find in any way empowering for strong women with well-defined professional ambitions.

    • http://aaroncouch.me/ Aaron Couch

      It’s not about being strong individual. It’s about being committed to your partner. Marriage is not about two individuals, it’s about unity.

      • JenInBoston

        It IS about being a strong individual, because this was published here, on Learnvest, a website that targets women with the message that they should be strong, financially-empowered individuals. If this had been published on ChrisitanWives.com, or something, I wouldn’t object. It would make more sense there.

        It’s NOT about “being committed to your partner,” as you wrote. It’s about TWO partners being committed to EACH OTHER, and working to make sure they BOTH get to work toward their goals life–both private and public. That seemed lacking in this story because the author SAID it was totally lacking. She dealt with it by adjusting her definition of partnership to mean that her husband would pursue his professional ambitions, and she would put hers on hold, and that doesn’t mesh well with this website’s message.

  • lea ann knorr

    So this article hit home with my situation.  BUT  what about the protection when you decide ….Oh ya he is worth compromising for?  If he dies in a bizarre car accident….then what?  all those years for what?  just the two of us!  as the song goes….no it is always just the one of us and the other just takes their chances and hopes for the best?  being stuck in another country?  no money? no career? so now what?   fortunately it was a happy ending in this case.   

  • http://mydebtucation.blogspot.com/ Mario

    I think this post would be incomplete without a companion piece wherein the tech start-up gamble did not work out. I’m extraordinarily pleased that it paid off for you guys, but history would show that this is not always the case

  • Border Collie

    Had the business failed, what would be the result? Would unconditional love prevail or would she have fired Andreas?

  • -M

    Thank you for sharing this piece. I am about to make my fourth move for my husband’s career and emotionally this one is looking to be one of the more difficult ones. It is truly all about perspective and not missing out on the phenomenal experiences that each new place affords. I’ve been guilty of wallowing in my culture shock before and this time around I am leaving a place that I have fallen in love with, along with a great group of friends. I am really going to try to keep it positive, focus on the benefits of this move for our life, and see it as a new adventure. Thank you again for eloquently summarizing all that has been swirling around my head for the past 5 years.