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Ambition not a problem in marriage, but a power imbalance can be

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Ambition not marriage problem, but a power imbalance can be

Somewhere: Is a marriage doomed if both husband and wife are ambitious? My husband thinks only one of us can have a thriving career since we have two small kids (6 and 2). Since he is seven years older than I am, he is better positioned in his career, and he believes kids need their mother, and, therefore, I should settle for a less-than-fulfilling career.

I understand that he does not want me to neglect the kids.

But I still resent him for making the decision for me just because I don't earn enough to support the family alone.

What should I do?

Carolyn: This starts as one question, but really it's another.

No, a marriage isn't doomed if both husband and wife are ambitious, and no, two-career couples don't automatically neglect their kids. If you both spend long weekdays and if you also work most weekends, then, yes, I think your kids might start to wonder why you had them.

But there are such things as flex time, job sharing, going home at 5 p.m. (!), telecommuting, and whatever other accommodations people have worked out to allow them to keep a foot in the door of their careers while they treat their kids as their top priority — as they should, since the kids didn't ask to be here.

Of course, not every career offers these accommodations, and not every parent is content to keep his or her career on simmer while devoting more time to kids, but these are all points for two parents to discuss as equals.

What your issue seems to be, far more than why-can't-I-work-too?, is that your husband has essentially refused to negotiate this balance with you. He made up his mind unilaterally on something that may never have needed to be such a drastic, either-or decision.

Yes, practically, it's often necessary for one parent to set career aside while the other parent carries the heavier earning and job-security weight — sometimes there is no "simmer" option available. Sometimes that setting aside means losing some hard-earned gains.

But in those cases, there's still room for spousal give-and-take.

For one, the two can switch after a set amount of time. Say, your husband capitalizes on his career peak now, and then steps aside two, five, seven, whatever years from now to let you dedicate yourself more fully.

Or you can find another way to achieve a satisfying balance that has nothing to do with careers. The same arrangement can go from draining to fulfilling just through mutual understanding and gratitude.

So if there's anything that will doom a marriage, it's a power imbalance. It may turn out that your best arrangement is the one you already have, but that's only okay if you come to that conclusion together.

If your husband refuses to let you have your say, or dismisses you without compromise, then you and he and your resentment would best find a competent marriage counselor to keep your little family on the rails.

Good luck.

Ambition not a problem in marriage, but a power imbalance can be 01/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 3:30am]

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