Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Q: My boyfriend believes that when it comes to a career, the most important thing is to do what you are passionate about, and money is incidental. I see a career as a way to pay bills, save for retirement, vacation, and spend time with friends.
I am happy for him that he's doing something he enjoys (writing). But my priority is to provide, so I'm getting my MBA. I really respect his values, I'm just starting to get worried that we have such divergent views. How do we figure out if this can work?
Money and values
Carolyn: What does he feel is the minimum he needs to contribute — enough to support himself? Children? Or does he believe money is just one of many things a partner can bring to a family (classic example: stay-at-home parenting)? Or is he happy to take whatever you're willing to give?
Also, consider the lifestyle to which you'd like to become accustomed. Let's say his career allows you one beach week per year, by car, in an off-the-beach condo. And let's say your career allows you to fly somewhere twice a year and stay in plush hotels. Will you resent paying for both of you, or will it be your pleasure to provide the upgrade? What if you can only upgrade half the time because of his low earnings — will you curse the condo all week?
This is about whether you trust each other to be fair, to be teammates, to work equally if differently toward a mutual goal.
Figuring that out will take knowledge of yourselves, honesty with each other and a string of what-if scenarios. Even then, you can't predict what will happen, but at least you'll be able to poke around for predictable sources of resentment.
Anonymous 2: "Marriage Confidential" by Pamela Haag has a chapter on "Tom Sawyer husbands" — who have "fun" careers while their wives do something boring to support them. Hint: Most of the women in that chapter weren't very happy, especially not once kids arrived.
Carolyn: What about Ladies Who Lunch (or the millennial update, Ladies Who Yoga)? Or even stay-at-home parents? The marriage of bored breadwinner to non-earning spouse is a familiar one to all of us, but it often gets the "EEK" treatment by women who object to supporting men.
Whatever the answer, it has to apply to all configurations to be valid — and to involve two spouses who enter into these roles freely, ungrudgingly, and with eyes open to ways their division of labor can adapt as life changes.
Anonymous3: I urge you to also consider the big picture. I am a "do what you love" type, my husband is not. However, he travels extensively for work, I rarely do. I rarely have to work late or bring work home with me. I am able to work at home. I have lots of vacation time. There is more to consider than just the paycheck. In our family we just combine all earnings and operate as one unit without considering who brought in what. I know that's not for everyone, but it works for us.
Carolyn: Big picture = everything. Thanks.