It's February and it seems to me this is the month when (like it or not) the world turns its focus to romantic relationships. Whether you're in a relationship, want to be in a relationship, getting over a relationship, or avoiding them completely, everyone seems to have something to say about them.
It occurred to me, though, that most of the literature you find on career and professional development tends to cover stuff like how to network, how to write a resume, how to handle conflict with a coworker, how to ask for a promotion, etc. Unless it's debating the pros and cons of dating a coworker, rarely do you get relationship advice from a career perspective, which is unfortunate because YOUR CAREER WILL NOT HAPPEN IN A VACUUM. It just won't.
I want to make sure to emphasize that marriage and family are not/should not be the ultimate goal for everyone. I love Elisabeth Eliot's quote: "Singleness ought not to be viewed as a problem, nor marriage as a right. God in his wisdom and love grants either as a gift." In the context of career conversations, however, we ought not to be remiss in intentionally addressing how linking yourself in a lifetime partnership with another human being will impact your career. In fact, one of the most career-impacting decisions you will ever make is who you marry. And, as they say, the best time to work on your marriage is before you have one.
According to Dr. Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them:
Young Americans do marry later than their parents did—on average about five years later—and this statistic especially holds true in urban areas. But the United States is still the most marrying nation in the Western world. About 50 percent of Americans marry by age 30, 75 percent by the age of 35, and 85 percent by the age of 40. Even though marriage may seem almost irrelevant, most 20-somethings—male or female, gay or straight—will be married or partnered within about 10 years' time.
So here are four things to consider if you find yourself at the intersection of Career and Marriage, or maybe just visiting the neighborhood. If you are currently in a relationship, you probably already have some data, which is great. If not, then these are things to pay attention to as you consider what is important to you in a future partner.
How supportive is this person of my career right now? How have they shown me their support?
The spark or connection might be there, but is this someone with whom you want to talk about your job? Do they have good insights into your work or your day-to-day challenges? Is this person interested in what you do when you're apart? Are they excited for you to reach goals and willing to support you? Financially? Emotionally? What are the limits of that support?
Fast forward seven years: You're married and have a baby. You both are working full-time in jobs you enjoy, although one of you makes a decent amount more than the other. The baby gets sick and thus can't go to child care. How do you decide who uses sick time to stay home and take care of Junior? How do you keep this dilemma from becoming a case of "whose job is most important?"
How much am I willing to bend my own goals or sacrifice to support my partner's career goals? How open am I to changes in direction?
This is tough stuff – especially for women, who have traditionally been the ones to do most of the sacrificing . . . for a myriad of reasons. When you are in the first flush of love, the strong emotions you have for a person allow you to stretch beyond what you might have previously desired. Such is the beauty and life-altering power of love (and dopamine).
But just like a rubber band stretches and then contracts, so can our expectations once that first flush recedes (and it will). Science generally agrees that the "Passionate" or "Infatuation" stage of love can last up to two years. As those chemicals in your brain diminish and are gradually replaced by what scientists think of as a more realistic or "Companionate" love, you may not feel as open to sacrificing as you were before. There will be times when life throws you a curveball. Are you willing to move to another city for your partner to pursue an education or take a new job? How do you define "partnership?"
How does this person's feelings/philosophy around having and rearing children blend with mine?
You guys, marriage is hard. And parenting is HARDER. Even beyond the years of nighttime feedings and potty training, the road will never be completely smooth. As the saying goes, "Little people, little problems; big people, bigger problems." Once a relationship becomes serious, this is probably the first conversation that should happen. What are this person's hopes and dreams for having children? How many, if any? How long do you wait? Does someone long to be a stay-at-home-parent? Does someone long for the other person to be a stay-at-home-parent? What about discipline styles? How much importance do you place on passing on your faith and spiritual values? How do you each imagine yourselves parenting? Are you open to adoption? Fostering?
When communication breaks down (or never happens) regarding expectations about children, heartbreak is likely to follow. Our hurting world bears witness to this tragedy, and many of us are still healing from these childhood wounds as we step into the next season of life.
Speaking from experience, I knew that I wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom while my children were young, and I knew that finding a partner that understood this value and supported it was important to me. I also knew that there might be reasons that I would either want or need to continue working after having children and I was OK being flexible. Sometimes I question my choice to stay at home, but I am ALWAYS glad that these were things we talked about before we said "I do."
Finally, I can't leave this subject without saying that no matter how egalitarian and modern you hope your marriage to be, it is FASCINATING how, quicker than you can say "flux capacitor," the arrival of children can send your relationship dynamic back to the 1950s. I wish this was just anecdotal, but, unfortunately, the research also bears it out.
What are each of our values around money? Are they compatible?
It's worth it to figure out what "success" looks like to each person in a relationship. Or maybe forget about "success" – figure out how each of you defines "normal." It's probably no surprise to anyone that money is one of the greatest contributors to conflict and divorce.
How do you envision handling finances as a couple? Is there a spender and a saver? How will you decide who pays what bills? There are many resources for couples to get a grip on their finances. Financial Peace University was something we did early on in our marriage that was helpful in starting conversations.
For what it's worth, the best relationship advice I ever received was something along the lines of: "Don't lose sight of who you are." This advice speaks into every corner of my life – as a mother, daughter, friend, employee, and life partner. In his beautiful poem, On Marriage, Khalil Gibran counsels, "Let there be spaces in your togetherness/and let the winds of heaven dance between you." It is my hope for whomever might read this that, in addition to a paycheck, your career would also be a blessing to your relationship, and that your partner might see the fullness of who you are through the work you are called to do.