How to Develop Your Career
and Keep Love in Your Marriage
Introduction: The letters I selected this week are from women. But my advice is the same regardless of the writer's sex. I strongly encourage both husbands and wives to develop challenging careers for themselves (my daughter has a Ph.D. degree in Psychology), but the Policy of Joint Agreement should be their guide. A husband or wife should also remember that throughout marriage, no goal is so important that the meeting of each other's most important emotional needs should be ignored.
Dear Dr. Harley,
I hope you can help me. This morning my husband told me he doesn't love me anymore. I love him very much and want to do what I can to save our marriage.
I have just earned a doctorate degree in Chemistry. While I was in school, my husband supported me, and was willing to move so that I could get the education I needed. But he has recently found a job he really enjoys and has talent for. My training is very specialized and there are very few jobs available in my area of expertise. I have been offered a job I would love to have but my husband doesn't want to leave the area we're in because he loves his job so much.
I am hurt that, after my being in college so very long and training so hard, he is not absolutely supportive of my career. Now the hard part is over and it is time for us to reap the financial rewards of years of diligence. Can you offer assistance? I would be so grateful.
I think if you and your husband were to have a heart-to-heart talk, he might tell you that he does not feel that your educational efforts were in his best interest -- he might tell you that they were in your best interest. Your achievements were not for you as a couple, they were for you as an individual. He may not even feel he had a choice in the matter. Or, he may have supported your educational objectives because he loved you, not because he felt there was something in it for him too.
If you've read the Basic Concepts section of my Web site, you know I feel that romantic love affects our state of mind (I call them States of Mind in Marriage). When he loved you, he was in the state of Intimacy and was willing to make sacrifices to make you happy. Now, because his emotional needs have not been met, his love for you has faded and he is either in the state of Conflict or Withdrawal, probably Withdrawal. In these states of mind, he is now more concerned about his own interests, and tends to ignore yours. That's why he wants to pursue his own vocational goals independently of yours.
He lost his love for you because, in the pursuit of your education, his most important emotional needs were not being met. I've been to graduate school too, and I know that it takes long hours of study to be successful, hours away from your spouse. You have probably been so busy that you didn't have much time to meet his emotional needs. One day, perhaps years ago, he woke up and realized he didn't love you anymore. He may have admitted it only now because you were expecting him to move to another city.
In the state of Conflict, he may have thought to himself, she cares more about her career than she does about me. If she cared about me, she would have been more concerned about me, my career development, and would have at least considered staying here. The evidence at hand would have supported his argument.
We marry to find someone who cares more about us than anything else. Both men and women feel that way. If your career interests are more important than your husband's interests, he will eventually conclude that he is missing what he needs most in marriage, someone who puts him first.
Incidentally, that applies not just to careers, but to everything else, too. If children are most important, they will come between spouses. The same is true for friends and in- laws, how you spend money or what you do on weekends. These will ruin your marriage if they are more important than your spouse's feelings. Your most important consideration in life should be the interests of your spouse, or your marriage will suffer.
If your career really is your first priority, your marriage does not have much of a chance. I don't think it's possible to love anyone, for any length of time, whose career is his or her highest priority. But if you put his interests first, your career will flourish and serve both of you very well.
Re-focus your efforts in life to prove to your husband that you care more about him than you do your education, or your career. That's what my Policy of Joint Agreement is all about (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse). It helps spouses put each others interest before all other considerations, even when they don't feel like it, or don't have the sense to. You can read about it in my Basic Concepts section.
Your husband may not be in the mood to follow that policy himself at this time, but that doesn't mean that you can't take the initiative and follow it unilaterally. Tell him that from now on, you will not try to make him do anything unless he is enthusiastic about it -- unless he sees it is in his best interest too. And that includes moving to take a job that will advance your career objectives.
Your husband's telling you that he doesn't love you may be a very timely warning of disaster on the horizon. Refocus your intelligence and effort so that your educational efforts don't end up costing you your marriage.