Help! My Spouse Has a Successful Career (And I Don’t)

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Developing your careers—at any time in your marriage—is hard work for both of you. While it would be nice if both spouses could progress toward their career goals at the same pace, that’s not realistic, and it’s very unlikely. That means, at some point, one of you will be arguably more successful in your career than the other.

If your wife or husband has a more successful career than you during this season, it’s normal to feel left behind, inadequate, and maybe even a little jealous. While you should definitely acknowledge your feelings, it’s dangerous to let them take root and create bitterness between you and your spouse.

Today, we’ll talk about some things to keep in mind that will help you cope with your feelings and situation in a healthy way. (Hint: it’s all about mindset.)

Everyone’s Career Grows at Its Own Pace

There are many factors that could put you and your spouse on different career trajectories. If you work in different industries, it could be that progress looks different between the two. Some industries advance workers more quickly than others.

If you happen to be an entrepreneur or in a field that requires you to “pay your dues” for longer than your spouse’s chosen field (for example, you might have to go to school for longer or work for lower pay for an extended period of time in order to progress), remind yourself why you chose the path you’re on. Reconnecting with your passion for your calling will help you refocus, create positive energy, and get your attention back where it needs to be: on your forward momentum.

Your Spouse’s Success Doesn’t Equal Your Failure

To build on our first point, it’s important to understand that if your spouse has surpassed career goals that you’ve set for yourself, that doesn’t mean you have failed. It doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. All it means is that you’re in different places when it comes to your work.

You’re not meant to be in competition with one another; instead, build each other up. Support each other. It may take time to get where you want to be, but if you stay focused on your goals, you’ll get there. In the meantime, cheer your spouse on, and don’t be afraid to ask him or her for positive affirmations and extra moral support on your journey.

Your Spouse’s Success Benefits You Both

Does your spouse have a higher-ranking position than you? Does your spouse make more money? Is your spouse an experienced, successful entrepreneur? Great!
Aside from the obvious monetary benefits to either of you making a good salary, your spouse’s experience as a leader or seasoned professional is beneficial to you–as a job seeker, a professional-in-development, an entrepreneur, etc. And the more winning connections your spouse makes, the higher the chances you’ll cross paths with someone who can help you with further professional development.

Consider what your spouse may be doing right, and how you might be able to implement those principles in your own career path (if applicable). Is your spouse someone who could be a role model of sorts for you?

Finally, let your spouse’s wins be your wins! Cheer one another on. You can create so much positive energy with mutual encouragement.

Turn Your Discouragement Into Motivation

It doesn’t do any good to mope about what you haven’t accomplished, or to create conflict with your spouse out of jealousy over their job. Instead, create a list of goals and desires, then turn your discouragement into motivation to get yourself moving.

Jealousy and bitterness are immobilizers. If you don’t allow those emotions to control you, you can light a fire under your feet to grow in your own career. Plus, you’ll maintain a happier marriage. Remember, you’re on the same team.

Have you and your spouse experienced a major career discrepancy? If you had “the short end of the stick,” how did you handle it? Were you able to turn your disappointment into momentum? Let us know in the comments!

10 Comments

  • Shawn says:

    Wow. What a great article! This hits home for me. My wife is in the Air Force and it has been hard to keep my career moving forward when we move every 2-3 years. I went from making a six-figure income to making less than a quarter of that doing a job I don’t even like. It’s part of the sacrifice of being a military family but at the same time I have to admit I sometimes struggle with those feelings of inadequacy and at times feeling like a failure. However, I know these feelings aren’t true. One of things that has really helped me is having a supportive wife. She always encourages me to pursue my passions and she even believes in me when I don’t believe in myself. We have been very intentional about celebrating her accomplishments in the Air Force. I am incredibly proud of the great impact she’s had serving our country so I can’t say enough about supporting and encouraging one another. Thank you so much for this article.

  • Dan says:

    I certainly appreciate what Shawn said, and I deeply appreciate what our military families do for us, and the protection they provide us all in this country through their personal sacrifices.

    Setting aside the obvious exceptions, such as Shawn, has it ever occurred to someone that this is not the issue at all, really? Is there anyone that is even interested in returning to the Biblical roles of man and wife in this materialistic society? Reader’s Digest did a study some years ago on the two income family. They found that the drive for two income earners in the family was a desire to maintain and attain a level of lifestyle that our parents never dreamed of. I think that this article on competing careers is missing the mark while hitting the bull’s eye. I live in a town that hires many international workers from around the world. Over the years I have gotten acquainted with many of them, and I ask them what differences they see in our culture compared to theirs. Over a 15 year period I can’t number the times they have said some form of ” In our culture we love people and use things. In your culture you love things and use people.”

    Until we address the issue of materialism competing for our time and attention, we will never come to a reconciliation of the the conflict discussed here.

    Maybe we should examine our basic paradigms and beliefs, rather than attempt to reconcile the materialistic culture and our supposed walk with God.

    • Jennifer Brown says:

      You made some great points, however in a lot of families, two incomes are required to survive not to be materialistic. My husband and I are both gifted in the arts and music is our God given drive and passion. Our society does not highly value the arts, so we struggle financially. Some people have not had the educational opportunities to become adequate income earners allowing their family to live on one income and others just aren’t skilled in the areas that provide adequate incomes.

    • Shawn says:

      Good points Dan. I really liked what you said about loving people and using things. I just wanted to clarify that even though I mentioned what happened to my income, I just mentioned this because this is one of the barometers our culture uses to define success. I’ve had to remind myself that in light of our materialistic culture, my success has nothing to do with how much money I make or what position I hold. The fact is that as part of our human nature, we always compare ourselves to others. I think that’s where this article hits home for me. If I am going to be completely honest, then I have to admit there are times when I compare my career to my wife’s career. She has reached the pinnacle of her career in the Air Force. Professionally, she’s at the top of her career field. There is no comparison. I jokingly tell people I’m a trophy husband (I’m not…not even close), but the point is that it can be hard on one spouse when the other spouse has a great career. One of the things that has helped me is my faith because I know I’m called to love my wife as Christ loves the church. A small reflection of what that looks like for me is being my wife’s biggest fan and celebrating her successes and service in the Air Force. Now, obviously I am far from a perfect husband and I have learned from many failures but being intentional about celebrating her career has reaped a lot of benefits in our marriage and our family. With that said, I think our human nature is always going to struggle with materialism as long as we are here on earth. That’s where we need to encourage one another and that’s what this article did for me. On a side note, my family recently moved to northern Virginia and the cost of living here is ridiculous. In this area, often both spouses must work just to make ends meet.

  • Sally says:

    After 35 years of marriage, my husband’s sexual addiction and many years in counseling, I am considering divorce.
    I raised our five children with a couple of our young adults still at home. My husband is the
    sole breadwinner and we have invested heartily
    over the years into our own business and his profession.
    The thought of being back into the workforce and long lost skills, I find myself frozen with pain and rejection from my husband. Most of the time it is such a demon to overcome the thoughts of inadequacy and fear of more failure.
    Just one step forward will help, but my heart and feet are like dead weight.
    I gave up a successful employment path to raise our children and be at home with them. Now I am so stuck in making baby steps for my own future, regardless of the outcome of my marriage.
    Resources? Input?

  • Sally, I am so sorry to hear that you are even considering divorce and pray there has been no physical abuse over the years. That means your support system has failed you and your husband. If I may just encourage you that God used you and is still using you in a mighty way. Like Les stated in this article, find the good through it all. The good here is that you were blessed to be able to have direct input into your children’s lives by being home for them. Others may not of had this capability due to having to work outside of the home and therefore missed those glorious years of being home for their kids during or after school. God placed you in your husband’s life for this season because He knew you could handle it. Instead of considering leaving him, ask God to reveal to you the core of your husband’s hurt and join him in prayer to heal the hurt. Consider how you can continue praying for him and praying him through this situation. Tired? Look to God for your strength and not the number of years it has been. I understand the journey has not been easy my sister in Christ but you can do all things through Christ Jesus, you can call the devil a liar and come against his attacks towards your family to steal, kill and destroy. I’ll be praying for you. And as far as resources, you have the best there is on the market, the Bible and may I strongly suggest that you get a new circle of friends. Blessings!

    • Melodee says:

      Natasha! I was encouraged by your post. As a stay at home mom- I wonder about the impact being at home for 3- 5 years will have on my career. You gave godly, sound advice. You’re a good friend and jewel in your husband’s crown! I will be praying for Sally as well- my prayer is that she will be open to what God is doing in this season of her life and marriage.

  • Mare Bear says:

    Interesting take. My spouse and I had yet another argument again this morning. I work from home making a very decent income and am available to run errands, take care of our kids once they get home from school or if they’re sick, keep up with laundry, do the “falls through the cracks” things that come with being a family, etc. However, my spouse feels I should go back to work because he wants me to make MORE money. I feel like the income I make now is quite good and we’re doing just fine financially, albeit no “toys” or fun things that my hubs would like. I feel like me going back to work just equals more blow money. He even said we’re not equal because he makes more than me. I don’t know how to approach this. I celebrate his successes and praise him and thank him but never receive the same in return.

  • Stephen says:

    I can understand Shawn’s position, it can be tough. Growing up in a single income family, I always equated the father’s role as provider and builder. I left a career and building business for my wife and her children to start over in a completely new area. What a change after roughly 20 years of building a reputation to be a no reputation start over! We have been married just over 7 years now, kids are all on their own and a grandchild has found his way home with us. I am still working on that reputation and now a completely different career with the backing of my lovely and supportive wife. Hang in there, for everything there is a season!

  • Julie says:

    Where children are involved money cannot replace time and attention. With grown children we can attest that sacrificing in the early years has paid dividends that are priceless No matter who is providing the money (God is the ultimate source) it is a team effort to raise the family so each person’s role is valuable. Someone needs to have the energy to monitor and train the children in the way they should go. This is a thankless job at times but is so vital to the health and well-being of our families. “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Too many demands are being placed on our school systems that belong on the family. They can step alongside the family but cannot replace it.

    Also, when the children are grown aging parents need our support and this is hard to do if everyone is putting forth their whole self to “developing careers”. We need to encourage those who take a step back and care for others in lieu of their own desires.

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