At first, it probably sounds simple. Get a job to pay the bills so we can live happily ever after. But jobs take a lot of time and sometimes that time is stolen from the time that the marriage relationship needs.
Factor in that there are jobs and then there are careers and things get even more complicated. Generally, a job is considered something one does for pay, but it does not necessarily require specialized education. A career is a job that you get paid for. It requires dedication to the field of work, plus you are expected to progress in knowledge and commitment over time.
Careers are usually more satisfying than jobs. The rub for married couples is when the career decisions of one spouse conflict or compete with the marriage, family responsibilities, or the career of the other spouse. It’s a matter of discernment and juggling. The balancing act is often not easy. Following are some things to consider when making career decisions.
How much money do we need?
Ignore the temptation to give the flip answer “as much as possible.” A need is different from a want. Sure, it might be nice to have a swimming pool, a fancy car, or an upscale address (choose your luxury), but what is really necessary are the basics: food, clothing, shelter, health care, safety, and care for any children you may have. It’s OK to splurge occasionally but be sure to weigh the cost against the impact these things will have on couple and family time.
Should both of us work outside the home?
This is a complicated question with many variables, such as:
1. How necessary is the double income to survive?
2. How invested are each of us in our jobs or careers?
- Would it be possible for one of us to take a leave from our career for a time and re-enter without undue penalty later?
- Could one of us work part-time?
- Could each of us work half-time?
- Could one of us stay current in our field and feel fulfilled by doing volunteer work?
3. Do we have young children, teens, or aging parents who need attention and personalized supervision?
4. If we have young children, do we have reliable childcare providers who share our values and discipline beliefs?
5. Do we both strongly want to work outside the home?
What if our careers create conflict between us?
Some careers may put a marriage at risk because they are all-consuming. The job becomes a mistress or an addiction. It not only takes time but also energy, away from the marriage. Sometimes the workplace provides the temptation to pursue an extramarital affair. Following are some questions to ask yourself:
1. Does your career require a time commitment of significantly over 40 hours per week?
2. Does your career require a lot of out-of-town travel?
3. Is your career so foreign to your spouse that it’s hard to share the nature of your work, at least in a general way?
4. Does your spouse’s work setting put him/her in frequent, intense working relationships with the opposite sex? Are your marital commitment and boundaries clear? Does the workplace support your marriage or put it at risk?
What are some ways to keep work, marriage, and family in balance?
Generally, work and children take their time off the top of a relationship. Work provides necessary income and includes built-in accountability, i.e. a boss, wages, and reviews. Children make demands, plus we are responsible for their well-being.
The challenge is to give work and children their due but to balance them with what’s needed to keep a marriage strong. The temptation is to let the marriage go on autopilot because you’re both adults, you know you love each other, and you can let it slide for a while when jobs or kids are demanding your time. The key phrase is “for a while.” Indeed, most marriages can absorb temporary spurts of attention to an urgent work project or an ailing parent. But it’s easy for a temporary crisis to slide into an ongoing pattern. To avoid this it’s helpful to have some regular marital practices that can prevent the balance from getting out of hand. For example:
1. Commit to a weekly date. This might not always involve spending money or going out, but it should be a sacred time to renew your relationship and do something fun together.
2. Agree on how many hours of extra work (at the office or brought home) you can tolerate as a couple. Where do you draw the line and say it’s time to look for a different job?
3. Share what you love and hate about your work with your spouse so you stay connected with each other.
4. If necessary, lower your housekeeping standards (or pay someone to do chores you could do yourselves) to maximize couple/family time.
5. Include your spouse in work travel and parties when possible.
6. Staggering work schedules to minimize child care can be good for your relationship with your child but hard on the marriage. Make sure that your only together time is not while one is sleeping.
7. If you need to gain couple-time, say no to nice but non-essential tasks such as:
- baking cookies for the PTA
- chairing a charity fundraiser
- going to events that you can’t do as a couple
- going to events that you don’t really care about but are in the habit of attending
- TV, videos, and computer gaming- can be time wasters
There are so many important and wonderful things we want to do with our time. How do we decide what to do and what to give up or do later?
The bottom line is:
- Marriage first (This is the vocation to which you committed yourself.)
- Children second (Your children may take more raw time, but not at the expense of your marriage. A healthy marriage is good for your children.)
- Job third (Again, your job may take more hours, but don’t let it rule your life.)
- Service and Recreation (Good and healthy to do, but make sure the other bases are covered.)
For Further Reading:
- For Better or for Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and Their Families by Meg Cadoux Hirshberg
- Discerning the Will of God: An Ignatian Guide to Christian Decision Making by Father Timothy M. Gallagher