When Your Supportive Spouse Turns Selfish

I was at a dinner with eight highly successful professional women recently, ranging from age 35 to 74. Their stories were typical of research I have been conducting on dual-career couples. One had just been given a huge promotion opportunity in another country, but had struggled for several months to get her spouse to agree to join her. Another had decided that to save her marriage, she would take a year’s sabbatical and go back to school, giving the family some balance and a breather from two high-powered jobs. A third had tried to work part-time for her law firm but quickly realized she was being professionally sidelined. She opted for a doctorate instead. Her husband continued his career.

This experience underlines the conclusion I’ve drawn from years of research and experience: Professionally ambitious women really only have two options when it comes to their personal partners: a super supportive partner, or no partner at all. Anything in between ends up being a morale and career-sapping morass.

This is the reality of the half-baked transition we are in when it comes to women in the workplace. The 20th century saw the rise of women. The 21st century will see the adaptation (or not) of men to the consequences of that rise. The reality is that the transition is not smooth and the backlashes will be regular, but the benefits are potentially huge.

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