Do you fantasize about finally quitting your job and doing something you love but feel too scared to talk to your partner or spouse about it? Or have you tried to talk to your spouse about your dreams for more fulfilling work and just ended up fighting instead?
Talking to a partner about wanting to make a career change can feel really hard. When you want to make a career change it can feel really out of control for your partner, so the conversation often ends up focusing on the ways in which your partner’s fears (How will we pay our bills??) or their beliefs about work (You should just live for the weekend like everyone else!) are in direct conflict to your desire to make a change. And when conversations about your potential career change leave you feeling angry, unsupported or misunderstood it can feel tempting to either just avoid talking about it or to suck it up and resign yourself to the miserable job until you inevitably feel like you can’t take it anymore.
But even if your partner does feel scared or resistant, there are ways to turn the conversation into a healthier, more productive one where ideally both of you feel good about the outcome.
Here are my tips for doing just that:
1) Make it a priority to make your partner feel heard: Just like with any big topic in a relationship, it helps immensely if your partner feels heard and understood. Something as simple as mirroring back what they’re saying can go a long way towards easing some of the tension and concern. If they feel heard they are less likely to feel the need to keep repeating themselves or trying to make their point. If you happen to share some of their fears it can actually feel validating to your partner to admit that and might ease any need they feel to convince you that this is scary. It can be tempting to want to make this conversation all about you, but take a step back and consciously make space to just hear your partner.
2) Make sure they know you’re committed to having a plan: Most of the time, partners are very concerned about the HOW, and that can trigger our own fears and that inner voice that tells us all the reasons why our idea won’t work. I really believe it’s important to set aside those “how’s” early in a career search since they can block you from figuring out what you love, which is tricky because the “how” is usually exactly what your partner wants to talk about. But just letting your partner know you’re committed to having a plan can go a long way. That might mean a plan that directly relates to some of their concerns & how you would handle them (e.g., would you commit to a certain savings number before leaving your job, etc). Or it might be more of just a commitment that even if you don’t know the exact plan right now, you’re taking really concrete steps towards creating one when the time is right (by working with a coach to figure out what kind of work you would love, doing your research via informational interviews, looking at your budget, etc).
3) Explain WHY you care so much about making this change: Sometimes our partners don’t truly see just how unhappy we are in current jobs, especially if on paper it might look like a “great” job. So taking the time to explain why this matters so much to you can help and, on the flip side, when you do have a clearer idea of what you want to do, really showing and explaining WHY this new career is so exciting to you (vs. just presenting the “what” of the new career idea) can make a difference.
4) Think about how you want to protect your own emotional space: A career change is a huge transition that inevitably comes with its ups and downs. Whether you feel certain about what you want to do or have no idea, there are bound to be times when you’re feeling down about the whole process. If your partner is feeling stress around your career change they might not be the best person to turn to if you’re feeling doubts or needing support. It might just add to their own stress – and you end up not getting the support you need. So think about what your resources are for getting support. That might mean working with a coach, figuring out which friends or family members can be there for you and don’t have a vested interest in what you do for a career, or even just figuring out the ways you can take care of yourself when you’re feeling discouraged, scared or down.
5) Express your gratitude: Like I said, it can feel scary for the partner because this whole process can feel out of their control, so just expressing your gratitude for any bit of support you get from them, even if it’s just sitting down to have this conversation, can also go a long way. And consider how your partner most likes to receive gratitude. Is it enough to just tell them that you’re grateful or does a gesture of gratitude feel more meaningful to them? What can you do to show your partner your ongoing appreciation in a way that resonates for them?
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