Finding her groove as the owner of a successful tech start-up, Jennifer, 42, has to pinch herself now and again. She worked hard for it, and now it has all come together: Over the past three years, her online business has tripled in revenue, and she holds sold-out events twice a year. Amazingly, she manages to juggle it all—her business, her life married to Dan for 12 years, their two kids and hectic schedules.
And yet something at home is not quite right. Dan’s career in finance has reached a plateau—and the runaway success of Jennifer’s start-up contrasts glaringly with his faltering work life. He often seems distant when she talks excitedly about her business. She feels a coolness between them; Dan often feels like he’s on the back burner, and their sex life isn’t even on the stove. At tax time, it comes to light that she is earning twice his income. Could he be secretly jealous of her success?
When Success Equals Relationship Risk
In my work as a therapist, I meet a lot of women like Jennifer—talented, intelligent women who are living their passion and realizing their potential. Sometimes their relationships click perfectly with the beautiful unfolding of their lives. But not always. According to the US Department of Labor, 29% of American women earned more than their husbands in 2013. Gender norms are changing, yet it can take a while for our mindsets to catch up. Though they may not realize it on a surface level, many men still feel like they need to conform to society’s definition of “breadwinner” masculinity. Like it or not, their ability to bring home the bacon affects their sense of self-worth. That’s why when women out-earn men, their relationships can suffer: Statistics show that divorce rates are higher, infidelity is more likely, and there is a more unequal division of labor at home, with women taking on more housework to assuage their husband’s unease.
Yet there’s a lot we can do to keep our relationships strong and fulfilling, even when career and money are not lining up perfectly equal in our partnerships. And if there’s one thing I know as a therapist practicing in New York City for over 15 years, it’s that powerful, disconnecting emotions like jealousy are always an opportunity for growth. If you sense jealousy, resentment, or frustration from your spouse, don’t shy away. See it as a chance to dive in, rebuild your bond, and come out stronger on the other side. Here’s how.
Talk it out. Instead of skirting around the subject, name the elephant in the room between you and your partner—doing it in a safe, supportive, nonjudgmental way. Mention the words or behaviors you have noticed and that you’re curious to understand. Chances are, your husband is of two minds: He’s proud of your success (and, let’s face it, he likes the extra money that you bring in)—yet his self-esteem has taken a hit. Use deep listening skills and empathy so you can both feel seen, heard, and validated.
Learn from others. Seek out other couples that have successfully worked through challenges surrounding one partner’s success. What worked for them may or may not work for you, but chances are they have golden nuggets of wisdom and experience to share. Read books about how people balance work and family and create true partnerships, such as Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family (Random House, 2015).
Make time for each other. If you’re a success at what you do, chances are you haven’t had a lot of time to devote to your marriage. Prioritize and schedule time to talk and enjoy activities together—including sex—to stay connected. Make a commitment to show up 100 percent when you’re with your partner.
Don’t skimp on self-care. To give, you have to first give to yourself. There’s a reason why they say on an airplane to put the mask on yourself before your child. If you’re running on empty your health will suffer, and you’ll be too depleted to offer what your spouse and family deserve. Take the time to recharge—whether it’s yoga, spa time, or a hot-and-sweaty run in the park. Self-care isn’t selfish: In the end, you’ll have more to give.
Create your relationship vision. We have a responsibility to create marriages that we love—hot, sexy, sweet, supportive. Envision a relationship where you can both feel the win-win of supporting each other’s growth individually, in your work life, and in your relationship. There’s no greater gift that you can give to your children than showing them a strong, secure, “we’ve got each other’s backs and will support one another in good times and bad” marriage.
Make your partner a real partner. Sheryl Sandberg popularized this phrase, and I couldn’t agree more. Think of your marriage like a business partnership; reach out and engage your spouse as you would a partner or advisor. You’re in this together, and deep down, you both want your relationship—your careers and businesses—to succeed and flourish.
Back to Jennifer and Dan: They have a golden opportunity to turn things around. It takes work, but I’ve seen it happen: I’m a turnaround expert. That’s why I’m tasking all of us strong, beautiful, passionate entrepreneurs to create relationships we love in our business and personal lives. We can use difficult emotions like jealousy as a chance to go deeper and get passionate about creating the relationships that really support and nourish us.
Meet women like Dr. Megan who will be in attendance at Savor Life Summit on October 16-18, 2016 to discuss important women and business issues such as the above.