She wants the big house, he wants a stress free life. Or, he wants the shiny new BMW, she wants a life more meaningful. This is what a lot of midlife couples struggle with. A dissatisfaction with their own career pursuits. Or the desire to live a life different from what they are living.
Midlife is often that stage in a person’s life when they stop to pause and think. To reconsider, recalibrate and reorient oneself with regard to different areas of one’s life. This includes work, before one reaches that point called retirement.
Why do individuals look at career change in midlife?
Well, why do we work? We work for various reasons – to earn money, to fill up time, to make our lives more meaningful, and so on. For most people, the answer to that question changes as we age. Midlife often brings about a very different answer to that question than it did when we were a couple of decades younger. Hence, many individuals want to work based on the new needs/priorities of their lives.
The Indian work culture forces men and women to sacrifice family time on the altar of career success. This often leads men and women on different career trajectories. Men and women who start out as equally educated and trained often end up at different places in their careers by the time they reach midlife. While many women who prioritise family over career do not resent the journey or the destination, some do. Midlife can be the time when such individuals feel free to make more career oriented decisions.
The varied career motivators.
Some people continue to do the same work into midlife and retirement because they have gotten good at it. In most cases, it also continues to give them returns that matter to them. These could be in the form of money, recognition, fame, prestige, a sense of belonging, etc.
For others, the motivators have changed. Money, fame, recognition, etc., do not matter any more. These people are usually looking to do things that they find more meaningful, enjoyable or socially relevant.
Then there are home-makers, or men and women who have opted to focus on raising children instead of growing their careers. When these individuals reach midlife, their kids have often reached an age when they do not require constant care and attention. These individuals may want to then re-engage with paid work or re-focus on their careers.
Midlife career transition – it is not just an individual’s decision.
Most midlife couples are able to transition this phase, balancing and supporting each other’s career decisions. Others work through and reconcile their differences on the topic of work. But, for some couples this difference in aspirations can take the relationship to breaking point.
One spouse may resent the other spouse’s decision to take a career break or decision not to focus on earning big amounts of money. Or, one spouse may not be able to understand the other spouse’s need to begin or continue to focus on work.
What to do if your career decision is rocking the marriage boat.
A midlife couple’s inability to work through career decisions is often a symptom of long-standing relationship issues. It results from a long term neglect of the relationship. Of piled up resentments and unforgiven hurts.
Now, it is always better to begin repairing one’s relationship before it reaches breaking point. But, couples are known to have brought their relationship back, even from the brink of divorce.
If you find that you cannot agree with your spouse’s career related decisions and it is adding stress to your marriage, you are not the only one. But, you do need to figure out what else is adding stress to your relationship. And, begin to take some positive steps to build back your relationship. Or else, you can seek the help of a psychotherapist or marriage counsellor.
Career decisions seem like individual decisions. And, you probably did not make your marriage decision based on your spouse’s resume. However, career decisions can have an impact on the relationship, especially when spouses have different views on money/possessions or family time. These views are not formed overnight and neither are the differences around them. It is important to start sorting out these issues as they arise rather than ignoring them or piling them up.