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The Problem with Ambitious Husbands

by mraynes

A few weeks before we were married I remember saying to mr. mraynes that I would gladly give up my dreams so that he could reach his own. I said it because that is what you say when you are young, naïve and in love. I also said it because I knew mr. mraynes would make the same sacrifice for me. Of course, I didn’t really believe this would be required of either of us. Our dream was to go to grad school together; to live a life of art, academia and love. I was full of idealism, hubris and entitlement, a dangerous combination for dreams. So when the inevitable disappointment came early in our marriage, I was not prepared to deal with the reality of my earlier words.

Over the past four years I have watched with pride as my husband’s dreams have blossomed, knowing that I am a large part of his success. I supported mr. mraynes through his doctoral program, I created a home and provided him with much longed-for children. And now I fulfill my role as the “perfect conductor’s wife”, appearing at events looking graceful and sophisticated. I know that my presence at mr. mraynes’ side will help to give him the kind of career he dreams of. It is well documented that married men are happier and more successful than their bachelor brothers. It has even been shown that men whose wives stay at home and do housework like I do, earn significantly more. (As you might suspect, the reverse isn’t true. Working women receive no benefit from having a husband and if those women happen to have children, they can expect to be heavily penalized.) I know that just by being, I provide mr. mraynes financial, professional and emotional benefits…but I am deeply ambivalent about this knowledge.

Recently I read a profile on the Obamas’ marriage where I saw similarities to the situation that I, and many women are in. First, let me be clear, I am in no way equating my small difficulties to the enormity of what our President and First Lady face. They are not the same. I have also struggled with how to approach this post without coming off as self-congratulatory and whiny. I realize that mine is a privileged position, one that I am not ungrateful for. Despite of this, having an ambitious partner has interesting feminist implications that bear examination.

Something I have admired about the Obamas is their apparent partnership. Both are Ivy League-trained lawyers, both have had notable careers and both take an active role in parenting. But of course, reality is always more complicated than outward appearance. I was surprised in reading this article to learn exactly what Michelle Obama has sacrificed to further her husband’s political aspirations. Obviously she had to quit her job to become the First Lady but more importantly, she had to give up her dreams of an idyllic family life. The equal division of labor she desired was impossible due to the absences required by her husband’s political career. This was a life she never wanted but supported despite her misgivings. When asked how the first couple could have a truly equal relationship, Mrs. Obama responded,

Clearly Barack’s career decisions are leading us. They’re not mine; that’s obvious. I’m married to the president of the United States. I don’t have another job, and it would be problematic in this role. So that — you can’t even measure that.

What is unspoken in this article is the gendered expectations placed on women who happen to be married to aspiring politicians. Barack Obama, or any presidential candidate, need their wife to get elected. Once elected, the First Lady is expected to fulfill a public duty despite having no formal mandate and no recognized power. One can argue that this is a unique situation but I believe that the high-profile nature of the presidential marriage partnership makes it emblematic of gender role expectations in this country.

Although more subtle than it was fifty years ago, women are still expected to stand aside for men; it is something that is socialized into us from the time we are very young. It is for this reason that Michelle Obama had to give up her job and dreams of equal partnership. I also left a job and a life that I loved so that my husband could start his career. Of course my reasons for doing this were more complex than I was just socialized to sacrifice my life for mr. mraynes; indeed, I sacrificed because my husband’s career is important to me and because I believe he is capable of greatness. But this doesn’t negate the fact that in order for him to achieve this greatness, I had to get out of his way.

I’m sure the First Lady felt a similar tension. This tension is difficult to acknowledge because it goes against societal expectations for wives of powerful men. All you have to do is look at political wives that didn’t fare so well in public opinion such as Hillary Rodham Clinton or Judy Steinberg Dean to know that these gendered expectations are a force to be reckoned with. These were women who were routinely criticized as selfish and, gasp, feminists! Can you imagine the reaction Michelle Obama would have gotten if it appeared she was standing in the way of her truly inspirational husband? Women like me feel this same pressure, although to a much lesser extent. It is difficult to ask your husband to miss a networking opportunity or work fewer hours or travel less frequently so that he can spend more time at home; difficult because you know that in so doing, he is sacrificing the reach and importance of his career. I still haven’t figured out a good balance here and I suspect that this is something mr. mraynes and I will be experimenting with for a long time.

And then there’s the power issue. Exactly what power do you have as a wife of a powerful man? Obviously I have no formal power over mr. mraynes’ orchestra but do I have the power to determine tuxedo styles and repertoire choices? What rights do I have as an individual and how does that juxtapose against my role as a conductor’s wife? Or, for an example a little closer to home, what rights or power does the bishop’s wife have when her role is only formalized by her husband’s calling? These kinds of questions are relevant for any couple where one partner plays a role that is informal. I don’t have any easy answers for these questions but it is interesting to think about.

I have to admit that reading this article made me a little despondent. Having an ambitious husband has guaranteed that I, the wife, make profound sacrifices and that I continue making these sacrifices. I am torn about this; would I make those same sacrifices again? Probably. Will I continue making sacrifices for mr. mraynes? Yes. But that doesn’t change the complexity of our marriage; I have my own dreams and needs and ambitions that I somehow have to balance against my love for a man with dreams of his own. mr. mraynes is fortunately aware, sensitive and even uncomfortable with this tension and for this, he deserves a lot of credit. He also would and will sacrifice his career at any point, for any reason, to ensure my happiness. As he pointed out to me this morning, he could be a lot worse; he could be completely clueless or indifferent as many powerful men so often were in the past. Instead he acknowledges the inequality in our current situation, comes home and contributes his fair share to childcare and housework and promises to re-negotiate when we can. Perhaps this is the benefit of being married to a modern, ambitious man: acknowledgement and the aspiration towards equality.

Mraynes

Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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33 Responses

  1. Beatrice says:

    This post raises some interesting questions and ideas. One thing to think about is what if you took both gender expectations and children out of the equation. Would an individual whose spouse took a supporting role be more successful than two individuals who both were working towards their own dreams and ambitions? Of course, the answer to this question would depend on a lot of different factors, but I think one of the main points is that the supporting role of the spouse contributes a lot to an individual’s success. An individual with a spouse in a supporting role would have much more freedom in which educational opportunities and jobs he/she could take. However, if both spouses are trying to balance their dreams, they would both have to make sacrifices in order to get the jobs that they want.

    This also makes me think about children who excel in a remarkable way at something at a young age (such as young Olympic athletes). Typically they are an only child, and the parents move to different cities in order to allow their children to have the best coaches or instructors. It makes sense that if the whole family focuses on the success of one individual, that person will more likely reach a higher level of excellence than individuals who come from families that try to balance the dreams of the different family members more equally.

  2. Naismith says:

    “Although more subtle than it was fifty years ago, women are still expected to stand aside for men; it is something that is socialized into us from the time we are very young.”

    My son-in-law is being the parent at home to their two children while my daughter finishes up her doctorate. Not easy, because he can’t breastfeed, but they are making it work.

    “It is for this reason that Michelle Obama had to give up her job and dreams of equal partnership.”

    I am not so sure that giving up one’s job means giving up her dreams of equal partnership. I think Michelle wisely realizes that this is a season of their lives, and a special opportunity.

    I haven’t experienced power through my successful husband, but lots of benefits–trips to three different continents, etc.

  3. mraynes says:

    Beatrice, I understand what you’re saying, that gender role expectations don’t necessarily have anything to do with sacrificing for a member of your family, I agree. My point was that women are often called on exclusively to make these sacrifices and that does have gender implications. I’m not quite sure if you’re advocating that a person or family should sacrifice so that one member can attain the highest degree of excellence but I do have a problem with this. I don’t believe that sacrificing everything for one person is a healthy way to live. All people have needs and dreams that the people who love them most should take into consideration. At least in my family, I want my dreams taken just as seriously as my husband’s and for my son and daughter to have equal opportunities to pursue their dreams. Thanks for your comment.

    Naismith, I think it is wonderful that your son is the stay at home parent so that his wife can reach her educational goals, you must have raised him right. 🙂 My husband was at home/going to school and I worked full-time while our children were breastfeeding and you’re right, this isn’t easy. I applaud your son. As for the second quote you picked out, perhaps it wasn’t clear that I meant those two things separately. Mrs. Obama had to give up her job but more importantly, she didn’t have her husband at home to equally help with the tasks of the home, thereby making equal partnership impossible. I don’t think Michelle Obama is going to have a problem getting a job once her husband’s presidency is over; you’re right, this is a special season in their lives and she is able to do a boatload of good. My point was that even though there are perks to being the spouse of a successful man, and you provided a good one, this situation has interesting implications for the spouse with the informal role. Maybe you would be willing to share what having a successful husband has meant in your life?

  4. G says:

    Powerful post mraynes, you bring up very important points and questions.
    I do not have anything profound to add but am highly curious what input others will have. Thank you for starting this conversation.

  5. Emily U says:

    I’ve tried to formulate a response that is generalized, but I keep thinking about things in terms of your specific situation, mraynes, so I hope you don’t mind if I make a few comments some personal issues you’ve raised.

    First, I think you ARE choosing your dreams and needs, just not all of them right now. You’re choosing your ambition to raise your children and run your household. Is that really balancing your needs against mr. mraynes, or is it balancing your needs against other needs that you have?

    Second, if your needs not related to motherhood are suffering to the point of your unhappiness, why don’t you attend to them more? Why not get a job and a nanny? I hope that doesn’t sound glib, I really don’t want it to come across that way. But I really don’t believe these things have to be all or none. If you were happy working while mr. myranes stayed home with the kids, then I bet you can be happy working while a babysitter or nanny watches them. There are lots of excellent, kind, paid caregivers out there.

    Maybe part time work would be good for you? I know decent part time jobs are hard to find, so maybe you could volunteer somewhere you care about and that would be a resume builder?

    Unless your husband is Barack Obama or Brandon Flowers or someone with an absolutely all-consuming career, I think it must be possible for you to carve out some time for things other than motherhood. Please forgive me if I’ve treaded too much into your personal life, you just seem so anguished about this, I think there HAS to be a solution that isn’t years away.

  6. Azucar says:

    We’re simpatico on this one: I’ve been tumbling around thoughts like these for about a week, trying to write down my feelings.

  7. Beatrice says:

    Mraynes,

    Like you, I definitely feel better about a more balanced treatment of the goals of different family members. In my comment, I wanted to point out the trade offs that are involved in these types of decisions. Right now, my husband and I are both looking for jobs. It is really hard to balance what we both need in order to be successful in each of our careers. I think that neither of us will probably reach the level of achievement that we would have if only one of us were pursuing a professional career, but it is a sacrifice that we have decided to make. There are a lot of student couples in our ward right now in which the man is looking for a job, while the woman will be raising the family. In many ways I feel like the decisions that my husband and I are going to make would be easier if we took this approach (i.e. one of us staying at home while one of us would work). Through our current approach, we run the risk of neither of us being great at our jobs and therefore having less job security. But there are strengths and weakness to both approaches.

    Your thoughts about women being expected to sacrifice more than men certainly resonated with me. I only focused on one aspect of your post because I had some thoughts about it. When I think about these problems, I try to think about the different factors individually and the impact that they are having on the situation.

  8. Emily U says:

    Beatrice,

    When I was a newlywed in my early 20s I never thought of this happening, but both my husband and I having careers definitely has required sacrifices on both our parts, and probably neither of us will be as successful as we could have been. Sometimes I wish we’d gone the route of all-in for him with a domestic life for me because in many ways it seems easier. But there are benefits to our way of doing things, too. I’m always trying to be grateful for what I have and not focus on the greener grass (and definitely not always successful at it).

  9. chanson says:

    Funny, I keep meaning to write a similar post about being “the professor’s wife”.

    It’s true that it’s a weird situation. On the one hand, I get a certain social respect just from being the wife of a well-respected researcher at a prestigious institution (especially now that we’re living in a Germanic country, where “Herr Professor Doktor” gets additional respect). On the other hand, I met my husband in grad school (we got our PhDs the same year in the same field), and I immediately dropped out of Mathematics research myself — so I feel like I’m the gal who went to grad school to “get her MRS.” I can’t seem to stop apologizing for it.

    This semester, we’re back in NJ for a sabbatical — a stone’s throw away from our grad school alma mater — and just the other day we went to a party at the home of my thesis advisor (whom I hadn’t seen since back in grad school). I was glad to be able to report that I’m finishing up my third tech book (and that the editor and tech reviewer have had tons of praise for it), yet I still felt like it was the triumphal return of the one who succeeded, with the one who failed, in tow…

    That said, I didn’t actually give up math research to support his career — I’d already decided I wanted to switch to software engineering before I even took up with him. And he really does take responsibility for 50% of the household chores.

    But it has helped his career that I’ve been willing to just uproot (quit whatever job I’m on) and move to where he needs to go for his career. I don’t regret the “mommy track” decisions I’ve made — I’m glad I had the opportunity to cut my work to four days per week to take care of my kids on the other day.

    I guess my feminist synthesis of it all is that we do our best with the opportunities that we’re given.

  10. mraynes says:

    Wow, there are some great comments here!

    Thanks, G! Like you, I’m curious about the kind of responses we get on this thread. I had a really difficult time writing it because I knew a possible reaction was people would think I’m whiny about my life again. I kind of feel that way, so I wouldn’t blame others for thinking that. The reason I decided to go forward with the post was because I really feel like we need to understand the power disparities between men and women, no matter what form they come in. Here’s hoping this conversation will illuminate one of those disparities.

    EmilyU, I don’t mind at all your focus on my personal situation. Your 2nd paragraph gets at something I tried to keep out of the post; you’re right, mr. mraynes isn’t really the problem, it’s that I don’t feel fulfilled staying at home. And yes, I do feel a good amount of anguish about this. For the time being I’m stuck but I’m rectifying this situation by going back to school next year. This post really wasn’t supposed to be about my personal problems, I just talked about my situation to provide context for the power disparity I wanted to discuss, but as you point out, it’s difficult to extricate the two. I do think there is something to being the wife of a powerful man but I haven’t been able to clearly parse out all of my thoughts. Hopefully I can get some direction from the comments here. And thank you for your concern and your suggestions, it means a lot.

    Azucar, I would be very interested in seeing those thoughts if you’d be willing to share. It certainly is an interesting problem to have and one that is difficult to articulate. 🙂

    Ah, Beatrice, now I see where your coming from. And I think it is very wise to look at all of the factors that make a situation complex. I tend to get tunnel vision so thank you for pointing out another way to look at the problem. I understand your angst about neither your husband or yourself being truly great because of the sacrifices you make for each other. That has to be hard to come to terms with. These same thoughts have been running through my mind recently as I’ve contemplated going back to school and (re)starting a career. It would be so much easier for me to stay at home and it would be easier on mr. mraynes if I did. Once you add the complexity of another person’s career, the small steps up the ladder become harder to make. For example, if he wanted to take a job in Europe, we could just get up and leave if I was at home. There are days when I would do anything to be happy at home but I’m really struggling with the “grass is greener” thing Emily talked about. I hope to come to some sort of peace soon but like anything, this is a process. Good luck in finding a path that works for you and your husband.

  11. SLN says:

    What about when the roles are reversed? I’m currently three classes away from completing my MLIS. We had been married two years when I started the program. We based the decision to pursue this path for several reasons.
    1. Personal and professional satisfaction for me.
    2. I have the potential to make more money with the degree than I ever would have without it.
    3. We wanted to be in a position where one of us could make enough money for the other one to work part time when we have kids. For us, I’m the one with the greater opportunity and ambition at this point in our lives.

    It’s been a lot of work and it has definitly been a joint effort with my husband picking up a lot of my slack in our normal 50/50 household chores. I acknowledge, outloud, often how I couldn’t do this program without him, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to properly explain how much his support means to me.

    Yet, there’s a part of my mormom self that thinks “I’m doing this all wrong, how can he be satisfied with my success..am I emasculating my husband?” He reassures me that it was “our” decision and that I’m not selfish, but I worry about whether or not our investment in me will pay off.

  12. Two of Three says:

    “what rights or power does the bishop’s wife have when her role is only formalized by her husband’s calling?”

    I don’t know if this is the kind of response you are looking for. When my husband was bishop, I felt I had very little right and no power. I was an exhausted mom with small children and an absentee husband. I didn’t even feel like I had the right to complain, as he was in the Lord’s service. What is a teething child compared to building the Kingdom of God? I think I got respect that I didn’t earn simply by association. Power? None that I noticed or, or frankly, desired.

  13. Two of Three says:

    Sorry! That last post sounded more bitter than I meant it to be! Long day!

  14. Beatrice says:

    Thanks for you comment Mraynes. I was thinking more about this post and about discussions on whether or not women can “have it all.” When these discussions come up, I think to myself, “sure a woman could have what men have had in the past if men did what women did in the past (i.e. stay home).” However, I think the real question in these discussions is not whether women can have it all, but whether a dual-career family can accomplish the same things that a single-career family can. I don’t think they can.

    In some ways, I feel that I just can’t compete on the same level with job candidates from single-career families. They have probably had more freedom in their past choices, and are more free to accept job offers that I won’t accept because I want my husband to have a good job too.

    My husband and I have discussed before the option of one of us staying a home. Because we both are ambitious and enjoy what we do, it makes just as much sense for him to stay home as for me to stay home. It may just come down to who finds the job. If you really have no gender expectations about who will take the front or backseat as far as excelling goes, it is really hard to make these kinds of decisions. I think that it is better to have no gender expectations, but I know that it is unlikely that we will both find jobs that we are equally excited about in the same city. That is just the way the world works. Like other commentors have said, sometimes you just have to do the best with what you have.

  15. Steve says:

    It’s interesting you brought up the plight of the Bishop’s wife. Unlike the general society where gender role expectations are expected, they’re institutionally canonized in the church.

    I can’t remember who wrote it, but a few years ago some general authority wrote an article in the Ensign where he related two experiences of a wife who was explicitly asked to step aside for her husband’s calling. In the first case, his grandmother served as the stake relief society president and loved her calling. They were summoned to meet with Ezra Taft Benson, who was their stake president. He simultaneously called her husband to be bishop and released her from her calling. He specifically stated that since her husband was taking on a more demanding calling, she should give up her calling to have more time for their family. His grandmother was actually upset about being released, but eventually acquiesced and eventually realized Benson was right. (eye roll)

    His second experience was about a relatively young couple (he didn’t say how old; I’m guessing 40-ish) who he called to his office to call the husband to be a mission president. It was an emergency calling and they only had a few weeks to get their affairs in order. The husband looked at his wife for her approval. The wife said, “if it’s what the Lord wants, we’ll make it work.” There was no mention of whether the wife had a job or other responsibilities outside of the home. I came away with the feeling that the husband implicitly pressured his wife to go along. If it were me, I’d ask for 10 minutes (or more) to talk to my wife privately to see what her real feelings were without putting pressure on her.

    From these two examples, it is blatantly obvious that in the church it’s not just socially expected but institutionally enforced that the wife will sacrifice for her spouse’s ambition.

    By the way, as yet another reason why I’ll never be bishop, if for some reason the Lord lost His marbles and called me to be bishop, the first thing I’d do is call my wife to be Relief Society president. I kinda like the idea of a Mormon “power couple”, logistics be damned!

  16. teki says:

    “From these two examples, it is blatantly obvious that in the church it’s not just socially expected but institutionally enforced that the wife will sacrifice for her spouse’s ambition.”

    I hardly know where to start with this comment. A calling to be a Bishop as “ambition”- a really odd choice of wording IMO. We’ve always lived far from the Wasatch Front and wives here often hold very demanding callings while their husbands are serving as Bishop (I know from firsthand experience), so the “institutionally enforced” comment is far from true in many areas.

  17. teki says:

    oops- meant to add how much I’m enjoying this discussion

  18. mraynes says:

    I like your term “social respect”, Chanson. I get this same reaction when I tell people what my husband does. Here’s another place where I feel torn; I simultaneously feel embarrassed by the pretentiousness of it and overwhelmingly proud to be married to such a man. I love what you said about doing your best with the opportunities given. I’m seriously considering writing that out and taping it to my bathroom mirror. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, they are always fascinating! And congratulations on your new book.

    Thank you for commenting, SLN. Reversing gender roles carries with it a whole load interesting problems and I commend you and your husband for being brave enough to take that on. Although I’ve written this from the perspective of a wife to successful man, I’m sure that much of it applies to the husband of a powerful woman as well. Plus he has to deal with the added difficulty of people demeaning your untraditional choice. I’m sure you both feel a little unsure about not following the prescribed roles but the problem isn’t yours’, it’s society’s. You are open-minded enough to explore a path that, though difficult, is best for you as a couple. Good for you!

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Two of Three. I think you’re right that a bishop’s wife has very little power and if she were seen to be exerting any, there would probably be some very unkind reactions from members of the ward. The thing that breaks my heart is that you felt you had very little right to your husband or even to feel badly about the situation. I think this is one of the very problematic aspects of having an unpaid clergy; it confuses boundaries between duty to God and duty to family. And it puts the wife in an untenable situation, one that she most likely did not ask for. Although there are certainly “up-sides” to being married to a powerful man, such as the unearned respect, I believe this situation is much more likely to be damaging than helpful to marriages. I certainly don’t begrudge you your bitterness, especially after a long day. It’s good to be honest about the difficulties this places women and families in; it helps to take some of the romantic sheen off of this kind of dynamic. Thank you for your honesty.

    “I think the real question in these discussions is not whether women can have it all, but whether a dual-career family can accomplish the same things that a single-career family can. I don’t think they can.” This makes me very sad, Beatrice, although I think you’re probably right. I don’t see much of a solution here other than what you and Chanson said, do the best with the opportunities given you. I think you are very wise to remove gender from your decisions in this matter. I hope that you and your husband find a path that makes you both happy.

    Wow, Steve, those stories are incredibly disappointing to read. I want to hope the church no longer institutionally makes the wife’s sacrifice her husband but I’m not naive to think that it doesn’t happen. And for what it’s worth, I happen to know several men who share your dream of the “power couple.” Thanks for commenting.

  19. Stan says:

    It is interesting to read all of the comments. I am in a situation where we have two children and both my wife and I are in Masters Programs. A 6 month and 20 Month old. We make it work because it is my dream for my wife to succeed and it is her dream to see me do the same. There is no I’ll make it up to you someday sweetie.Those days never come. Time leaves us and our opportunities suffer. There is only now! I think sometimes we have the false notion that it is all or nothing. One of us must stay home. etc. There is no acknowledgment of inequality without action. Though I respect other relationships I do think we tend to think too much in “roles” If more people would stop doing that, perhaps the world would change to fit the peoples needs.

  20. Of course, I didn’t really believe this would be required of either of us.

    That is the telling point. I would note that men who support their wives tend to become invisible, though they are out there.

    My boss is female, her husband supports her (while working).

    However, the problem is that in life, time bound, there is never enough time, there are always choices and off-sets.

    Visit http://drannmaria.blogspot.com/ and poke around. She is a supported wife, with a specialty in mathematics, sub-specialties in ethics and judo (and world class in both sub-specialties — and by world class I mean both well regarded and multiple world champion in judo).

  21. I should note that my dad went through being the relief society president’s husband a number of times.

  22. I want to hope the church no longer institutionally makes the wife sacrifice her husband

    My dad felt that way several times. 😉

  23. mb says:

    At one point, 15+ years into our marriage, when I was thinking about all the things I had “given up” in order to do the things I was choosing to do and feeling the unfairness of it all, I wrote all those things down in a long list. The next day I asked my husband to make a list of all the things he had not been able to do or had postponed doing because of the choices he had made in regards to his fatherhood and husbandhood. He wondered why but was willing to do so and handed me one the next day. His list was really long. I mean REALLY long. I began to understand that in my focus on what I had postponed or put aside, I had failed to see or appreciate what he had also done along those lines. Seeing that list got me out of my pity party and woke me up a bit.
    The lists were different, but the size of the sacrifices were similar. It’s easy to think that because another’s sacrifice is not exactly like yours it’s not a significant one, but in our case at least, once I saw things that he saw, my respect for him grew and my sacrifices became less annoying.
    I sense from your previous posts that you have a thoughtful husband. Not all are. But if he is like mine, you may find over the years that the things he forgoes and the sacrifices he makes for the sake of you and your children are profound and moving.

  24. mb says:

    Which, we decided, was fine with us, as we both are trying to follow the life pattern of the God we worship, whose whole life was built on an amazing amount of sacrifice, not ambition.

    That said, such a life, though challenging, is easier when you are both trying to live it even though you look, to outside observers, that you are following “traditional roles”.

    And it’s not that we’ve got it down yet either. It’s a work in progress.

  25. D'Arcy says:

    mraynes,

    Your concerns are very valid. I’ve often thought the same thing. If I had married young and had children, I would have never done the amazing things that I am doing today…mostly because I really used to believe that the woman should sacrifice her dreams for those of her husbands. Once I realized this did not have to be my reality, my world opened up in ways I never let it before.

    Now, with all the traveling, writing, directing I do, as well as living in Switzerland and Portugal, and meeting people all over the world. I’m amazed at how many risks I’ve taken on my own and how far I’ve come in my career.

    I’m not saying that I wouldn’t give some of this up for the right situation, but I’m so clear now on my needs and what I require out of life….more than I would have getting married young, that it will take the right fit to find someone to have a family with, if I ever decide to do that.

    I could have been happy as a wife and mother too, so many of my friends are, but I often reflect on how lucky I am that I get to do all of these life experiences at this time in my life.

    I wonder if there is something to getting attached later on in life, after each person is clear on their needs. Now that I am stretching myself in my career now, I could see myself not minding to take a backseat in a few years to help a mate stretch himself too.

  26. Naismith says:

    “From these two examples, it is blatantly obvious that in the church it’s not just socially expected but institutionally enforced that the wife will sacrifice for her spouse’s ambition.”

    Except that there are other examples, going the other way as well. When someone (I think Sis. Winder?) was called as General RS president, it necessitated her husband be released early from a mission presidenship.

    When I was called as ward RS president, we still had little children so my husband was released from the bishopric.

    I am not sure that church stuff is the best example. We get called, we don’t have aspirations. Nobody in their right mind is “ambitious” to be a bishop.

  27. D'Arcy says:

    Naismith, you are operating under the assumption of absolutes. In any institution, religious or otherwise, they just don’t hold up. On either side. Being a Bishop was a very political aspiration in my neighborhood growing up. And truth is, there are those who aspire to it. There are many who don’t.

    However, that being said, it is typically more accepted for a woman to give up her aspirations/calling in regards to her husband. This should be disturbing to all in the church. It goes to the heart of inequality. It won’t be stopped until more men and women stand up to such requests from the higher ups.

  28. Jim Donaldson says:

    “… the first thing I’d do is call my wife to be Relief Society president. I kinda like the idea of a Mormon “power couple”, logistics be damned!”

    For the first eight months that I was the bishop, my wife, who had the calling before I was called, was the ward Relief Society President. It didn’t seem like a “Mormon power couple,” it seemed like a Mom-n-pop grocery store. We tried hard, but having being married over a dozen years even then we tended to think about things in similar ways and inviting different viewpoints is one of the keys to good leadership, I think. So it is perhaps better in theory than in practice. We also had 5 year old and 11 year old kids at home at the time, and baby sitting became a nightmare. We refused to pay for baby sitters for church meetings, so whoever needed to be at a meeting the worst, went. The other stayed home.

    I know that the original post was not primarily about church service and it is an overall situation that smells of injustice and inequality when one spouse is at least as competent as the other, but I’ve had the church-related experience in question so I thought I’d mention it. I also discussed, right or wrong, with my wife, other than confidential personal decisions, most of my decisions with her as bishop, when she was just ‘the bishop’s wife.’ She was a valuable source of insight and fairness. She also had ‘intelligence’ (i.e., information) unavailable from any other source. Way beyond the usual ‘sweet wife’ condescension, I’d have been a far less effective bishop without those contributions. She’s smart and observant. I knew it.

  29. CatherineWO says:

    Thank you for this post. I started to write a lengthy comment, but my husband and I have tried to put the past behind us, and that is where it needs to stay. Suffice it to say that, though both partners in a marriage have to sacrifice to make it work, there has to be a balance that evens things out over the years or neither will be happy. Sometimes one partner’s sacrifice is greater than the other’s but the pendulum has to swing back the other way once in awhile.
    I would also second the idea that volunteer work (other than just church) is a viable way to feel some autonomy. It was my saving grace.

  30. CatherineWO says:

    I just have to add that I really love the Exponent II bloggers. You make me think and you give me hope.

  31. julie says:

    oh wow, thanks for writing this. It could be written by me exactly and so aptly describes what I have had such a hard time expressing to my husband. Great great post.

  32. Kelly Ann says:

    This is a great discussion. I really enjoy the feminist perspective on marriage. Having recently ended a problematic long term on again off again relationship, I hope I can find someone whose dreams are compatible with mine and with whom I am willing to negotiate. It gives me hope to know that there are people out there doing just that.

  33. Paradox says:

    “I sacrificed because my husband’s career is important to me and because I believe he is capable of greatness. But this doesn’t negate the fact that in order for him to achieve this greatness, I had to get out of his way.”

    Is it that you got out of his way, or that you decided to go with him in a different direction?

    The way I see it, marriage requires inherent sacrifices from both parties. Just because a man doesn’t have to give up his chosen career doesn’t mean he hasn’t made sacrifices to move in the direction of a happy, stable marriage.

    What I wonder is why women define success and fulfillment solely through being employed in their chosen professions. There really is more to life than working, and certainly more fulfilling things. Sometimes I wonder if women cheat themselves in that avenue more than any other simply from a lack of dedicated imagination.

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