Career changes offer new opportunities, but switching employment fields can be hard to navigate not only for a person’s professional life, but also for his or her personal life.
It’s one thing to make a job switch to a new company, but when people change their type of career, it often means a change in lifestyle. They may need to go back to school, which can mean a big investment of time and money. Or they may want to downshift from a high-pressure job and possibly make less money.
This adds a new type of stress, and for couples, career changes can put pressure on their bonds.
The couples who handle this change the best are those who acknowledge that it won’t always be easy and that they may hit some rough patches, said work and relationship experts. Constant communication often is key to surviving.
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“Transitions are tough, no matter what. The best way to survive as a couple is to approach it as a joint venture. Both people are going through the changes. … If the individuals aren’t aware or dealing with the facts that the transition is tough, that’s an even bigger problem and will more than likely pop up later,” said Rebecca “Kiki” Weingarten, transition coach and co-founder of New York City-based Atypical Coaching.
Weingarten and Nicki Nance, a psychotherapist and assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., recommend starting the conversation immediately. Tell your spouse or partner as soon as possible about this yearning, they agreed.
That gives the spouse a chance to work through what the change might mean and get on board with the idea. Potential changes in lifestyle can take time to digest. Too often, they both said, spouses or partners who are changing careers will announce their plan after it’s been set in motion, which can cause havoc.
“If you want to keep the relationship, keep that other person in the process from the time you’re having the thought,” Nance said. “Jobs don’t break up people. Relationships are either strong or not.”
Jody Michael, chief executive officer and founder of Jody Michael Associates, a Chicago- and Atlanta-based coaching and leadership training company, said both partners need to have an understanding of what the career transition might involve.
“When one partner makes a career change, there are many ripple effects, including a possible shift in dynamics within the relationship. Listen with empathy, and talk through your partner’s concerns,” she said.
Frame discussions so they’re not just about the benefits for the person changing careers.
“You need to do it to benefit both of you, or it’s going to lead to more stress. … What are you going to offer up” to keep your partner happy? Nance said.
Career changes get to the heart of the couple’s finances, they said. Money-related issues must be discussed in the beginning to avoid resentment later, especially since the transition may take several months or more. Have a plan that includes the couple’s financial cushion and whether the supporting partner or spouse is willing to take on a part-time or temporary job to augment the income stream, Michael said.
Talk about the future. Couples need to review what their new lifestyle might be. Lynda Gratton, professor at London Business School and co-author of “The 100-Year Life,” said that, with people working longer, it’s likely the role of primary earner will switch over the course of a relationship. Gratton expects this role switching will become the norm in the future for many couples.
“This will require them to be able to talk more openly about the short term and the long term, and also to be more open about their commitments to each other,” she said.
Michael said that, during the process, the person making the career transition needs to manage his or her emotions to preserve sanity and the relationship.
“Your thoughts influence your moods, which influence your behaviors and impact your results,” she said.
There will be trade-offs, Weingarten said, whether the person will make more or less money in his or her new career. That’s why it’s important to talk early on to figure out priorities.
“In the very, very beginning stages of the talk, internally and with your partner, it’s time to really think about what you want in life – what is really important? Do I need the Porsche? No, I’m good without the Porsche. I want more time with my family,” she said. “And if it’s the Porsche, great! If it’s the mansion, fabulous, because that’s a decision you’re making.”