Navigating What’s Next In Your Marriage

When I talk to couples who are thinking through a career decision, I generally find one spouse who leans toward security while the other spouse leans toward risk.

The one who is more comfortable with risk often tries to convert the other with the vision of “what could be” while the other asks, “Ok, but what about health insurance?”

Both are right.

It’s why navigating a career decision in a marriage is both tricky and worthwhile. It’s tricky because, if you’re on the security side, you want to voice your concerns without coming across as discouraging. On the other side, it’s tricky because you want to cast vision without invalidating their concerns. (Also, side note for the vision-casters, be very careful that you don’t position yourself as the one who has “more faith.” Faith doesn’t discard wisdom out the door. They go hand in hand.)

When I talk to someone who is considering a career change, the first question I ask is, “What does your spouse think?”

I learned a painful lesson about this the first year of my marriage to Wendy when I made a decision about a real estate deal that went against her advice. Ever since then, when faced with a big decision like this, I have started with, “What do you think we should do?”

This leads me to my second question, “How comfortable is your spouse with risk?” Often, this is determined by what they experienced in their home as a child.

In our marriage, Wendy is actually more comfortable with risk than I am. Her Dad has been self-employed most of his career. She saw him start businesses, adapt, leverage risk and move through the inevitable ups and downs.

As for me, I grew up in the home of a preacher where the goal was often to keep the deacons happy. I’ve had to learn how to navigate the fear that comes with risk.

It’s important to point out that the goal of these conversations should not necessarily be consensus. Consensus implies concessions. Instead, the goal should be for both sides to experience peace about the decision. Peace is greater than consensus because when the hard times arrive with a change like this, and they always do, it’s easy for the concessions to resurface. It sounds like, “See, I told you we shouldn’t have…”

Over the course of our marriage, Wendy and I have decided to pause on “What to do Next” decisions if one of us isn’t at peace. Sure, peace is a hard thing to define but here’s how I describe it: “If the worst case-scenario happens and it doesn’t work out, would you be at peace knowing we tried?”

When Wendy and I decided I would leave my job at Chick-fil-A for Buckhead Church, there was a significant risk that it wouldn’t work. After all, this was back in 2003 and the idea of a video, multi-site church was new. (Some might say, VERY risky!)

We went through all the practices I write about in What to do Next as we processed this decision. Ultimately, we got to a place of peace knowing if it didn’t work out we would still be glad we tried. We didn’t ignore the realities of the risk but we didn’t let fear bully us either.

We didn’t argue this decision like lawyers. We evaluated this decision like partners. There’s a big difference.

If you’re married and finding yourself moving toward the trajectory of what to do next, forward this email to your spouse. Go to dinner. Talk about what you experienced growing up when seeing your parents navigate decisions like this. Then, ask each other, “What do you think we should do?”

Then, remind one another, that the most important factor isn’t the decision.

The most important factor is that you’ll do it — together.

FOR You,
Jeff Henderson

P.S. Perhaps a good next step is for you and your spouse to read What to do Next together? I’ve recorded the audio version where you could listen to it as well.

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