How do I know if the compromises I’m making for my husband are just that—compromises, and not me vanishing into his life?
My husband and I have always been that weird hybrid creature of aimless overachievers. Always near the top of our classes, always the leaders in any activity or sport we’ve pursued, always winning awards, but never actually having any clear direction or passion for our individual (or collective) lives. We both switched majors and added several minors in our undergraduate days, and have since been postponing the “real world” with long-term volunteer work and grad school (for him) and a lucrative bartending gig (for me). We’ve just been content to be content for the last several years.
Husband was approached by his former volunteer organization for a full-time position. He loves that org, the work they do there fills his heart, he loves the area and the people there, it would bring distinct meaning to his life, and perhaps most importantly it would rouse us from our stagnation. Unfortunately, the pay is extremely low, I sort-of-really-completely hate the climate of the region we’d relocate to, and I have no idea what I’d do for work there. I’d figure something out, I’m sure.
While I’m feeling fine about contemplating this potential change, there’s a nagging voice inside my head going, “…this is all for him. Where are YOU in this decision?” And…I don’t know. I don’t have any distinct ambitions, so following him for his seems to make sense. But I have also seen friends and acquaintances seemingly disappear into their relationships—giving up their own hobbies, interests, and career paths to “support” their significant others. How can we navigate this nebulous time, where one of us has the more concrete options, as equals? How can you figure out if deciding it’s one partner’s “turn” is an equitable, marriage-centered choice, and not one person just dominating the relationship while the other just shrugs and tags along? Is there a difference between temporary sacrifice, and a slow eroding of your individuality?
Or is this all totally rational, and I’ve just massively internalized my parents’ disappointment that I’m not a jet-setting record exec leaving puny men in my dust?
There’s a bunch of stuff going on here that we’ve already touched on before. Like, taking the shitty end of the stick for your partner. And making decisions as a team.
But aside from the usual marriage-team stuff, this sounds like a personal issue, not a relationship problem. How can you know if you’re losing yourself if you don’t know who you are? Can you possibly sacrifice what you want if you don’t even know what that is? Compromises happen. So do sacrifices. But to make sure that you’re not compromising on the wrong stuff and sacrificing the big things, you sort of have to know what they are first.
So, what do you want? What are your big goals?
Here’s the tricky thing about that. Contrary to blogs and motivational speakers and every self-help book ever written, the answer to that is usually a little more fluid, a little more big picture than a specific career path or location. Which is actually pretty lucky if, like me (and almost everyone else right now) life paths keep taking sharp, abrupt turns. Give yourself some time to think about it and figure out what you want to do in the grand scheme.
Meanwhile, try a bunch of stuff.
When you’re an overachiever, adulthood is hard. There is no established path with specific guidelines and parameters that you can excel at to get an A+. It’s a little scary to go from knowing what’s expected of you and how to succeed to not really having anyone to tell you what next. And when you’re used to all A’s and “Excellents!” and paper awards to hang on the fridge, that risk is straight scary. When you’re used to easily coasting through the top of the class, it’s a little frightening to know that success is no longer guaranteed and you might actually have to try a little bit, now. Not only try, but you may need to fail a few times. There’s a pretty big risk of (gulp) not being The Best when that pre-established roadmap starts to veer and branch into adulthood. I’m gonna take a guess and assume that’s what’s got you stalled. When you’re in school, there’s a clear expectation and a standard for how to succeed. Deciding what you want out of life—without anyone there to tell you if it’s right or that you’re doing well—is intimidating. Then, taking the chance of actually trying at something and possibly failing is really scary after a long life of not trying and always succeeding.
Lucky for you, in adulthood, success is defined very differently (unless you’re reading those “Successful Under 30” lists which…just don’t). It’s not altogether about meeting someone else’s standard. It’s about setting your own, busting ass toward it, and then changing it when that doesn’t work. There are no grades, there are rarely any trophies, and at the end of the day, it only matters what you think.
As I write this, I worry that it starts to smack of some Pinterest typography print “FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!” or something. Of course, not everyone has wild, extreme, life-altering desires buried deep down. Think instead about what you asked me. What would make you look back on your life and feel, “That life was mine,” rather than make you feel like a spectator or a sidekick to someone else’s? That’s the stuff you chase down, whether it means launching your own business or just working a job that leaves you enough time to visit friends.
When you do get a grasp on what you want and where you’re going, then you can look at what your partner is asking of you and figure out if it means you’re letting go of anything major. Like I said, compromises and sacrifices happen. Sometimes you have to take the shitty end of the stick for a little while, and that might even mean delaying plans and dreams and goals. But if things are going right, it will just be a delay. That’s the major decider here. “Losing yourself” isn’t a one-time thing. It’s what happens over a succession of habitual choices.
So figure out what your big plans are, and then go for them. Or, sit this one out while he chases his. Just make sure to take your turn.
Team Practical, how do you make sure you’re not “losing yourself” in your relationship? How do you decide what stuff is not up for compromise?
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!