APW Basics: The Self-Full Wife

Happy wife, happy life?

As Lucy mentioned in Happy Hour two Fridays ago (aptly titled the “Lucy-Lucy Comedy Hour”), Meg and I were at Alt Summit in late January. For those of you who might not know, Alt is a four-day blogging and digital media conference that takes place in Salt Lake City. (Meg was giving a talk there this year on the business of blogging; I was there hustling for APW.) If you follow the Alt Instagram account or #AltSummit hashtag, you might be tempted to think that this conference is an excuse for glittery dance parties and shameless photoboothing. But really, all that is a cover, and the real magic of this conference is that you spend a few days absorbing a ton of information from super smart women (and a few men) about the changing landscape of online media. It’s empowering, and exciting, and sometimes I even get to talk with one of my business heroes about things like Facebook’s new algorithms.

But for me, Alt is about much more than gleaning the most recent tips on managing an online community and growing your social media channels. When I joined Meg at Alt for the first time last year, I was surprised to find that my takeaway was more about what was happening between classes. I saw moms with babies on their hips taking meetings and talking numbers, husbands waiting patiently in hotel rooms for their breadwinner wives to return, and women generally running the whole show. While this was going on, I heard not one conversation about having it all. Instead, everyone was just doing their best to honor themselves and their relationships, sans apologies. Alt is the one space where I see women being allowed to care about their families and their businesses, without having to qualify one to the other.

When Meg and I boarded the plane to come home from Salt Lake City, I searched for a way to summarize the way Alt makes me want to reinvest in myself, both for my own well-being and for the well-being of my marriage, and I kept coming back to the articles Meg wrote years ago, after she first started going to these kinds of conferences. It was these insights that first helped me realized I was being drastically undervalued in my old job and inspired me to find one that would pay me more. It was these posts that inspired me to take my photography business seriously, instead of sidelining it as a hobby. They were the posts that helped me realize that my happiness as an individual is directly linked to the happiness within my marriage. So today I’ve rounded up the best of APW’s take on what it means to be a self-full wife. If you’re feeling stuck or unfulfilled, either personally or professionally, and need a heaping helping of “You can do it,” I suggest reading them all. These are the game changers.

No One Asked You To Be A Martyr: “When you go to work each day knowing that you don’t love your job, but you can do it well. When you come home each night with more work to do, because you’re blessed enough to have a side project that turned into a job. When you don’t have enough time to yourself, but you know the bills have to get paid, and both of you need to be insured, and life must go on. It’s hard not to feel like a martyr. And none of us are at our best when we’re being martyrs, even if we’re only being martyrs in a tiny piece of our hearts. We’re not our happiest; we’re not our most generous; we’re not our kindest. And our poor partners. They didn’t ask us to be a martyr. They’re struggling too.”

The Self-Full Wife: “After a long, hard, slog, I’m myself first, and a wife second. As it should be. That doesn’t mean I don’t make sacrifices for my family. But it means I make self-full sacrifices. It means I sacrifice now with the full expectation that my husband is willing to sacrifice later if it’s needed.”

On Money AND Self Worth: “I’ve been thinking about how, as women, we often undervalue ourselves, our life stories, and what we’re capable of, and that leads to lost potential. We think, ‘I can’t do that; I can’t dream that big; I’m being selfish to even think about this; I don’t deserve to earn (or have my company earn) that much money; I shouldn’t have delusions of grandeur.’ And when this happens, we all lose. Think of all those projects that could have been created, those businesses that could have thrived, that money that could be flowing back into our communities. When we cut ourselves off at the knees we lose all that, our communities lose all that, we all lose.”

Women, Money AND Self Worth: Part II: “The reason I really think this conversation about women, money, and ambition is an important one to keep having in this space is because, the more fulfilled we are as people, the more our relationships thrive. So, to counter all the cultural nonsense about how being a bride or a wife or a mother is fulfilling enough on its own, we need to keep talking about the ways dreaming big makes us better brides, wives, mothers, and women.”

For me, being self-full looks like a job I enjoy, occasional solo travel, a cute haircut, a separate friend group that belongs to just me, and a weekly date with Grey’s Anatomy/Pretty Little Liars. These are the things that allow me to recharge and give me enough of a sense of self to continue bringing something interesting to my marriage. I don’t get there all the time, and I don’t always have all of those things at once, but the process of making myself a priority is often enough to make a difference. But that’s me (and my terrible taste in TV and overblown hair budget). What does being self-full look like to you?

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  • emilyg25

    I love this. Love love love it.

  • I love love love this. Meg has written so many inspirational posts over these last few years! Thanks for collecting them together as a reminder. I so need this reminder right now, and certainly in the next few weeks, months, years to come. It’s funny how a blog can be a record of change, a view of the seemingly slow but methodical hard work adds up to something so big, so powerful and so important. This blog, this site, is so completely important to me. Less so for the weddings anymore (although I do still love the glitter!) and more so for the constant insistent reminders that being me, us, ourselves is the most important thing, the base, the core of everything else we can possibly do or be a part of including our marriages, families, babies. Without believing in the core of ourselves, we can not be what we want to be for anyone else. <3

    • I also just started going back and pinning some of these to my pinterest words board too. And I stumbled upon your open thread from last year: What Makes You…
      so amazing and lovely and inspirational. We all have something. Own it!

  • Sarah E

    Thanks for keeping this discussion going, Maddie. The posts you referenced are the ones that have lived in my Favorites tab for nearly two years, so I can keep returning to them. And in true fashion, this is the reminder I need this week. Last week was the official end to my dream-job-turned-personal-hell, and after a celebratory weekend, this week has been a little flat so far. Thanks to cold weather and lack of responsibility, I’ve spent far too much time alone in the apt, a tried and true recipe for despondency. I’ve been thinking to myself: I’ve got what I wanted, where is my power?! And I think this is where the rubber hits the road for me. I am currently employed in two part-time contract positions that I’m insanely excited about. But the exciting-ness of having some autonomy and plenty of room to grow means it’s time to do the hard work, the growth.

    Being self-full over the next few months looks like the kick-ass haircut I got today, and the tattoo I’m planning to get for my birthday. It looks like not apologizing that the dishes didn’t get done during my flexible working hours. It looks like not apologizing for being a financial burden, when we are really doing ok. It looks like asking for what I want: the jobs I want, the lifestyle choices I want. It means asking to hang out with the cool women I admire rather than assuming they don’t need new friends. It means planning a wedding that’s authentic to our relationship.

    So fuck OFF insecurity and doubt. I do not have time for you.

  • Oh man, in my relationship, we BOTH need to hear and internalize this: “And none of us are at our best when we’re being martyrs, even if we’re only being martyrs in a tiny piece of our hearts. We’re not our happiest; we’re not our most generous; we’re not our kindest. And our poor partners. They didn’t ask us to be a martyr. They’re struggling too.”

    Shot right to the heart.

    • Abby J.

      This. So much this.

    • Gina

      Yes, yes, yes. Even that tiny bit of our heart breeds resentment and poisons us.

  • Emilie

    Meg, can we talk about about your hair?!

    • Meg Keene

      Oh! RIGHT? I can’t take credit. Alt, bless them, offered the speakers a chance to get their hair and makeup professionally done. I’m no fool, so I SNAPPED that shit up. Idea is mine but it’s by Rubi Jones’ awesome team: http://www.sheletsherhairdown.com/

      • Amy Elizabeth

        Your hair! Its GOOD. And here I was hoping it was something super simple you could teach us to do lazy girl style.

        • Meg Keene

          It actually was pretty simple. They teased it. AND I think we *are* doing this lazy girl style. Everyone winnnnnsssss!

          • Amy Elizabeth


  • For me, being self-full includes:

    Making art
    Reading every day
    Treating my body well by moving every day, preferably in hot yoga, but at least in a long walk, and eating fruits and vegetables. ( And not using my obligations to everyone else to not do those things)
    Frequent meetings with like-minded friends
    Cat cuddles
    Frequent philanthropy in some form
    Spontaneous dancing

    • I love that you shared this!

  • Laura C

    Lately I am really having trouble knowing how to balance my fiance’s career path with my quality of life. He’s graduating from law school and is applying for clerkships that would start after a year at a big firm (during which I will never see him, but we’ll be living someplace I’d like to be). My take has been I am happy to move anywhere I know someone. Even one person. But professors keep suggesting he apply for clerkships in places I know no one, and where I will moreover be on a different time zone than the rest of my life (my job will stay on east coast time even if my body moves to mountain time). He wouldn’t go out and decide on his own to apply for these, but if he makes a habit of saying no when his professors are trying to help place him, that will not be good for his career in the long term. So I’m having trouble figuring this one out — do I make a major sacrifice for a year that then lets him leave firm work on a good path, which has all kinds of good long-term effects on my quality of life? Or do I just say no, it will not be good for me or for us to live in this place, and have faith that it will work out somehow, that he will get a clerkship somewhere I can be happy or that he will find a solid career path without it? I want to protect my quality of life — as does he. But we’re not even sure what that means all the time.

    • Cleo

      As a JD, I’d like to put my 2 cents in here…

      One year is a long time when you’re dealing with it, but it’s also not a long time in the grand scheme of things.

      Clerkships are few and far between compared to the number of applicants and number of worthy applicants.If your husband is as serious and as passionate about his work as my classmates who went on to clerkships, or has a career goal involving being a judge or going into politics or even a high profile position, a clerkship is nearly a must and, besides that, an amazing opportunity. It also opens a ton of doors and gives considerable job security in a saturated market.

      I don’t know you from Eve, but if I were you, I’d seriously consider throwing caution to the wind for a year, moving where the clerkship is (or working something out so you don’t have to move), and after that year, your husband will probably be able to write his own ticket.

      Best of luck with your decision!

      • Kelly

        Also a JD, and was going to post a very similar comment. So I’ll cosign onto this one instead :)

      • Laura C

        I’ve said ok on applying for many of them, but the latest one mentioned is in mountain time, which would mean starting work at 7am local time most days and sometimes 5:30am. That plus serious travel to see family and friends is…daunting. But at the same time, you’re not wrong as to the benefits.

        • Kats

          Another JD weighing in. I know it seems daunting, but in this legal market, if he has a serious shot at getting a clerkship, it will be a tremendous benefit to his career, particularly if it’s an appellate clerkship. Mine has continued to pay off in terms of being attractive to employers even ten years down the road – and has opened doors to me that my friends from equally well-ranked schools and equally good firms did not have access to. As noted above, the legal market is insanely oversaturated right now, and your basic first year associate are a dime a dozen.

          That doesn’t mean that he absolutely has to take anything offered (but, as his profs should be telling him, you don’t really get the chance to shop around on clerkship offers like with other jobs). But it does mean that the decision to say no if one is offered probably needs to be super thought out, with much more consideration than one year. Besides, mountain time? 10th Circuit? Some great judges, and, in most of the Circuit, great places to spend time. Though I might be a little biased ;)

          • KC

            (so, if your basic first year associate is a dime a dozen, what’s the going rate for local, organic, free-range first year associates? ;-) )

            (obviously, kidding!)

      • Granola

        I just want to second JD on the year not being a long time in the grand scheme of things. I always think that it will be, staring it down. But it always turns out to be more bearable than I thought and over before I expected.

      • Laura C

        Hilariously, the day after I was moaning about this, he just got contacted for TWO different interviews in major east coast cities. Fingers, toes, etc, all crossed so hard.

        • a single sarah

          *Fingers crossed for you*

    • artfulword

      My fiance and I have recently gone through something similar and we ended up sitting down and writing the names of places that we would both be happy to live in. I would encourage your fiance to take this list to his professors when they are trying to place him and say “Here are the places where we can make both my career and my fiances career work.” I think anyone who is truly committed to finding him a fulfilling career will accept that and work within it.

      • Laura C

        The problem is with the “truly committed to finding him a fulfilling career” part. :) I say that not to knock them, but there are a lot of cultural and institutional constraints on this.

    • KC

      That’s a hard tradeoff, and only you (and, if you’re like me, not always even you, ahead of time) know what your minimum requirements are. If it’d just be one year, and if you can keep up with your friends/family/etc. via Skype and other media (some people are better than others on this) or you can travel to see them (again, some situations work better than others), then I’d tend to go for it. But I’m an introvert and am likely totally different (and have also done the “trailing spouse” transplant thing repeatedly now).

      It sounds like this would be a current-happiness-for-increased-future-job-security tradeoff, so I might extend to “places where I know one person *or* where it’s near a single-flight-to-friends airport *or* where it’s the same time zone as something *or* where there’s an active APW group [or similar] *or* where I can find a friend-of-a-friend”. (That last can sometimes be accomplished by “anyone know anyone in Place X?” Facebook posts) Or even just go “it’ll be a year – we can do a year”. Places out in the middle of nowhere? Great for cheap housing and saving and being able to save up to travel or for other goals! Places in big cities? Arts & social stuff & fancy food & public transit & often hub airports! (have not yet found a “big plus” for the suburbs.)

      But if you know yourself and know you would really go bonkers/depressed/etc. if you had no easy-access already-made in-person friend other than him for a period of time, then yeah. That’s different and worth listening to!

      • Jess

        The big plus about suburbs of Chicago was that in a half an hour, I could be in the city doing all kinds of city stuff but didn’t have to live in a tiny apartment, I could go for walks outside in greenery, and I didn’t feel weird saying hello to my neighbors.

        • KC

          Thank you for the excellent contribution! So awesome to have potential pluses to basically anywhere you could end up being. :-)

          (we’re also looking at the upcoming year and not knowing where geographically we’ll be. Gotta go with the job opportunity that ends up being available, wherever it turns out to be, since our current situation “expires” soon. So as applications are sent out, I’ve been going “okay, what can we find that’s positive about [random location]?” all year long… so having the reassurance that there are positives to suburbs, too, is awesome!)

          • Jess

            I feel you on the job opportunities, I did the same thing and relocated from Urban Sprawl to Small Town America. I was sure I wasn’t going to make any friends or do anything but go to work, go to the gym, and sit in my apartment. Turns out, it’s pretty ok! There are always positives – sometimes they’re just really good at hide-and-seek.

            (note: I do not live in a real small town. It is the largest area within an hour and a half of driving through fields. It’s kind of like being in a suburb, only there isn’t a city nearby. We call it the “Suburbs of Nowhere”. In writing this, I realized how much I miss being close to a city.)

      • ElisabethJoanne

        And another lawyer here.

        We haven’t had much trailing-spouse discussions, sadly. My husband (with a business degree) has been unable to find work for 2 years. I keep setting deadlines, kind of along the lines of “If you don’t have a job by x date, let’s expand the search to include y additional cities or z additional industries.” And we reach those deadlines, and nothing really shifts.

        Which is my way of saying “a year can be over before you know it.”

        I don’t know what your wedding date is relative to these clerkships, but 15 months into marriage, I can say the first year was really hard, even without moving. When the first medical issue came up, and the therapist told us it could take 2 years to resolve, I said I just couldn’t imagine waiting that long. Now I’m content to wait forever.

        So, personally and professionally, a year really isn’t that long.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      I’ve been in your shoes. While it wasn’t so much that Michael’s career caused us to move somewhere, as me not having a career and sort of no choice as to where we ended up for a while (gotta pay bills y’all.) I want to echo what someone said below. During what I now think of as our “transition” years, I was kind of miserable. It felt like it was going to be forever before things balanced themselves out. But then they did. And now, looking back, it was worth taking a few crap years for the payout (better jobs, me having the opportunity to switch careers, etc.) It’s just important to think long term about where it might take you. A marriage is a long time. A few years is long while you’re in it, but short compared to how long you’ll have after you’re out. So if it’s going toward building something better for the two of you, then it’s worth it.

      All that said, I whined and moaned for the entire two years we were in it. :) And that’s OK. The key is just to survive, not hate each other, and try not to martyr yourself. But you don’t have to force yourself to like something, at least not at first.

    • So, as someone who moved to a city where she knew no one, I would add that I don’t know that knowing someone would have helped THAT much. Moving to a totally new city can be a struggle even if you do know someone, and, honestly, I think both of you being new to a place together might be a good thing. It’s you as a team against your new city, you know?

      My thing with moving anywhere is that I’ve determined to be happy I either need to have 1. friends/family/a good social life 2. be living in a cool city with lots of fun and interesting things to do or 3. a job I love and that am passionate about. I’ve realized now that having all three is super unlikely so having two is great and having one is a must. So maybe think about what your most important things are to be happy and work with your fiance to determine how you might have those things in his top cities. Perhaps you can’t have a person there, but you can have, say, an apartment in an awesome neighborhood, or you’ll be able to put money saved on rent toward a hobby you want to pursue or joining the nicest gym in town (or whatever!). Being more aware of different ways I could find happiness for myself has helped me a ton with the transition!

    • Gina

      Yet another attorney here! One of the best and brightest from my law school moved to Fairbanks, Alaska for a year for the opportunity to clerk for a 9th Circuit judge. And she had never left Southern California. So hopefully that gives you some idea of what a big deal a clerkship is.

      And as a Mountain Timer who deals with the East Coast for pretty much all my business, I can promise you it’s not that bad :)

  • ruth

    Thank you! I really needed this today. I think my biggest fear is whether I can maintain this self full, not selfish, self, once I become a mother. The transition to self-full marriage has been pretty smooth for us – we continue to be interesting individuals, who happen to be wed :) But the cultural narrative around parenthood, particularly motherhood, seems to revolve around this total abnegation of the self. That scares me. I understand that parenthood requires sacrificed – we’re both prepared for that. But I want to keep this self-fullness – it’s so important. I was talking with my high school best friend recently; she expressed that she doesn’t want to have kids, a choice I totally respect. But her reason really pinched my heart: “I guess I just want to continue being selfish.” I really hate that our culture sets up such a dichotomy for women – grrrr! Anyway – thanks for writing this post; I am going to bookmark these thoughts for the future when I know I’ll need them.

    • JLP

      ^ So much this. This is my fear too. Thank you for putting words to it. Talking over this particular fear has been a big part of the last few months since our engagement. I’m keeping an eye out for role models. It helps to hold onto individuals I esteem who (at least to the outside observer) aren’t giving up the good stuff to have children.

  • Kate

    Oh APW, thank you. I needed this.

  • artfulword

    Love this post and all the posts in it! The money posts especially have me thinking – I really need to find a way to get out of my day job that drives me absolutely insane. How to do that is another question entierly…

  • ange

    i’ve been a reader for a long time – a few years i think. i found my first stumbled-upon posts when i really needed them (the first one i read was about the “baby family,” and my god did i need to read it that day), and today i found this one, and i really needed it. thanks, maddie. i had a martyr (now-divorced) mom, who put her whole life aside for my dad and us kids (and grew increasingly bitter to the former), and i swore a long time ago to not be a martyr. i started acting like one this week. i’m probably going to print this and keep it hung up somewhere in our house.

  • Molly

    The posts about martyrdom are going in my bookmarks. I needed to see that. Not that I feel like a martyr, but I definitely feel like we have each had to make sacrifices in different ways and will have to continue doing so. But I don’t want to be a martyr in my fast-approaching marriage to the point where I stop being Molly, individual with dreams and aspirations and start being Molly, wife who lives to make sacrifices for others only.

    I am fortunate to have a fiance whose career already shows so much promise when my employment situation is pretty much always precarious, and who works so hard for both of our futures. It’s impossible to feel bitter about things when I think about it that way. It helps to know, too that things will improve for me personally, in my career. I just need to have space to grow and keep thinking and figuring things out for myself.

  • Shotgun Shirley

    Good stuff Maddie. I heart you.

  • Granola

    I find the not being a martyr so hard sometimes. Especially when the days are long and I am whiny and my husband is whiny and then I am angry. But man, nothing good comes of that. It’s hard work to figure out what I need for me, because I’ve never really thought about it. And I definitely feel pressure to bring certain things to my marriage. But at the end of the day I just have to do my best and accept that will be enough.

  • Alaina Bos

    Maddie, thanks for posting these links… They are just what I needed today. I’ve been feeling really stuck and could use the inspiration!

  • EF

    I recently read all these articles when reading…too much of the archives. but man, there are some old APW gems. the martyr bit makes so much sense to me — I see my sisters on that path, with kids mixed in, and they’re just miserable. I knew long ago I didn’t want to be like them (or like my mother) and some of these posts and ideas really describe the feeling. It all gets down to self-worth, really. And while most people struggle with it, let’s struggle to make things better, too.

  • Gina

    “the more fulfilled we are as people, the more our relationships thrive.”

    Thank you for this, and for this entire article. It’s such a good reminder that we are the most loving and kind to the people in our lives when we are fulfilling our potential.

  • Danotsz

    As I look at moving from a full-time job to full-time freelance, I saw myself in your words. Thank you!

  • pixie_moxie

    Thank for you this! I must admit, i kept scrolling up to that opening photo! LOVE your hair Maddie!!

  • Sarah S

    My parents used to say to each other, “Don’t be a martyr!” – but in this really great way, like, let me do this to help you, I insist. It always made the formerly-martyred laugh or smile, even if they had been worked up over whatever they were talking about/doing, and (however begrudgingly) acquiesce. I wonder if maybe it was an inside joke from early in their relationship. But now that I think about it, it was a really sweet way for them to keep each other present and self-full in their marriage.

  • NTB

    This is a great post, and definitely something that I needed to read today. Thank you.

    I landed a great job in my field one year ago almost to the day. Now, we are considering a big move because my husband’s career is more financially profitable than mine, and in reality, I can live anywhere because my field is pretty flexible (librarianship.) I have to keep reminding myself that being happy somewhere is all about my state of mind, perspective, and commitment to trying to balance taking good care of myself in order to take good care of my husband and family. (Not saying that we shouldn’t feel empowered to leave terrible jobs if they’re making us miserable, but we all do what we have to do to make things work, ya know?)

    I started running competitively last year to get back into physical shape, and it has worked wonders for my mood and outlook on life. If I don’t make time to train properly, my mental state suffers, and I can’t be fully present as a wife or an employee. You can’t give something away if you don’t have it—this is my new mantra, and I’ve decided that making time for my running means that something “practical” might not get finished: dishes, laundry, that project, folding those towels. But that’s okay. I’ve got a partner to help US with those things, and I know that HE knows that I would support him in his endeavors if it meant he was a happier, healthier, better version of himself.

  • Vicki Larson

    Maddie, kudos for you for looking at this real issue for wives. The problem facing them (I can’t say us anymore as I am divorced, twice!) is that despite our best efforts to have a separate identity, we still internalize societal expectations of what it means to be a “good” wife. I have written extensively about it on my blog, OMG chronicles, but a good start is here: http://omgchronicles.vickilarson.com/2013/04/15/is-your-marriage-a-his-and-a-hers-marriage/

    It seems selfish to, as you say, make yourself a priority, but at my age (50s), it’s easy to see the damage done to women who don’t do that — they are often divorced and often happily so, because they finally have given themselves “permission” to self-care. I wonder if we had done it in our marriage if we would still be married. Hard to know. Love your website, BTW.