Your Spouse Plays a Crucial Role in Your Career Change

Two years after her husband, David, started his business, Jodi Harouche traded in her high-paying New York City job for motherhood. She soon started toting the baby to David’s office to help out. Before long, she became fully ensconced in the business.

While Jodi loved being back in the grind, she and her husband knew there was no way she would like returning to her all-consuming job in the fashion industry. “I couldn’t continue to work at that capacity, raise children, be a good wife and do all the things I wanted to do personally.”

Stories like this play out in households across the country. Years ago, it was common for a person to work for a company right out of college and stay up until retirement. Nowadays, people change, companies change and jobs change, says career coach and psychologist Janet Scarborough Civitelli (, author of Help Me Find a Career: Strategies to Find Work You Will Love. “People are forced to reinvent themselves all the time.”

Civitelli says research consistently shows career satisfaction contributes significantly to one’s overall sense of well-being. But, there’s a lot of stress in career changes, she says. “I’ve seen couples on the brink.”

Where the family lives, where the kids go to school, types of vacations and how much you save for retirement are all impacted by a major career transition, explains Civitelli. “Still, the path to happiness doesn’t grow out of leading a life of quiet desperation, taking one for the team and staying stuck in a job you dislike. It also isn’t as simple as pronouncing, ‘I’m doing it. Deal with it!’”

Whether a career change means giving up a lucrative salary or trading a high-powered job to enhance quality of life, couples can survive the transition—even end up with an ultimately positive outcome, says marriage and family therapist, Dr. Jane Greer ( author of What About Me: Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. “But that still doesn’t mean they won’t encounter potholes.”

Harouche explains that four years into the business, she gave birth to a second child. Shortly after came 9/11. “We were two people, with two babies living off one company. Clients stopped spending money and the world was in a tizzy.”

But three children later and 17 years since its founding, the Harouche’s business, Multimedia Plus, (, is thriving. She wouldn’t have traded the experience, she says. But the path to success wasn’t always paved smoothly.

Communication and Commitment

“We made decisions together, and squirreled away money,” she says. “We weren’t living the life of Riley, but we weren’t homeless either.”

Joint commitment informed by effective communication can make the difference between a successful transition, or a failed one, says Greer. Having feelings of fear and even disappointment are common. “All that’s fine as long as couples talk about it.”

Greer recommends a conversation starter like, “How do you think this would work for you?” when approaching the topic of a career transition or change. Admittedly, this can be difficult in a society in which everything is instantaneous. “But making room for one another’s needs, means no one has to react under pressure,” she says.

Slow It Down

Major change requires a series of conversations. For example, Greer suggests upon hearing of your spouse’s desire to make a professional transition, you might suggest “Let’s talk next week,” or “Before I sign off on this, have you thought of other alternatives?”

Communication also involves listening, adds Greer, suggesting a response like: “‘I hear where you’re coming from.’ Compromise comes easy when you structure communication this way.”

What’s more, this gives everyone a chance to process the proposed change and lifestyle shift. When professional and family needs are on the line, you can’t expect the discussion to be over and out in one or two conversations, Greer emphasizes.

Give and Take

Compromise is also important. For example, when the main breadwinner leaves a corporate job to start a business, a family may have to live on a shoestring budget. This inevitably requires the other spouse to work even harder. The spouse who no longer punches a corporate time clock might take on the lion’s share of household tasks and/or responsibility for the kids.

Be Realistic

Change is hard, says Civitelli, but doable. “It takes time and work to forge ahead with and garner the healthy support of your family. Anything less could cause stress-related health issues and limit your chance of succeeding, particularly if you’re starting a business.”

Media success stories on professionals doing a career 180 can be a disservice. “How many times do we read about the lawyer who is practicing law one day, then the next, successfully running a bed and breakfast?”

Life as a Business Plan

If both partners want to be happy, think in chunks of time not a here-and-now mindset, suggests Harouche. “Where do you want to be in five years? Is the path you’re contemplating going to get you there? What’s your back up?”

“Sit down and talk,” she says. And one last insight: “Make sure you make time for fun.”