It’s the stuff epic love stories are made of: You, a US born Ghanian-American, work in Ghana for a couple of years at a law firm and meet an amazing, handsome, and accomplished man with whom you share a lot in common. Not the least of which, you both work in the same profession. You get married and everyone wishes you happily ever after.
Except “ever after” includes a major dilemma that you didn’t see coming.
Today, you’re married, pregnant and living in NYC while your husband is in Ghana. He became a partner at his firm and doesn’t want to give that up to move to the States and start over. You are also a lawyer and only a rank or two under a partner where you work in NYC and you don’t want to give that up either.
So, if you’re going to raise your child together under the same roof, who moves with whom?
In 2007, researchers found that couples still view the husband’s career as “more important”. When considering a relocation, the wife often ends up being the “trailing spouse” as couples are more likely to move for the husband’s career even if the wife has a high-flying job. The study reported that when couples relocate, the man’s career tends to get a boost, while the wife’s suffers.
An earlier study found that, in many cases, women had already chosen careers that led to their roles as trailing spouses. In a typical scenario, the moving couple involves a mid-level manager husband and a wife who is a nurse or teacher. When the husband is offered a promotion that requires moving, the wife follows the husband because of the income, then has a difficult time finding employment herself.
But even when the playing field is leveled with regard to the type of job, a relocation still hurts women professionally. So why do women more often sacrifice a good career of their own for their husband’s? Researchers say:
“People still buy into the stereotypes of what it means to be a good wife. It means that caring for your children and supporting your husband’s career is viewed as a wife’s main priority.”
Today that just sounds archaic considering that 40 percent of American women are the breadwinners for their families. Women now account for 51 percent of the workers in the highest-paying sector — management, professional and related occupations. In particular, “lawyer” ranks as one of the top-paying jobs for women.
Adding to the scenario we started with, moving to Ghana would mean having to find a new job in a new country. Though you and your husband worked for the same firm in Ghana before you were married, the firm is now saying they likely won’t rehire you because you’re married to him and he’s a partner. Of course, success and opportunities exist no matter where you are, but it could be a while until you find something professionally rewarding.
Are you, as the wife, expected to just throw away your career, home, education, professional satisfaction, family, friends, and love of your job for the love of your life — simply because of your gender? Are you supposed to be okay with being 100 percent dependent on him for survival?
Worst-case scenario is to join the more than 3.6 million couples – a 40 percent increase since 1990 — who are in long-distance marriages. Most of these couples have decided to live in different cities (or continents) for the paycheck and they see each other 1.5 times a month, on average. Technology certainly makes it easier to maintain love across the miles (check out this hug shirt!), but don’t people get married to be together? When children are involved, “commuter marriages” are even more difficult because it places an undue burden on one spouse to shoulder the child rearing.
Many couples are making it work, like writer Lisa Stromberg who writes about her long-distance marriage:
This separation has brought about a renewed commitment to our marriage and to each other. Now, we work particularly hard at understanding one another. We don’t assume, as we once did, that we know what the other is thinking or even doing. We are forced to communicate (what a concept!) in order to stay connected.
Still, nobody gets married to talk on the phone.
A compromise has to be made. Either the wife has to sacrifice her career for her husband’s or the husband has to sacrifice his career for his wife’s. Both spouses want the other to be happy, but unless they choose to live on separate continents, one is in for a big move and will likely be packing a suitcase full of resentment. Lack of enthusiasm can wreak havoc on a marriage, so it’s important to maintain perspective and understand that today is not forever. Circumstances can change in an instant. Still, this is not a cut-and-dry “what’s more important?” decision and it seems there’s not one right answer, so I’ll ask you:
What would you do? Would you move far away for your husband’s job? Or would you try to embrace it? Would it matter if you had kids? Do you think women are unfairly expected to be the “trailing spouse”?