Should Your Partner Be Your Mentor?
Has your partner offered to be your career mentor? Or, perhaps he hasn’t outright offered it, but you can feel him subtly shifting into that role (or at least adding it to his other list of roles of boyfriend and best friend). I had a boyfriend once attempt to be my career mentor. Perhaps I shouldn’t say “Attempt” because he did give me some great guidance, and at times he pushed me to do things I wouldn’t have had the confidence or know-how to do without his encouragement. If you have a spouse or romantic partner who works in the same industry as you do, but is slightly more advanced in his career, he could offer you some great advice and insight. However, anytime, you mix work and relationships, things can get messy. A purely professional mentor—one whom you aren’t dating—has its perks. I wish more successful women would mentor younger professionals. But, nobody knows you like your boo, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. Should your partner be your mentor? Consider this.
He knows your strengths
He really knows your strengths in a way strictly professional contacts may not. He might know that you’re really good at navigating difficult personalities or at thinking outside of the box. He will be great at identifying just when your specific strengths should be put to use.
He also knows your weaknesses
He also knows your weaknesses, which, ultimately, is good for a mentor to know, but coming from your partner can be upsetting. He may gently warn you, for example, not to make this or that mistake that you tend to make. That’s a valuable heads up but, again, it can stir up a fight in your relationship.
You may feel insecure breaking out of your shell
Staying on one path, building upon skills you already have, and pursuing higher levels of knowledge in an area you’re already exploring is great. But sometimes, taking risks pays off. Every once in a while, breaking out of your shell and doing something that’s totally not-you can be rewarding. You can, however, feel insecure breaking out of your shell under the watchful eye of your boyfriend/mentor.
When to mentor and when to coddle
It can be hard for your partner to identify when it’s time to mentor you or when it’s time to coddle you. If an interview or pitch doesn’t go well, is he supposed to go over your mistakes and what you should do differently next time? Or is he supposed to feed you wine and cupcakes, and tell you the world is wrong and you’re perfect?
If he’s unavailable, you take it personally
If your partner is sometimes just too busy to mentor you, you may take it personally. You wouldn’t take that personally from a purely professional mentor whom you weren’t dating. But you’ll take it personally from your boo.
If you don’t take his advice, he’ll be insulted
If you decide not to take his advice, he’ll be insulted. I mean, he’ll know you didn’t take it because you’re dating and he knows everything about your life. A purely professional mentor gives the advice, and then sort of goes away. She doesn’t follow up as closely to see if you did exactly what she told you to do.
You let critique affect your love life
If your partner gives you a professional critique, you may let that carry over into your personal life. If, for example, he says you can be too emotional and react without thinking about the long con, you can feel he thinks that about you in all areas of life.
Sometimes, he’ll say you aren’t ready
This can get uncomfortable. If your partner is much further along in your industry than you are, then remember that he has perspective that you may not. You may think you’re totally ready for an opportunity, but he actually knows what it takes to get there. Of course, when he tells you—you, with your head full of steam—that you aren’t quite ready, you could get angry with him. One day, in a few years, you’ll see he was right, but that doesn’t stop the fight happening right now.
But he’ll also know when you’re ready
Luckily, your partner will also know when you are ready for an opportunity more than someone else might. Purely professional contacts might just focus on surface things like where you studied/whom you know/what jobs you’ve already had. But your partner knows more detailed facts about your skillset and knowledge, and may push you to go after something when another mentor would have told you to wait.
He has a good view of your life
Your partner has a good, in-depth view of your life. He knows how you spend your time, and how you don’t spend your time. He can give you a pretty accurate assessment of what adjustments you need to make.
He naturally seeks opportunities for you
Whether or not he’s your mentor, your partner is always on the lookout for opportunities for you. He cares about you, and feels deeply affected by how your life is going. If you think about that, then you can see why that’s the person you’d want looking out for opportunities for you.
It can be awkward if he makes introductions
If your partner makes a professional introduction for you, people may question your abilities or aptitude. They may think, “He’s only introducing her to me because she’s his girlfriend and he wants to help her.”
Seek outside mentorship; hurt his feelings
Sometimes, you might seek mentorship from somebody else. If you do, your partner could take that personally. A different, purely professional mentor wouldn’t have taken it personally. But your boyfriend will.
If he mentors someone else, you’ll be upset
Should your partner take on an additional mentoree, you could take that personally. You want to be the main focus of his attention.
If you can keep things separate, it may work
Having your romantic partner double as your professional mentor can work if you are very good at keeping things separate. You cannot let anything that happens in your professional conversations carry over into your romantic relationship. But that’s much harder than it sounds. If you know you’re a sensitive individual, then this setup may not be for you.