Marriage has many benefits only some of which are financial. Shared housing, splitting pension income and shared resources are just a few of the financial advantages to being married. If you are in it for the long haul being married also comes with compromise. It’s not always possible to follow both sets of dreams when one person’s dreams take them in a very clear direction.

How is it possible to navigate a life with two separate sets of dreams and goals? What if I picture my retirement living peacefully by the ocean and he pictures his dropping dead at the blackboard in the middle of a lecture. What if her once-in-a-lifetime job is in a city you don’t want to move to?

It wasn’t that long ago that it was a woman’s role to support her husband in his career. It was really only after the second world war that it became a viable option for women whose husbands worked full time to have a career of their own. The choice isn’t always about who makes the best income. It sometimes comes down to whose career is more flexible.

Here are some tips for navigating deep financial waters when it comes to aligning your dreams as a couple.

Talk About It

Most of us talked about our hopes and dreams before we married. We mapped out how many kids we wanted, what kind of house we wanted to buy, how we wanted to decorate, what some of our hopes and dreams for the future were. What we may have left out were the details. What age to you hope to retire? Where do you see yourself living in retirement? How do we plan on saving for the future? Will be both work full time?

Consider a Flexible Career

In an ideal world, one of you will have a flexible career. In our case, that’s me. My husband has a specialty. We’re going to have to end up in the city where he gets hired. Fortunately, my career is flexible. I don’t relish the thought of getting a new job but I know it’s possible. Had I had a specialty, one of us would have had to made huge compromises unless we could both find our dream jobs in the same town.

Be Careful about Compromising Too Much

There is nothing worse than a martyr in the disguise of a fully supportive spouse. If you compromise too much, you’ll begin to resent your spouse. Resentment and bitterness can make for a very unhappy life for you both. It’s ok to be fully supportive of your spouse. Just make sure you’re truly supportive and not just trying to be or resentment will fester quickly.

Find Some Balance

I’m all for families making their own choices for what is best for their situation. If you or your spouse want to stay at home with the kids, great. If you both want to work full time, fabulous. I’ve always wanted to work outside the home. I place no judgment on those who don’t.

I know a couple who are both teachers and have arranged a situation where one works for two years and then takes a leave for two years while the other one works. One parent is always working and the other is at home with the kids. I know another couple who both wanted so desperately for one spouse to stay at home full time, that the other spouse worked two jobs. What matters is that you’re both happy with the situation, regardless of the choices you make for your family.

Plan and Re-evaluate Continually

Life doesn’t always turn out as planned. It is constantly changing and with that change it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. What you planned and agreed on 5 years ago is very different from where life is today. Keep date nights, even if it means paying a baby-sitter and going out for dinner. Keep dreaming with your spouse so your dreams are going in the same direction.

Life is not about waiting for retirement to live fully. It’s about creating the life you want now while saving for the future. It’s not worth the sacrifice of your marriage if it means spending your retirement years alone.

What are some ways you’ve had to align your dreams with your spouse?
Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

My wife and I have a shared dream – to see the kids sleep through the night on a regular basis. Anything beyond that is all gravy. :)

I have a hard time understanding a couple that has 1 person working 2 job so they other can stay home. Don’t the kids end up not knowing the “worker” parent?

I guess we’re unusual then, we definitely didn’t have the number of kids, type of house (!) conversation before we got together, although we met while still students. Not sure it would have done any good anyway, I’ve changed a lot over the last decade or so.

As my peripatetic adulthood so far might indicate, maximum flexibility is my main goal/dream/whatever and I like to live minimally, have a lot of cash available for the next opportunity, travel often, etc. I’m not sure if I’ve just beaten him down or been persuasive over the years, but husband is on board with this. To that end I have an extremely in-demand career niche and he works at something that lends itself to consulting. My husband is from a poor country and supports his mum and some of his other family members financially; that was a non-negotiable from the get-go and I’m obviously on board with this priority too.

A very good friend of mine is staying home with her three kids so that her husband can further his career. They are both academics, both have a PhD in physics, but from what I understand academics can’t choose that easily where they end up living and working. A good many academic couples live apart. Anyway, my friends decided that she would sacrifice her academic career and this has worked out very well. I am not sure but I would not be surprised if gender played a role in the decision since physics is probably pretty male dominated. It is so much easier for a white male to succeed as a physicist than it is for a woman to succeed.

This is a great discussion, and something that we haven’t thought a lot about. For us, my wife wanted to reduce her work hours to spend more time with the baby, so that’s what we did. Now she is part time, but keeps working enough hours to keep her profesional license. For me, I’m focused on keeping a balance between family life and building wealth. Between 2 full time jobs (office and web biz), I’ve come to appreciate time as a valuable commodity.

Great post Kathryn! I’m single so I have the carefree attitude to go wherever my career takes me. Thanks for a great post!

I would like to know where these 2 teachers work. The school division I live in only lets teachers take a leave every 7 years. They are extremely fortunate.

@Mike 4P. IMO, your post should be taken as advice. Health, family and happiness above all else!

. Great post!! My gf and I are WAY overdue for a nice long talk :D

Ridley: They work for the Waterloo Board. I’m not a teacher so I don’t know the specifics but there is something about each being able to take up to 5 years unpaid leave after having kids, and at 3 kids each, splitting the leave, they have a lot of time they can use.

FT: Our situation is much like yours. My husband works 2 full time jobs (one full time job and one as a full time PhD student) and I work part time. It’s not ideal. It’s nice for one parent to be home with the kids more. It saves on daycare costs too! It is difficult to find balance when one spouse is so busy and the other one is trying to work and hold down the fort. We’re beginning to wonder if it would be better on our whole family for us both to work one full time job each even if it means having to find after school care for the kids.

Wow Kathryn, this is quite timely for me. My wife and I were just having (and still having) a discussion about this sort of thing the other day. We live in the Vancouver area where real estate is (at least seemingly) unobtainable. So we are discussing the financial ramifications if we just decided to pickup and move to another part of the country or maybe to another country altogether (I got hooked on the idea of working in a tropical village or in Japan teaching English from watching too many Travel shows :) ).

How do you accommodate a partner’s dreams which are a bit lofty without shutting them down completely? (This would be advice for my wife in this case).

UItimately, I think the most important thing must be good communication. Many couples think they can just settle down and then iron out all the differences but it sometimes doesn’t end well because, like what you said above, people naturally have different goals in life.

Maiku: You ask a difficult question. We lived in India for nearly 5 years. Our daughter was born there. We don’t regret it for a moment even though it was 5 of the most challenging and difficult years of our lives.

We tend to regret the things in life we don’t do. There has to be a balance between his (your) need for adventure and her need for stability and security.

Moving to another part of the country sounds like a fabulous idea if you can both get jobs elsewhere. Moving to Japan may be a bit far fetched unless she decides it’s something she’d love to do too. With the big decisions in life, you need two resounding ‘yeses’ for it to work.

“How is it possible to navigate a life with two separate sets of dreams and goals? What if I picture my retirement living peacefully by the ocean and he pictures his dropping dead at the blackboard in the middle of a lecture.”

That’s easy. Have him write on the blackboard 100 times, “I will not disagree with my wife. My wife is always right.”

Three years ago I was offered a position that would require significant sacrifices for the family. It involves a good deal of international travel (although it has not reached 50% as initially postulated). My wife has been tremendously supportive but I also like the agreement we came up with. Let’s try it for 3 years and see if we are still both ok with it. We also frequently had a sanity check throughout these past 3 years to ensure everyone was still on board.

Lately, we’ve been talking about dramatic plans for retirement. We’ve discovered that my wife takes a lot longer to embrace change of a significant nature (e.g. moving to a different country) while I’m less enamoured with minor changes (moving living room furniture around).

Fortunately, our relationship is such that neither would ever consider putting the other in a position with which they couldn’t be comfortable. But, you must have plenty of discussions because that way you uncover all hidden concerns.

Husband’s and wives should be able to pursue their dreams with each others’ support. Ideally, this should be discussed during courtship. The husband and wife relationship should be a synergy whereby together, they achieve more than they would have, individually