How To Deal With Differing Levels Of Ambition In A Marriage

If you're not careful, too much (or too little) ambition can sink a marriage.

by Chase Scheinbaum
Originally Published: 

2-Minute Therapy is a regular series providing simple, effective advice on how to make sure your whole family thinks you’re as awesome as you think you are.

She’s a Type A ascendant career woman. He’s a starving painter. Depending on how they handle money, intimacy, and responsibility they’re either going to get divorced — or have the time of their lives! That scenario is either a) a movie that a studio dumped in a January release date, or b) advice from relationship coach Lauren Handel Zander on how to handle too much (or too little ambition) in a marriage.

Zander is a relationship expert who’s provided advice for Fortune 500 CEOs, Academy Award winners, and more than a few average couples. She’s been all up in people’s personal lives enough to know that these dynamics can make or break a once promising union. So if you have a marriage where one person is making, and the other is mostly taking, here’s how to get both of you on equal footing.

Never Stop Clapping For Each Other

In the course of a marriage, ambition can fluctuate. You’ll see one partner’s level of motivation can rise and fall more than Robert Downey Jr.’s career. And, like Downey Jr., that person might be asking if this is healthy or good. “You start being offended and losing respect, rather than being each other’s best friend and supporter,” says Zander. “You should never stop clapping for each other.” Because what’s the sound of one-half of a marriage clapping, anyway?

Don’t Try To Mold Them Into Your Image

People change. But not when other people are trying to change them. “I often see where one person thinks their way is smarter or better. Their feeling is ‘You should be more like me, not, ‘You should be who you are.’ Or, ‘I’m worth more than you because I make more money,’” says Zander. “That’s a fundamental crime in a marriage.” The path of least resistance (and the one least likely to end up on Divorce Court) is to accept your partner, whether they’re energized from working a 90-hour week, or punch the clock at 4:59 PM.

Make Your Terms Clear From The Start

Maybe you’re the yin to her yang. The Chachi to her Joanie. She’s the cheese and you’re the macaroni. No matter the relationship dynamic, Zander says the best way to avoid conflict is to clarify the details — lawyer style.

“You need to have agreements on major items in life before and during a marriage,” says Zander. This includes, but is not limited to, what’s important to you in regards to money, career, ambition, holiday travel, number of kids, and your sexual won’t list. “If you’re reading this article and you don’t know the truth about your partner or what you wish for them, you better do a lot of catching up now,” she says. Well, no time like the present to bring up that swinger party.

No Martyrs Allowed

Sacrificing one’s own career, hobbies, and dreams for the sake of the family is selfless. It’s also, per Zander, a surefire way end up filing for divorce. “The people-pleasing martyr type turn into seethers later. At some point you’ll call the other a narcissist and get the hell out,” she says. “In a healthy relationship, you should be a giver and a matcher. If you’re both Type A personalities, then just match each other.” Think of it like life poker — you’ll see their devotion to your happiness and raise them one vacation to the Carribean island of their choice.

Fly Your Freak Flag

Your inner weirdo cannot be killed. No matter what your predilection is towards ambition, make sure your partner is on board for all the strange itches you have to scratch, “There are things you’re a freak about and you’re not changing,” says Zander. Yes, it includes your freaky-deeky (or very vanilla) sex life. But it also applies to everything reasonable that you don’t want to compromise. Lifetime free passes on attending your partner’s work functions? Once-a-year silent meditation retreats? That belly-button thing? Lay them all out on the table and as early as possible. Then when personalities clash, you know how to defuse the situation (and acrobatic make-up sex).

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