I am often invited for coffee by women wanting career advice. But last week I was asked for relationship advice instead. The woman doing the asking was a successful young businesswoman. The company she co-founded straight out of university is now a global business and as a result she has achieved significant financial success. But she hasn’t been anywhere near as successful with her personal relationships to date.
She was aware that I have been married for 21 years and was keen to grill me about that. How did I meet him? How did I know he was the right one? How have I made it work? The context was that this remarkably successful woman had recently ended a relationship with a man who was at some point considered, possibly, even probably, the one. She explained the relationship wasn’t going anywhere so it needed to end. But I could sense that she wasn’t 100 percent sure she’d made the right decision. She had been down that road before and starting to think she may have lost sight of what she should be looking for in a partner. Also there’s that fertility ticking time-bomb that scares many women into action. So she wanted to know how I knew my husband was the one.
The truth is that I knew early in our relationship once it became clear that he saw me as his equal. It was by far the most important factor to me beyond natural attraction. I dated a number of men before him who set off my arrogance radar within the first five minutes. They could have been George Clooney and I still would have ended it there. Honest.
I met my husband at work. When you work in an industry that never switches off, it helps to have a partner who understands that. There has never been a discussion about the hours that we keep in our respective jobs, except to work out how to minimise the time that our children spend without at least one of us. It’s been a shared responsibility. I have never felt as though I was the one who needed to do all of the compromising. We both have made sacrifices in our careers to make sense of our hectic lives.
I knew he was the right one when I landed my first big promotion and he was genuinely happy for me, bragging about it to his friends. That was before we married and it has continued. His aspirations for my career match my own and I am reminded of that regularly.
It works because we have a partnership that is truly equal and respectful. We don’t view each other as property so don’t need to seek permission before making decisions. We are however respectful of the other person’s role in our life so we communicate our plans before committing to them. I was recently asked how I got my partner to agree to letting me undertake MBA studies when my sons were young. The question surprised me because I haven’t ever felt the need to ask for permission. We certainly workshopped how we would make it work with the children, two full-time careers and a couple of willing grandparents, but that was once I’d decided that it was something I wanted to pursue.
I ask my husband for advice, I share my fears and dreams with him and I turn to him when I am at a loss, but I never seek his permission. And he never seeks mine. I would probably laugh if he asked me if he could fly to Byron Bay to spend a week with his mate Jeff, take our sons to the footy or see a band after work with a school friend. He certainly informs me when he plans to do those things and we work out the logistics regarding the children. I can’t imagine how I would react if my husband told me that I wasn’t allowed to pursue my dream. Well, actually, I can imagine. I can also imagine how he would react if I said no to his interests and passions.
We all value different things and it’s important to recognise early the factors that are too important to compromise. What quality in a partner matters most to you?