Dear Rabbi and Susan,
We have an opportunity to increase our family income by double. We currently make about 40K a year between my husband and I.
I was accepted into a one year program that would give me the skills and connections to make between 50-80k a year myself excluding my husbands income. We would have to move about 500 miles away from our families and where we were both born but only for a year and then we could decide where to go after that.
My husband doesn’t want me to accept. He isn’t one for change and hates California, he doesn’t want to live there even for a year… I want to honor him and I understand that making more than him could cause some strain on our marriage… am I wrong for wanting this? I’m trying not to be bitter… but I’ve always been a bit ambitious and the idea of turning this opportunity down has caused me some internal struggle.
You sound like a sincere and sensitive woman who is trying her hardest to cope with a difficult challenge. Our usual disclaimer applies even more to you and your dilemma: Since we don’t know any of our ‘Ask the Rabbi’ letter-writers personally we can hope only to raise discussion points that will be helpful along with perhaps a few considerations that you may not have yet contemplated. We also have great confidence in our readers and know that they often contribute valuable comments. We always read them with great interest.
You clearly recognize many of the valid concerns involved, including some that conflict with one another. You are aware of the need to respect your husband and of the potential threat to your marriage that earning more than he does can impose. You are also aware of the importance of every individual, man or woman, making the most of his or her talents, abilities and opportunities.
A number of things are unclear from your letter. You mention that between you both, you earn $40K. Is that half each? Or is it mostly your husband’s earnings or mostly yours? A joint income of $40,000 doesn’t go very far these days, yet you don’t suggest that you are struggling. Is your husband on a path to higher earnings or is he content with things as they are? Do you feel that you are more ambitious than he is?
You don’t mention children. Are you young newlyweds, an older couple without children or in some other category? Is your husband’s reluctance to move related to family issues (perhaps an ill parent) or simply a matter of personal preference?
Was your husband aware of and supportive of you applying to this program in the first place, or does he feel blindsided by you having been accepted? Do you feel that his objection is based mostly on geography or do you feel that he is also reluctant to see your earnings increase? What is the basis of your relationship and what attracted you to each other? All of these are important questions to explore.
One more matter to establish is the legitimacy of the program itself. How much will this program cost you? Are you really sure that it will trampoline you to earnings of between $50K and $80K a year? We don’t want to sound negative but our antennae were set jangling a bit by the term you employed in describing the benefits of the program, “skills and connections.” Let us urge you to be very certain about this program. You see, Cynthia, we just don’t know any educational programs that in only one year can qualify you for a job paying quite so much. If it is indeed on the up-and-up, it must have a very long waiting list of eager applicants; in which case you are indeed fortunate. But if it is not, then all the other questions raised are irrelevant.
Once you have satisfied yourself and your husband that this is a truly viable course of action, you have to arrive at a decision. Like so many other questions that arise in married life how you arrive at a decision is far more important than the decision you reach. The process of discussion that brings you to a decision can either grow your marital relationship or harm it. There isn’t a global right or wrong answer, only one that will be right or wrong for the two of you at this time in your marriage. You would both need to have Solomonic wisdom to handle the necessary discussions between yourselves alone. This is one of those times that we would certainly advise you to consult wise counsel. The catch, of course, is that the person whom you consult needs not to have an agenda of his or her own. That is harder to find today but it is crucial. You should seek someone who can help the two of you understand and value each other and your relationship to a greater degree as you move toward a mutually acceptable decision.
We wish you a bright, fulfilling, and prosperous future,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin