Have you ever asked whose purpose in your relationship is more important? Warning: (1) This question likely can’t be answered definitively, and (2) this question likely will start a fight. It is a controversial question, but it could help clarify some of your priorities. The tension between your competing purposes usually starts with calendar debates and money problems but can eventually lead to heart palpitations and real headaches. Obviously, it’s common for couples to compare paychecks, and often priority is given to the larger salary. But this isn’t about money: Whose purpose tends to take precedence? Is one more important than the other? Now, you might debate with me on this, and yes, it’s unreasonable to compare one human’s existence with that of another. But if we are exploring whether we feel our purpose is more important than our partner’s, then let’s be honest: many of us act like what we do is more important than it really is. That ego is the problem. Resentment creeps into families when the love of one person’s work outweighs the love of everyone else.
Throughout [our] research and in my personal journey, I’ve needed to remember that overprioritizing work can cause others to question your love for them. This happens more than I care to admit. I believe it is a major tension. If I do work that matters, it can be all-consuming. My attention is focused on the demands of my work. Everything I look at is first filtered through the lens of work. All my decisions are made based on how they will impact my work. I can’t go to that game because I have a meeting. I can’t go on that trip because I have a big deadline at work. I can’t be at that appointment because I’m already booked to go on that work trip. I can’t do life because I’m doing work.
There have been moments (months) when my work tainted the joy of my family. I have hurt my kids, and I continually hurt André when I prioritize my own purpose over her purpose and over our love. But if you can love the purpose of your partner with an equal amount of commitment as your own work, you’ll be able to create a consistent pattern of responsibility and respect. Supporting your partner’s purpose will mean making sacrifices, but reaching a point where all three loves—loving our partner, loving our purpose, and loving our partner’s purpose—are working together is crucial to a healthy life. For me, it means I am willing to change my schedule to pick up the kids so André can complete her work. My belief in what she does causes me to take more responsibility for our family and household so she can do her work well.
In our research, only 31 percent of respondents feel encouraged by their partner to pursue their work and dreams. This percentage is way too low. Though we may believe in the abilities of our partners, too many of us fail to provide the support needed to make their dreams a reality.
Do I believe my partner’s purpose is equal to my own purpose? Or at the end of the day, do I think my contribution to the world is most valuable? Some questions we don’t want to answer, but we still need to consider them. This question targets a core belief defining your relationship.
André literally saves lives every day, and I help people with ideas. Her work is more important for individuals’ health, but that doesn’t minimize my purpose. Valuing and even loving our partner’s purpose as equal to our own is an example of a new era in “family values.” When we love the purpose of our partner, we exemplify for our children a commitment marked by equity, purpose, and partnership. If we want to see more equality in the workplace, I believe the first place we should seek change is in our homes as we evaluate the equity of our partnerships.
It may be unreasonable for you to like your partner’s work as much as they do. I would need a helmet for every time I passed out seeing the things André sees, does, and fixes. But you can love watching your partner do what they are meant to do. Think about the times you’ve loved watching your partner do what they are meant to do. Have you gone out of your way to provide extra time for them to do those things? Would you be willing to stay with your kids so your partner can get more schooling? When was the last time you changed your work schedule for your partner’s work schedule?
Start watching for those moments when you can minimize your purpose and maximize theirs. Let your ego take a back seat and let their purpose shine.
Now, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that this journey to find meaning in life is more than difficult. The pursuit of purpose can be frustrating, agonizing, and defeating. You may be reading this with doubt that you will ever find your purpose; you may wonder if your partner could ever see your giftings and support them the way you desire. We all have moments of frustration, yet we all have moments of breakthrough too. I want to encourage you to keep trying. Keep asking the people close to you to walk with you on this journey, and don’t give up on the pursuit. Even if you and your partner are in different seasons of work, don’t be discouraged; there is still hope.