My husband is struggling with my career success

Tell me about it: After 20 years at home I am getting my career back on track but my husband is jealous

My husband and I have been in the same business and initially we were both considered "talents". Those early years were blissful as we did performances (we are both in creative areas) around the country. We shared everything, including ambition. I won an early award and for two years my light shone brightly. At the time, I knew my husband was jealous but I was young and optimistic so I hushed these thoughts away. We decided to have kids and I stepped back from my career for almost 20 years. I did this willingly and my husband was very supportive and he had a good solid career. Even though he was away a lot, I never feared for our relationship. However, I now have taken up my career again and have been gaining some good reviews and now have a modest level of success. 

The problem is my husband seems to be having huge problems with this. He is making smart remarks about my success and I feel he is putting me down all the time. I thought he would see this as my time to shine but instead he is taking it personally. It has really affected our relationship and I don't feel connected to him any more. It feels as though I have to choose between my career and my relationship.

For any couple working in the same profession or industry competition can arise naturally and it can sometimes be more difficult if the more successful person is the female. There has been a cultural idea that men should be successful in the world of work and be the bigger provider but this has now been widely challenged.

In the recession, many families had to rely on the wife’s income and this challenged the traditional roles of the nuclear family. Because it is more usual for women to take time out from careers to take care of children, they have learned a more adaptive response to career, in that their identity does not rely as heavily as men on what they do. However, for men, their identity can be very deeply connected to their careers and when this is threatened, it can shake them to the core.


It is likely that your husband is not fully aware of what is happening to him and he is taking his confusion and upset out on you. Men often express their vulnerability, hurt or fear through a very small range of expressions, mainly through anger, impatience or criticism. This creates a reaction in the person at the receiving end and so the real issues – fear and shame – go unaddressed.

It is not right that you should dim this talent as it comes to maturity and it is an unfair idea that you should do this so that your husband feels okay

I don’t know if you have a good history of talking with your husband, but now might be the right time to spend time with him. Ask what life is like for him, show your own vulnerability to him and see if he can respond. However, if there is no response, then couples therapy might be what is needed, or indeed individual therapy for your husband where he can explore what is going on for him in safety.

To have talent is a gift and to have that recognised and used to full effect is the fulfilment of that talent. It is not right that you should dim this talent as it comes to maturity and it is an unfair idea that you should do this so that your husband feels okay.

Hold to your conviction that you will develop and grow your capacity and that you will remain open to the possibility of your family benefiting and basking in this success.

We would be horrified if a child held back how smart they were at school so that other students would not be jealous. In the same way you must not nurture your husband’s fear by hiding your talent.

To quote Our Deepest Fear, a poem by by Marianne Williamson: "There's nothing enlightened about shrinking /So that other people feel secure around you"

While we might think we are supporting the fearful or jealous person, what we are actually doing is confirming their idea that they are less than another.

Your husband has things he needs to tackle; he is in charge of his own life and you are not the answer to his issues. What you can do is not make decisions about your own life that are based on fear: fear of losing him or fear that you are the cause of his pain. We first need to free ourselves from fear before we consider how we can tackle other's issues or fears. To continue to quote from Williamson: "And as we let our own light shine,/we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same./As we are liberated from our fear,/Our presence automatically liberates others."