How Your Partner Can Be Your Partner in Your Career Restart Journey

Over the years I’ve met a lot of people looking to return to work. And a question that often comes up is how to engage spouses or partners to be supportive during the career restart journey.

Some partners are naturally good and supportive and intuit what their partner needs from them. But most of us live in the real world where even the best and most loving partner may need some help in order to help us.

Below I outline three common reasons why your partner may not be as supportive as you’d like them to be, followed by ideas for how to address that particular issue. The truth is, for many people it’s a combination of all three reasons. Pick and choose your strategies accordingly.

1.  Change is scary — even good change.

While you might immediately see the family benefits of you returning to work—more income, a happier you, financial stability in the future—your partner may see only disruption. Some people simply find it frightening when their partner makes any kind of positive change in their life.

How to address it: Emphasize the advantages of you being back in the workforce both for your finances and your own well-being.

Many of us are hesitant to express our needs and desires in this way for fear that we will be seen as selfish. Wanting to be happy and financially secure is not selfish.

Also: acknowledge that there will be bumps along the way. This can assuage feelings that maybe you aren’t being realistic about possible disruptions. Assuring your partnerand anyone else in your family who will be impactedthat you know there will be challenges but that you’ve faced and overcome challenges before can help to tamp down those fears.

2.  They don’t know you need support.

While it might seem so obvious to you that you need their help, it may not be obvious to them. They also may think they ARE being helpful! Don’t assume that they are unwilling to give you support.

How to address it: Like we teach kids, use your words. You need to ask for help.

It may seem silly to say “I need you to watch the kids on Saturday so I can work on my resume” but they can’t possibly read your mind. Consider lists and spreadsheets “here’s what I’m working on, here’s where I could use your help…” Don’t present it as a “honey do” list, which may not be welcome.

Instead, invite a conversation. “I’m struggling to find time for…” And if you need other kinds of helpreading a cover letter, letting you practice your interview answers, or even just a hug from time to timeask for it!

3.  They may not want to support you.

This is the saddest reason, but your partner may not want to be supportive. They may like things the way they are.

They may have thought through the pros and cons and concluded, “No, it’s good the way it is.” They may feel too busy with their own work to take on, for example, extra childcare duties or other domestic responsibilities

How to address it: This is the toughest one, for sure. If the cause is your partner’s own burnout and overwhelm, try the suggestions in the second section, but make it a mutual brainstorming session—”How can we work together to make this manageable?” Emphasize how you being employed might help—more resources could offer more ways to outsource needs around the house, for example.

But if they are simply intractable, you may need to seek support from others. It takes a village to restart a career. While your partner can be an important member of your team, they don’t have to be.

Plenty of people aren’t partnered and manage to get support from friends, family, and people in their community. Your career restart offers you an opportunity to leverage all the amazing people in your life toward helping you to meet your goal.


Tami Forman is the founding executive director of Path Forward and a frequent speaker on issues related to caregiving and workforce participation.