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Standing Beside Him

Would you give up your career to support your husband’s? A new book suggests that’s the key to happiness. Seema Goswami plays a little game...

sex and relationships Updated: Mar 07, 2009 21:23 IST
Seema Goswami

Would you give up your career to support your husband’s? A new book suggests that’s the key to happiness

Let’s play a little game. Suppose you were a career woman in your 30s, with two young kids, and a husband on the fast track for that corner office (of course, you may well be all of these things, in which case you don’t need to stretch your imagination). Life was hard, with constant juggling to deal with all the demands on your time. You were constantly tired, staying up late to finish work, waking up early to send the kids off to school. Your husband and you had become virtual strangers, drifting on the periphery of the other’s existence.

And then, one day, you were given a chance to change all that. You could simply give up your job and stay at home to look after household, hearth and children. Don’t worry, that didn’t mean that you wouldn’t have a career any longer. Of course you would have a job: that of supporting your husband’s career.

You would be his back-up at home, making sure that his dry-cleaning was picked up on time, dinner was ready on the table when he got back, the children’s homework was done, and there was a neck massage at the ready when he needed one.

But more than, you would also be his support system: giving him rational advice when he needed it; boosting his confidence when it appeared to be flagging; playing the perfect corporate wife so that he shone at work; picking up the slack everywhere else so that he could concentrate on his career.

All you needed to do to make this work was make a mental shift. Instead of concentrating on your own job, you would have looked at your marriage as a joint enterprise in which the two of you were equal partners, but with differing responsibilities. And that while it was his job to bring in the bacon – in ever-increasing quantities – it was up to you to make sure that it was cooked to perfection and served on a beautifully-laid table.

And, I can almost hear you asking, what exactly would you get out of this?

Well, first of all, you would no longer be required to run around like a headless chicken trying to cram 24 hours of work into your waking hours. You could actually step off the treadmill and breathe. You wouldn’t have to snatch quality time (whatever that means) with your children in between board presentations and grocery shopping. You would finally have enough time to enjoy their company, without worrying that it was keeping you from something.

Hell, it would even improve your relationship with your husband. You would no longer be constantly bickering about who does which household chore and which one of you is more tired and deserves to be waited upon at the end of the day. Instead, your work descriptions would be clear, allowing no scope for ambiguity. You were in charge of kitchen and kids; he was in charge of making sure you had enough money (always useful when it comes to hiring help – no one is saying you have to do the dishes yourself) to do justice to both.

And most important of all, this new arrangement would ensure that you had enough time for yourself. You could use this as you saw fit: going shoe-shopping in the afternoon, working out in the gym, having lunch with your girlfriends; getting your hair and nails done; reading a good book.

Sounds perfect, doesn’t it.

Well, at least that is the premise of Megan Basham’s book, Beside Every Successful Man (you’ve got to love the wordplay, even if you don’t agree with the book). Basham, who apparently writes from personal experience having made this life switch herself, believes that this is the recipe for a truly happy life for today’s modern woman who wants to have it all (but rarely will).

So, here’s my question. Would you do it? Would you give up your hard-won career, bid goodbye to your job, and stay at home to bolster the career prospects of your husband? After all, the better he does, the better off your family is, right?

A quick poll conducted among my friends seems to suggest that the answer is no to all of the above.

And why all the negativity, pray? Well, the primary reason seems to be fear. And what are these women afraid of? Well, let me count the reasons.

Number one seems to be fear of death. What if, despite your world-class support act, your husband just ups and dies on you. Where does that leave you exactly? With no job, no career prospects, and the spectre of genteel poverty staring you in the face.

Then, there’s the other, equally dreaded, ‘D’ word: divorce. Women are forever getting traded in for younger models, and we all know about mega-successful men and their newer, prettier, trophy second wives, don’t we? So, why spend all that energy on building up a man who may just dump you at the end of the day?

And then, there’s that primal fear: of loss of independence and the abdication of power in a relationship. Not only would you be completely dependent on your husband financially, but you would also lose the sense of self that comes from being able to provide for yourself. And if you ceased to bring tangible assets to the marriage, would you even be valued as an equal partner at the end of the day?

So, what’s your take on this? Given a choice, would you stand beside your man?