Sound advice Thursday: Where should we live?

Dear Steph,

I live with my fiancee in a city where I am not happy but we both have jobs. I have been offered a job in another city where I previously lived and was much happier; however, it would be fairly difficult for my fiancee to find a job there. I’m fine with supporting her because I love her, but I worry that she will be unfulfilled in this new city without a job. Even though my career will be better and I will be happier, I worry that we will be weaker as a couple because she’ll be unhappy, resentful, etc. Obviously, this is a complex issue with a lot of considerations, but based on what I’ve written, what do you suggest?


Rock vs. Hard Place

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

Dear RVHP,

This is a toughie. I don’t know your situation beyond the slim paragraph that you’ve written me, but here are the basic facts as I see them:

1. Right now you both have jobs but one of you is unhappy;

2. If you move, only one of you will have a job and one of you may be unhappy.

Based on these barest of facts, it seems that your current situation might be better than the future situation — but then again, it might not. The problem is that so much is unknowable here. Will your fiancee be able to get a job in the new city? If not, will she definitely be unhappy? How long will you live in the new city? Will you definitely be happier there? What if your job there falls through?

Given all the uncertainties, it’s impossible to predict what the final result will be. So, since I can’t tell you what to do based on predictions about the future, I’ll just suggest some factors to consider as you think things over.

1. Jobs are hard to get. Right now you both have jobs, but if you move, only one of you will have guaranteed employment. Can both of you survive comfortably on one salary? Do you want to? Does she want to?

2. Jobs are important. Some people thrive on a fast-paced career. Others (ahem, me) are fine with leaving prestige behind but still need to have satisfying, fulfilling work. But pretty much everyone needs to feel that their days have value. It may seem fun now for your fiancee to be a stay-at-home-lady, with no job and no responsibilities, but I suspect the fun of that will wear off quickly and she will want to find something – a job or volunteer work or a project – to occupy her time and make her feel like she has a purpose. Consider how long an arrangement in which you work and she sits around the house, bored, will be sustainable, and what types of opportunities are available to her in the new city.

This probably won't be your fiancee's life.
This will get old.

3. Relationships are a two-way street. Despite what ABC’s The Bachelor would have us believe, in actual relationships, both parties have an equal say in where the couple will live and work. In the Bachelor, the lead always picks his fiancee based on whether or not she’s willing to drop everything and move to his hometown and “fit into his life,” as if she were a lamp or a duvet cover. Turns out, real relationships don’t work this way, and thus, you and your fiancee need to talk – a lot – and figure out an arrangement that will work for both of you. It’s the truth that committed relationships involve compromise; in fact, I wrote here about the balancing act my husband and I achieved when we decided to come to South Africa for his job. As it turns out, before we moved here, we were both afraid that I’d be unhappy, isolated in a city with a bad reputation. As it turns out, though, my husband is the one who has struggled more here. As I said before, you just don’t know how these things are going to turn out before they happen, which is why it’s important to talk and understand one another’s needs.

4. Flexibility is key. It’s important for your fiancee to know that she — not the job or the city — is your first priority and that if things are horrible for her in the new city, you’ll listen to her and figure out together a way to make things better, whether that means moving back to the old city, or commuting, or living apart, or whatever works for both of you. This is how you will prevent resentment from creeping in to your relationship: by listening, compromising, and realizing that human relationships are The Most Important Thing in life, period, and that sometimes, other things might need to fall by the wayside to make those relationships work.

I realize this advice might sound a bit vague, but hopefully you can use it to spark a conversation with your fiancee about what you both want, and to feel your way toward a workable compromise.

Good luck!

~ Steph

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