Relationships

How to Put Your Partner’s Career First

Advice from Rachel Hollis, author of Girl, Wash Your Face, and her husband, Dave.

A stack of packed cardboard boxes
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Justin Hutchinson/the Image Bank/Getty Images Plus.

On a recent episode of How To!, Andy, a listener in Austin, Texas, is torn about moving out of state to follow his girlfriend, Cassie, to vet school. Charles Duhigg brings in Rachel Hollis, author of Girl, Wash Your Face, and her husband, Dave, to advise on putting your partner first; Dave gave up his lucrative job at Disney to support Rachel’s career. This transcript of their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Charles Duhigg: Let’s say you move to another state and you’re forecasting a year into the future after the move. What’s the worst-case scenario that you think happens?

Andy: Well, as it is now, Cassie and I live together, but I have friends and band practice and work, so I have a lot of buffers between us. So we do spend a lot of time together, but I wouldn’t say it’s as much time as we would be spending if we were living together in another state and I had to get my new friends and work and stuff together. We’re going to be spending a hell of a lot of time together. I’m afraid that we’re going to drive each other nuts.

Rachel Hollis: Yeah, and you probably will.

Charles: This is something that Rachel and Dave have thought about a lot because they themselves recently moved, and Rachel wanted to make sure that she had other social options. That she knew where she was going to make new friends before they arrived.

Rachel: I really, through social media, got dialed into the community before I ever came here. So I knew where I was going to go to the gym. Basically, the things that are valuable to me, I had established that through hashtags. I literally just started following hashtags, and I knew what I was going to do. I set it up so that we hit the ground running instead of the culture shock of “Oh, God, we’re here, now what?”

Charles: Moving to a new place, particularly when you’re moving there for another person, can be huge and scary, and if you’re not careful, it can cause resentment. So you have to do some work ahead of time. You have to do some research in advance and get to know the lay of the land so that you know that you’re making this move, not just for someone else, but for you. You have to figure out why you want this, why you should be excited, beyond just supporting your partner.

Dave Hollis: If you feel like you have to do this or that you do this out of an obligation or out of wanting to show loyalty, but not truly because of it being a thing that you feel driven to do, you will feel like it was being foisted upon you, a thing that you did not choose, and then you will not choose it.

Charles: Let’s say you decide to move with Cassie, and it’s a year in the future and things are going well with the relationship. You guys are together, you’re driving each other a little bit crazy, because you’re in a new place, you’re hanging out all the time, but she’s the same basic person that she is today. And let’s say nothing else works out. You try and get your woodworking business off the ground, and then you’re finding that you can only get worse jobs then you got in Austin. You want to find a new band, and you just don’t click with anyone, and you’re in a place that’s cold and there’s no good breweries around.

Put yourself in that head space. Do you feel like you still made the right choice, or do you think that it might be a mistake?

Andy: I don’t know. I love Cassie a lot, and so I’d be willing to put up with a situation like that for an extended period of time. But yeah, I feel like I would probably feel like it was a bad decision in the long run.

Rachel: But then you could just move back.

Andy: Yeah, that’s true. And we’ve talked about doing the long-distance thing. It was her idea, her moving and me staying here. And I feel like it would work, but I don’t know for how long.

Rachel: Yeah. I think everybody tends to think when they’re trying to make a big decision that this is the end-all be-all. That they have to know the answer to the rest of their life right now. And the reality is you could choose to do this thing, and one or both of you could be like, “Well, holy crap, that didn’t work.” And then you would make another choice. And if that doesn’t work, then you make another choice. Nothing that you are going to choose is it forever.

Charles: And what studies show is that over time, our happiness tends to be shaped much more by those small, secondary choices, the adjustment choices we make, than by the big decision that when you confront it seems so important at the time.

Rachel: Dave always says, “People only get upset when they’re surprised.” So if she thinks, We’re getting engaged within the first three months because we’re moving to a new city together, and you think, This next 18 months is going to be the real test on whether or not this is it forever, you’re misaligned. And you’re both going to be frustrated.

Charles: Dave, before you left your job or before you moved, did you sit down and say, “OK, this is how roles and responsibilities and how we are together changes?”

Dave: Yeah.

Rachel: Oh, yeah. We had never worked together before, so just one thing that we committed to, more hardcore than ever, was we are going to communicate. If something feels weird, no more keeping it to yourself.

Dave: Radical candor.

Rachel: Radical candor. You have to tell each other. We commit to working things out in real time instead of letting things fester, because the question of taking a back seat to your wife’s career, your girlfriend’s career? There’s no back seat. This is a two-seater car. There’s no back seat, because I don’t know anybody in a relationship who is successful without the support of their partner.

In any romantic relationship, there are going to be seasons. And maybe this is a season right now where you’re showing out for her because this is her dream and you want to love on her and you want to be in partnership with this woman. And when she gets through school, and she has all that vet money, maybe that’s the season you’re building your small business. This is what partnership looks like. I don’t believe in a leader. I believe that partnership is two people choosing to do life together, and sometimes you’re the captain, sometimes you’re the navigator, sometimes you’re the hype squad. It just looks like different things at different times.

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