How To Achieve

Are you more ambitious and motivated than your husband? If your answer is yes, your marriage may be headed to divorce court. Marnie L Pehrson provides insight into why this is such a challenging relationship.

Business woman on phone

High-achieving wives

To quote an old saying, "behind every great man is a good woman." As women have moved into the workforce and women are now surpassing men for starting new businesses, many women have stepped out of the shadows to stand beside or in some cases, in front of their men into an ambitious, achiever position.

Remember the popularity and hilarity of the movie Mr. Mom in the 80s? It's not as unusual today for women to be either the primary breadwinner in the family or to have a more prominent career. But is it really that acceptable for both partners? What happens when you are a highly ambitious woman married to a less ambitious man? Or what if you are a man married to one of these over-achieving women? A marriage between these two can be a blissful balance or a recipe for a devastating divorce.

Less ambitious husbands

As our society has shifted the roles of men and women, only a prophet could predict how this would affect marriages and families. The businesswoman of the 90s is often seen as power-hungry, driven and highly stressed while her less-ambitious husband is often perceived as lazy and unsupportive. But these are just stereotypes. There's more here than meets the eye.

Being a highly ambitious woman married to a less-ambitious man myself, I found this to be an intriguing subject. In preparation for this article, a survey was conducted of 44 women and 7 men who were either still in or had been in a relationship where the wife was highly ambitious and the husband less ambitious. The chart below gives a breakdown of their marital situations:

Survey participants:

  • Married 51%
  • Unhappily Married 31%
  • Divorced 10%
  • Separating 6%
  • Widowed 2%

To fully understand this relationship type, we'll look at the typical personalities of each partner and then discover ways that balance, harmony, and happiness can be achieved instead of unhappiness and divorce.

Profile of a highly ambitious woman

The highly ambitious woman is generally exciting, enthusiastic, and full of life. She works hard and is an over-achiever. She's your typical "Super-Mom," entrepreneur or corporate executive. She enjoys leadership positions and might even be considered bossy or controlling.

She has high energy levels and often has a low tolerance for people who can't keep up with her pace. She is generally creative and full of ideas. She thrives on responsibility and stress, but tends to take on more than she can handle. She feeds on intelligent, thought-provoking communication. Her greatest desire is to be loved, appreciated, and acknowledged for all she is able to accomplish.

Profile of a not-so-ambitious man

He is relaxed, easy-going. He's generally happy with the way things are going in his life and career. He knows how to enjoy life and take time to relax. Entertainment and relaxation is a big priority in his life.

Generally, he is loyal and devoted to his mate. He can usually be characterized as a family man who is not driven by money, power, ambition or the desire to "get ahead." He's typically loving and affectionate--especially when he feels appreciated and loved for who he is and not for what he accomplishes.

Warning signs

Both of these individuals have their strengths and weaknesses. Combine them, and you can achieve a beautifully balanced marriage or a recipe for divorce.

If you are in this type of relationship, there are several warning signs of divorce of which you need to be aware:

  • Resentment -- If you start to feel resentful of your mate as if you're doing all the work and they are doing nothing, or you are giving all the love and affection and they are giving none, then you have a problem. Every divorced person who took our survey felt they were more loving than their partners.
  • Of those who were not happy in their marriages, 88% felt they were more loving or neither partner was loving at all. But 77% of the happily married people felt that their partner was more loving or they both were equally loving.
  • Negativity or ambivalence -- If you can't see anything good about being in a relationship with your over-achieving wife or your less-ambitious husband, then start scrambling now to find the good. 68% of the people in divorced or troubled marriages who took our survey could not find anything good about being in this type of relationship. But, every person who was still happily married could think of something good about it. This is a definite sign of trouble in this marriage relationship.
  • Sexual imbalance -- If one person doesn't want sex at all or if you each want it at different times, this is a symptom of other issues. Sexual strains are rarely the real problem; they are just a symptom of deeper issues. They may simply have to do with stress or being tired. As one man who took our survey described, "My wife works six days a week. She is tired all the time. Our sex life has slowed as a result." It may also have to do with energy levels, as one woman explains, "It seems that his lack of ambition is not confined to work but it seems to carry over into every aspect of his life. He is not only un-ambitious at work but also at home, around the house, in friend and family relationships, about his health, sex, in a word, everything."
  • Indifference -- Both or one of you has given up on showing affection or taking time for each other's interests. This is a sign of serious difficulties and one of the last stages before divorce. Start working on your relationship now!

The beautiful balance

When a highly ambitious woman is married to a not-so-ambitious man, they can find a harmonious balance. The secret is in emphasizing the strengths of your partner and being willing to give the other person what they crave. A couple is like two pieces of a puzzle: different yet they fit together.

How a highly ambitious woman can achieve harmony with a less-ambitious man

  • Lower your expectations -- Recognize that your man is never going to be as ambitious, driven or motivated as you are. He simply doesn't have or want the energy level that you do. So you may as well learn to appreciate him for his strengths.
  • Consider your cup half full -- If you see your husband as lazy, selfish and feeling that the world owes him something, start searching for his good qualities. Turn these negative thoughts around and consider these characteristics as strengths instead of weaknesses. For example, you might say, "He knows how to relax. He enjoys life. He's easy-going. He appreciates the little things in life."
  • Let him teach you how to relax -- Try to learn from him. He can help you to balance your life. If you see him as someone you can relax with, enjoy the intangibles of life with, and appreciate him for his strengths rather than feeling resentful of them or trying to change him, you can find harmony in this relationship. One of the women who participated in our survey had learned this secret; "He occasionally gets me to relax. When I'm feeling lazy and want to sit around, I know he's all for it. He helps me keep perspective."
  • Be aware that your man craves your time and attention -- He wants someone to pay attention to the things that interest him, as much as you want him to pay attention and be supportive of your goals. One of the hardest things for a highly ambitious woman to do is spend time on anything that she deems frivolous. If your husband's interests seem frivolous, you will have a hard time giving him the time and attention he needs to be happy in the marriage. Instead, remind yourself, "My marriage is important. My husband is very important to me. This is important to him, so it is important that I do this for him or with him."
  • Less-ambitious men have egos, too -- They still need to feel like they are the man of the house. Never belittle him, his interests or call him lazy. A woman who shows appreciation and support for her husband's efforts and for who he is instead of what he achieves will have a happy husband who feels loved. As one woman explained, "Encourage him in his job and thank him for all his help. He plays an important role in your success. Make special time for him and keep the romance alive."
  • Keep commitments -- It hurts your husband and family when you break promises. "Everything and everybody gets put second place to her business. We can have plans to do something and they can get bumped for her customers," explained one disgruntled husband.

If you make promises to do things with your husband and children, keep them. Don't let work or business opportunities pre-empt prior family commitments.

How a less-ambitious man can achieve harmony with a highly ambitious woman

What can a less-ambitious man do?

  • Praise and encourage her -- If you can appreciate the excitement and zeal that your wife brings to your life, if you can give her praise, encouragement, and understanding for all she does then you are giving your wife the deepest craving of her heart. Let her know that you appreciate her!
  • Be positive -- Negativity weighs on these women. They carry an immense burden of stress, generally trying to juggle the hats of motherhood, career, homemaker, and wife. Be positive and supportive. Don't be like one woman's husband who she felt, "belittled her for minor set backs and ignored her during major victories."
  • Be a sounding board -- Because highly motivated women are full of ideas and often very talkative, you will reap great rewards in being her sounding board. She doesn't need you to solve her problems; she needs you to lend your ear.
  • Lighten her load -- Because highly motivated women tend to over-extend themselves and take on more than they can handle, a man who is supportive and helpful around the house or in financial matters is a great asset. A willingness to chip in without expecting a pat on the back every time will go a long way in this marriage.
  • My own husband lightens my load by running errands for my business, doing the grocery shopping, and helping with the little ones in the evenings.
  • Be a man -- Although these women may enjoy being the decision-maker, they still like it when their husband is decisive and bears some of the responsibilities. As one high-achieving women explained, "Secretly I want him to take care of me for a change." They want a man they can count on when times get tough.

You may not be able to be that man financially, but there are other ways you can bear some of the responsibilities. You can do things like help her with the children, give her a back rub when she's up late working on the computer, or take the initiative to make plans for a weekend getaway. Sweep her off her feet every now and then.

What both partners can do to achieve harmony and happiness

What can both of you do to increase your marital happiness?

  • Take time to do things together -- Take vacations together. Go away for a romantic weekend alone at least once or twice a year. Establish a regular "date night" so you can stay connected.
  • Take time to learn about each other -- Learn about each other's interests and build common interests together. This will mean compromise on both partners' parts.
  • Accept each other for your strengths and your different energy levels -- Don't try to change each other. Learn that you each have your strengths and that you can find balance in each other.
  • Ignore outside influences -- Many people still view this relationship type as non-traditional. Some will even secretly envy your happiness. Don't listen to what others say, stay focused on each other. And, do not discuss your partner with others. Protect the sanctity of your marriage by respecting your partner in public.
  • Adjust your behavior and attitude -- If your marriage is having problems, but it hasn't deteriorated too much, simply adjusting your behavior and attitude according to these guidelines can work wonders.
  • Get a life coach -- I've learned in my own experience that even one person making these changes can show dramatic results. I found that I was the one who had to make adjustments in my thinking. One thing that has helped me tremendously this year is working with a life coach. A life coach can help you streamline your business goals, manage your time more wisely and make time for having a life.
  • Utilize coaching services -- I'd highly recommend the coaching services available at This would make an excellent gift for yourself or for you men to give your highly ambitious wives.
  • Take action -- Recognize if your marriage is in serious trouble and don't be afraid to seek appropriate counseling. Counseling does not lead to divorce; it's a sign that you both want to invest in your marriage.

Whatever you do, do something today to start working on your marriage. And continue to work on it throughout your life. No marriage is easy, but this marriage combination, with a little creativity and devotion, can yield wonderful rewards.

Tips for balancing work and family


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Comments on "Highly ambitious women married to less-ambitious men"

Alpha beta February 26, 2014 | 1:14 AM

what a bunch of bitter men we have on here, sorry your pathetic egos are bruised…. the article clearly states that BOTH sides need to adjust which is refreshing. Usually we have bull crap articles telling women how to "adapt" to their man, why should it always be the job of WOMEN to adapt in relationships. Great article. WHo cares who makes more, as long as you both make it work and are HAPPY

HFord February 06, 2014 | 11:31 AM

I also feel as if this article is written for me, however self-absorbed it may be. If I were to be honest, I married my husband based on what he said he wanted (or potental) but not on what he already accomplished (or the potential for him to reach his goals). Because, I am 1)the bread-winner 2)the nurturer 3) the planner 4) the requester of family time, personal time ect I feel as if we lack balance. It's not that I want him to choose the role of "TYPE-A" .. I know that only one person should have that type of personality in a marriage; I was just hoping that perhaps he can take on the family/nurtering/cleaning/cooking stuff if I am supposed to be the work/driven one. I do feel as if I "do it all". When we walk through the door after work (he has two more degrees than me but makes half of what I make btw), I immediately start dinner, get the kids at the table and try to do school assignments. He, watches tv, or plays with his phone. I give baths, read stories, clean dishes, clean after kids, start my next project... and the day is then over... he is still, watching TV. is non-existant, connection is non-existant- we barley talk anymore. It's just difficult to maintain that sort of relationship WITHOUT feeling resentful.

A CEO January 29, 2014 | 11:08 PM

What about highly ambitious women married to highly ambitious men? What happens when both are equally ambitious in their careers, but one does not make a big enough effort regarding relationship matters? Let's not assume that all the ambitious women out there are married to lazy men.

Lifer January 03, 2014 | 4:12 PM

My husband spends %80 percent of each day asleep since his retirement three years ago. He never was a father to our son in anyway. He rarely did anything around the house. I have did it all from mowing the yard, hauling the garbage, being the accountant, cook, cleaner, car shopper, etc. I once took one of those quizzes of what we were each worth by the chores we each did to run the home. He earned maybe %5--me the other %95! I can count the times he's even bought me a present for no reason (0). I have hated him for many decades, but decided I could not start over on my own and stayed. He's like raising another child! Now that he's older he is coming down with dementia so things are getting ugly with his namecalling when he's reminded over and over about things he forgets. The main things are I can't afford to put him in a home, and he s always had mental issues where he once tried to take his own life. So just WTH am I suppose to do about that?

Rachael December 16, 2013 | 7:13 PM

Is that a photo of @EmilyMaynard?

Tabbi October 08, 2013 | 10:02 PM

Me and my boyfriend (soon to be fiance) are heading into college, we've been dating for over four years, since high school began. I always felt like I had to babysit him to make sure he passed his classes and didn't flunk out. He had no real ambitions or goals, he just liked playing video games. He wanted to go to college but there was no job he felt like he would really enjoy. He always felt very inferior because I was always working my ass off to go to school and he didn't know how to send a package at the post office. I love him very much and I've had to learn to step down and realize that his success is his decision. At the very worst, he'll end up with some kind of office job, and I have to be okay with that.

WALTER September 12, 2013 | 1:26 AM

My wife is an over acheiving, hard charging, alpha type woman. She puts in big hours and pulls down loads of money. She wears fancy clothes, I get by with jeans. She gets a new BMW every year, I drive a 5 year old pickup. She is beatiful and I love her dearly. She is not however," a super mom". Actually her mothering skills suck pretty bad. I own a small company that I started before we married. This gives me some fexibility with the issue of time. I could bust my --- and try and grow the business but for right now it is humming along nicely. I do virtually all the parenting, most of the house keeping and use Peapod for groceries. Two small kids 5 and 7, one boy one girl. I thought my wife would come around after the kids but she didn't. I love the way things have turned out. I have the coolest life. That's my ambition. The kids and I will wait for Mom.

RR July 18, 2013 | 4:26 AM

I disagree with that alpha-woman needs less s * x (haha the word is censored - c'mon,we are big kids already)or too tired for it - I am working hard (lots of long-haul flights,business trips, long working hours), have active social life (president of alumni association and manage activities at my local community), preparing for MBA - still I had more s * x drive than my ex (at 30 y.o.!!!), and that was also a reason why I dumped him. I was okay with him being less ambitious, but constant nagging, blaming ppl for his misfortune, eating instead of ------- - no, thanks!

RRR July 18, 2013 | 4:22 AM

I disagree with that alpha-woman needs less s e x (the word was censored and removed!haha)or too tired for it - I am working hard (lots of long-haul flights,business trips, long working hours), have active social life (president of alumni association and manage activities at my local community), preparing for MBA - still I had more drive than my ex (at 30 y.o.!!!), and that was also a reason why I dumped him. I was okay with him being less ambitious, but constant nagging, blaming ppl for his misfortune, eating instead of f****ng - no, thanks!

Notujerks July 11, 2013 | 4:49 AM

all these articles, and they never really touch the surface of the problem... Men now a days are watered down, they don't want in life and they put fourth, minimal, if any effort to take care of their families. Most women, including me, HAVE to work, otherwise we would be in poverty. Get to the real problem, of men not fullfilling their roles, so that women can fulfill theirs, the way God intended. It'll never work until that balance is restored, and as far as the ego thing, pop it, because if a man is not doing his job as a man, then he shouldn't be needing an ego stroke! The focus should not always be on the wife, cuz if women are like me, then they have given their all, lost all and had to rebuild, all because they were worried about a mans ego. ---- that, get urs and move around until you find a man who feels your worthy enough to be loved.

LN July 08, 2013 | 6:17 AM

I feel like this article was written exactly for me! I am going through the same thing with my husband right now. When we met I was trying to get my business of the ground, and he allowed me to do it instead of getting a traditional 9 to 5. He was working a low level finance job that is well below his capacities, and even the degree he got. After a year of working on my business, it was making as much as his job. After two years it had doubled it. Now it's almost 10 tens what he makes. On the one hand I am very grateful for my husband for allowing me to work on my business and get it started. But I am finding less and less things to be grateful for. Now I am primary breadwinner, and I watch our son while I work from home, and I clean the house. And he does... not much at all. I sometimes feel that our relationship is coasting on the fact that my husband believed in me several years ago when I started this business. But I need way more than that now. I need more childcare support, more cleaning support. I just need someone looking out for me. I feel like no one is helping me, and I'm taking care of everyone around me -- including my husband. It's exhausting.

grace June 23, 2013 | 11:12 PM

First ambition: get your spelling skills polished. spell "achieve" (see title) correctly.

jjjcauk June 21, 2013 | 1:01 AM

My situation is unique. I married my husband and he was doing well at that time as a recruiter. But, three years into the marriage, he hit a rough patch in recruiting, so he switched to real estate. After 5 years in real estate, he's has not been that successful. He is depressed at times, he has anxiety issues, and he has some heart arythmia problems. In the meantime, I've kept my career focus and stuck with it, but I have to admit. I have resentment. I love him as the father of my two young children and he is a great father to them, but we have severe inequalities in who picks up the work. At this point he doesn't try any more - he isn't trying to improve his career, and when I've given him job leads, he doesn't even jump on it. I'm saddened about the situation because I know I would feel differently about our relationship if he was more ambitious. Honestly, he is very lazy; he sleeps many hours during the day using meds, he doesn't check off a list, but I will give him credit that he picks up slack on picking up the kids, although we have a babysitter 2 to 6 p.m. I let it go to some degree because of his heart, his anxiety and occasional depressions. I've lost some of my own energy to achieve and passion for my career because I am burnt out. I'm feeling like I'm slightly being taken advantage of - like I am letting this happen and I'm in over my head. I don't know what to do. Any recommendations? Anyone have a similar situation?

Saree June 20, 2013 | 8:52 AM

Make me a Sandwich you sound pretty angry and I would disagree with you. I married my husband because I love him. It was after I began my career climb that I discovered that he had no ambition to do "more". Sometimes I'm okay with that and other times it is completely frustrating! I try and remind myself of all the great things he does and is to me and the kids and then I am bombarded with all the stuff he doesn't/isn't willing/unable to do. It's enough to drive one crazy. Tips like the ones in this article are very helpful for me and I plan on sharing them with my husband who can be so effing clueless about how I feel.

Make me a Sandwich. May 30, 2013 | 1:01 PM

If you resent the way your husbands are and how much money they make then why did you even marry them in the first place?? Its either because you were never good looking enough to get a guy that would pay all your bills or you were just too big a bit* that no other guys, besides the relaxed easy going ones, wanted anything to do with you. Show some humility and try to appreciate people for who they are, not whats in their wallets. Youre not any more ambitious, you just got lucky and were in the right place at the right point in time, thats it, so quit acting delusional like youre that much more of a hard worker and better person.

benny April 04, 2013 | 7:21 AM

my boyfriend of two years let me for another girl because i accuse him of seen another girl and since then i have been trying to get him but he refuse to come back to me,he was not responding to my call or email and he even unfriend me in facebook and he told me that he is done with me.i was searching on the internet for help and i saw a testimony of how a spell caster help them to get their ex back so i decided to give it a try and i contacted him and i explain my problems to him and he cast a love spell for me and guarantee me of 3days that my ex will come back to me and to my greatest surprise the third day a great miracle fell on me and my ex come back to me on the third day and he beg me for forgiveness truegiftspell1@gmail i will continue to publish his name because he is my Savior and we are about to get married.if you need him to help you Email truegiftspell1@gmail

Mmc March 04, 2013 | 7:56 PM

I disagree with the first comment that successful, ambitious women are self-centered. Not all are. I came from nothing and have worked very hard to get where I am today. You're going to fault me for that? I should not succeed because you're a 'man'? Oh LOL. My father did not raise me to be your putz. My husband, au contraire, sees more value in 'relaxing and enjoying life' (ie being unemployed) than providing for his family. Good thing he can cook. So who does provide? I do. For BOTH of us, not just for myself. Because I Can. And if I weren't ambitious and motivated, we'd be sleeping in the spare room in the basement of his friend's house living off of handouts. Ummm... No. Don't know about you but I'm not in college anymore, I'm a big girl now! I can and WILL take care of ME and my family, thank you very much. Sorry if it makes you feel bad about yourself. :-( Dear Lurker: men like that don't unintentionally sabatoge your success -- it's completely intentional. Stay far away from anyone who says you shouldn't- or cannot- do something. They hide their own inadequacy and fear of failure by trying to make your doubt your talents.... They can't feel inadequate if you don't succeed!

Charles February 09, 2013 | 7:20 PM

Obviously written by a "super woman". Ugh! Over-achieving women should not get married. They make terrible partners and moms because they are usually self-absorbed and self-centered. Empathy is not part of their vocab. But me, me, me certainly is. They should stay single. Their divorce rate is over 80% because nobody is good enough for them, long term. They have issues that stem from childhood. Research it all.

jasmine holmes January 05, 2013 | 10:16 PM

I'm 20yrs and My husband 23 and we are already having theses problems.. thanks for the tips. Things will get better :-)

sarah August 16, 2012 | 8:08 PM

I feel like this is an article that in 30 years would be republished as an example of chauvenism from the past. Good lord - keep them women slaves in line as long as you can, boys, as we take away the only power ($) you have left.

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