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Highly ambitious women married to less ambitious men

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

High-achieving wives

To quote an old saying, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” As women have moved into the workforce and are now surpassing men in starting new businesses, many women have stepped out of the shadows to stand beside — or in some cases, in front of — their men and 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 either be the primary breadwinner in the family or to have a more prominent career than their spouse. But is it really that acceptable to 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 overachieving women? A marriage between these two can be either 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 today 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 myself married to a less ambitious man, I found this to be an intriguing subject. In preparation for this article, a survey was conducted of 44 women and seven men who were either still in or had been in a relationship in which the wife was highly ambitious and the husband less ambitious. The chart below gives a breakdown of their marital situations:

Survey participants:

  • Married — 51 per cent
  • Unhappily married — 31 per cent
  • Divorced — 10 per cent
  • Separated — 6 per cent
  • Widowed — 2 per cent

To fully understand this relationship type, we’ll look at the typical personalities of each partner and then the ways 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 considered an overachiever. She’s your typical “supermom,” entrepreneur or corporate executive. She enjoys leadership positions and might even be considered bossy or controlling.

She has a high energy level and often 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 laid-back and easy-going. He’s generally happy with the way things are in his life and career. He knows how to enjoy life and take time to unwind. Entertainment and relaxation are big priorities 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 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 were. Of those who were not happy in their marriages, 88 per cent felt they were more loving or that neither partner was loving at all. But 77 per cent of the happily married people felt their partner was more loving or that they both were equally loving.
  • Negativity or ambivalence. If you can’t see anything good about being in a relationship with your overachieving wife or your less ambitious husband, then start scrambling now to find the good. Of the people in divorced or troubled marriages who took our survey, 68 per cent could not find anything good about being in this type of relationship. This is a definite sign of trouble in this type of marriage relationship, as every person who was still happily married could think of something good about it.
  • Sexual imbalance. When one person doesn’t want sex at all or when each partner wants it at different times, then this is a symptom of other, deeper issues. Sexual strains are rarely the real problem. The issue might simply have to do with being stressed or 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 might also have to do with energy level, as one woman explains: “It seems that his lack of ambition is not confined to work but … 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. One or both of you have given up on showing affection or taking time for the 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

A highly ambitious woman and a not-so-ambitious man can find a harmonious balance in marriage. 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 you have, 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, then 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 she deems frivolous. If your husband’s interests seem frivolous, then 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 or 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, then 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:

  • Praise and encourage her. If you can appreciate the excitement and zeal 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 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 setbacks 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 overextend 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 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 makers, 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 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:

  • 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 behaviour and attitude. If your marriage is having problems but hasn’t deteriorated too much, then simply adjusting your behaviour 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.
  • Take action. Recognize if your marriage is in serious trouble, and don’t be afraid to seek appropriate counselling. Counselling does not lead to divorce; it’s a sign 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.

Originally published on

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