Dear Soul Sista, My Husband Won’t Let Me Go Out to Work

Smriti Sawhney Joshi is one of the first certified telemental health providers in India. She’s a clinical psychologist with 15+ years of experience in the field of mental health in diverse settings ranging from NGOs to schools to hospitals and attending to corporate clients. She answers a reader’s question here.

I have been married for 18 years and have two teenage children. I had done my MBA before marriage and had briefly worked in a bank. But after marriage, my husband and his family — who have their own business in Delhi — did not want me to work. Now, with the kids grown up, I have a craving to do so. But my husband is adamant against it. He says he is conservative and I should just accept it. In the past few months, I have started volunteering at a cancer support society twice a week, which he does not mind. I recently got a chance to do some organising work for a family wedding, which really boosted my confidence. That one event helped me see myself in a new light, and made my family and friends appreciate me. I wish I had a full-time career, but how do I convince my husband now? He is used to seeing me as a housewife.

Dear reader,

I appreciate your strength in opening up. This is a very sensitive subject but an important one for any homemaker desiring to carve a niche for herself outside the home too. In our culture, especially once married, any desire to make a big change in a woman’s life calls for her husband to be on board with her, else the whole process can become challenging or even devastating for their marriage.

Most men simply follow what they have observed in our patriarchal culture, while some others have doubts about what would happen to their family system or risks involved once their wife embarks upon her career journey. Many people think that careers are synonymous with money and if the husband is earning well, the wife doesn’t need to work.

This thought can create an ego issue for the husband, and so he objects to his wife going out to work.

You do mention that your husband didn’t mind your voluntary work or organising a family event. It does seem he isn’t the all-controlling types, and maybe a good heart-to-heart empathetic conversation will help.

First, self-reflect as to what being a career woman means to you; are you ready to deal with the challenges you may face as a full-time working woman? This would be a huge change for you too and you would need your kids’ and husband’s support in managing both your worlds. Would asking for their help be okay with you?

I have met many working mothers who refuse to seek help from their family as they feel guilty about staying away from home when at work and ultimately end up frustrated and unhappy in both their roles, as a homemaker and as a career woman.

Once you complete this self-reflection, just talk to your husband about what having a career means to you and how it’s not about the money but to feel productive and creative. Tell him how pursuing your career would help you feel complete and happy, which means better health for you as well as happy relationships.

Listen for his objection points and be empathetic about them and tell him that you respect and understand his views. Ask for his help or opinions on how you could together resolve issues that he has in mind.

Here are a few things your spouse may have in his mind that can make him resist the idea of your taking up a full-time career:

  • It goes against your husband’s belief and value system
  • It may lead to changes in your family system (change in your role leading to changes in other people’s involvement in home chores or their routines)
  • It may simply be a matter of taking a leap of faith, which your husband is afraid to do

Try to have small conversations when both of you are in a good mood. Rome was not built in a day and you would have to give yourself and him time to absorb your readiness for this change.

Assess your husband’s receptivity towards your ideas and if you get nothing but resistance after trying everything, then you would have to take a call, which means (1) Continue working as a volunteer in an area close to your heart, or, (2) Be assertive, have a plan of action ready and act out on it to pursue your career.

This of course would be a challenging process so remember to keep cool and even seek professional help to maintain a calm, stress-free mind.

First published in the January 2018 issue of eShe magazine. Read it for free here, or buy the print edition.