Why are we afraid of risking our hearts?

In an episode of the serial Castle, a friend of the main protagonist NYPD Detective Beckett, tells her, “it’s clear you and Castle have something real and you’re fighting it. But trust me putting the job ahead of your heart is a mistake. Risking our hearts is why we’re alive. The last thing you want is to look back on your life and wonder if only...”

As evident, most often one of the toughest choices that couples have to make is between a lucrative career opportunity and their life partner. An easy solution is to say, ‘you can’t have it all!’ But the want to have them both, most often leads to much anxiety.

Does it help to break down each opportunity in terms of – loss and gain, or what works and what doesn’t or what’s feasible and what isn’t – to make a choice? Or does that option sound too practical and harsh? Furthermore, perhaps it’s easier to leave out the pressure of having to make the ‘right choice.’ In life, there are no right or wrong choices – you simply make a decision based on your current reality and your interpretation of what your future would be like.

What factors determine our outlook towards our careers? Career opportunities are not always about money (although that does play an important role). Most often, it’s about the opportunity, role, our skillsets and the doors it opens up for us in the future (read scaling up). It’s about our contribution towards making something happen. And it’s about how it makes us feel within – worthy, important, respected, useful, indispensable and proud.

It’s also a question of identity – how people view us and how we view ourselves. Our standing in society, the intangible value to our family, the power to make decisions that can have far reaching impact both within the family and at work. People begin to look up to us for our expertise and value our judgement and views.

With every little success and subsequent self-motivation, our attitude towards work and ourselves change. At this juncture, listening to our hearts for the sake of love and affection seems futile. It takes a certain amount of persistence to make us even consider thinking about a future that is inclusive of our partner.

The deep-seated fear that creates the maximum anxiety is that suddenly we feel we are bound to lose much more than we would stand to gain if we chose our love life instead. Is it only a fear of the unknown? A life wherein we have to invest so much of ourselves without the certainty that it will work? It makes us question how well we know our partner? What if they change or more importantly expect us to change to suit their requirements? Will I lose my freedom to live my life my way? How much would I have to compromise? How difficult would it be to deal with the loss of a bigger role (or promotion) and thereby financial stability? Is it worth the risk of giving up all that we’ve worked so hard for? Will being with the life partner provide us the same sense of fulfilment?

If both partners are well-established professionally and financially then ideally each believe that their job is more important. Neither feel ready to take a step back. Sometimes just the need to first and foremost achieve the basics like owning a house, buying a car, traveling, saving money feel important enough to put the love life on hold. Sometimes it’s also about certain family commitments (caring for older parents, educating or perhaps marrying younger siblings) that strongly influence this decision.

When a career opportunity includes relocation, it raises even more stressful questions. What are the partner’s expectations? Does it align with our own expectations from them? Will they readily relocate? Will they be okay to leave the known and agree to start afresh in a new place (and jobless if they’re unable to relocate within their company)? Would they feel abandoned and insecure? Or would they feel like the relationship isn’t a priority and thus they are being relegated to second place?

Navigating through this stressful situation some feel that they’re not willing to choose any one, since their love life is as important as their careers. They’re able to find ways to meet half-way and make an effort to seek happiness using any means possible. Today technology is a useful tool to help couples stay together and create a stronger bond. Such an initiative calls for maturity, positive outlook and a strong belief in the relationship. There are many couples today who are in a stable relationship but for various reasons don’t live together. Living apart together (or LAT) describes such couples who remain committed to each other, share an emotional connection and a sexual relationship but at the same time have created a space of their own.

If you’re unable to remove the doubts and believe in your partner then this definitely isn’t a workable solution. Forcing your partner to leave their careers or make adjustments leave them feeling dissatisfied, angry and frustrated. It can also make them feel devalued and worthless. In turn the relationship becomes unstable and bitter. Thus, the attempt should always be to be open about expressing and fulfilling one’s aspirations, being supportive and a willingness to continuously work at the relationship.

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