Dear Dr. Chani,
My husband and I are at a standstill about where to live. When we got married four years ago, we agreed to live in New York so that he could finish graduate school. Now that he is going to graduate at the end of this year, we are under pressure to make a decision about where we will live for the long term.
Every time we have a discussion about where to live, we end up feeling very distant from each other. We have really different opinions about what to do. I would like to live in a small Jewish community in one of the Southern states. He would like to live closer to his parents, who live in New Jersey.
I am very frustrated because even before we got married, I told my husband that I would like to live in the South, and he said that he would be fine with relocating. Now, I feel like even if we move down South, my husband will just be going along and still be unhappy.
It’s hard to think of a compromise. We can only live in one place. Should I give up my dream of living in the South to make my husband happy? Or should I let my husband sacrifice for my sake instead?
You are struggling with a big challenge. You need to make a significant decision, and you would like to make this decision together with your spouse. You would love to fulfill your dream of setting up your home in the South. At the same time, you do not want your husband to merely go along with your decision. It sounds like your ideal outcome would be for your husband to realize that he would also like to live in the South of the United States so that he could join in your enthusiasm to move there.
Your decision is complicated by the fact that your husband had originally agreed with your vision about where to live. When you were dating, he seemed to be happy with your plan to move down South. It is quite disillusioning to you that he is changing his mind at this point. While you had clear expectations about where you would ultimately live, your future no longer seems so certain. This can be very unsettling.
Firstly, try not to hold your husband’s current opinion against him or blame him for changing his mind. Someone’s opinions can be nuanced and complex. It is possible that when you were dating, your husband was open to moving, yet part of him was pulled by reasons to stay near his hometown. Since it was theoretical at that point, he did not have clarity within his own mind about all of his feelings on the subject. Feelings can change over time, especially based on life experiences. Alternatively, he may have been completely set on moving to the South and developed a new opinion during the past four years. You and your husband are each a growing person. Your relationship needs to embrace the realities of how you both feel right now, based on your life experiences.
One way to embrace these realities and draw you closer together as a couple is to deepen the conversations that you are having about where to move. Through your many conversations, you have found that you are both entrenched in very different positions. Each discussion has increased your frustration, as you find that cannot come to a joint decision.
Allow yourself to open your mind to new ways of looking at this decision. Instead of focusing your conversations on the decision, explore what your positions mean to each other. It may seem obvious to you that you understand the rationale behind each other’s decisions. After all, you have rehashed the same arguments over and over again, repeating your positions and their reasons. But you can make your conversations deeper, and go beyond the surface of your positions and reasons.
Reflect on what it means to live in a certain place. Ask yourself (and your husband) these questions about where you want to live: What is it that draws you to live there? What are your past experiences that helped you realize you want to live there? How will living there align with your values? What goals and dreams can you accomplish by living there? What would it mean to you for your spouse to want to live there? What would it mean to you if your spouse would agree to live there even though he would prefer somewhere else? Think about these conversations as a way of discovering more about each other, rather than as a debate or as a way to convince your partner. Fuel your conversations with an air of eager exploration and a keen interest in the other person’s opinion.
You will probably find that by listening to each other, you will gain new insights that help you understand your partner’s point of view. This can help you feel closer to one another. Instead of these discussions pulling you away from each other, they can help you grow in understanding your husband’s (and your) values, goals, dreams, interests, and concerns. This can create a feeling of togetherness that can give you insight into what makes each of you feel so strongly about your chosen opinion.
Couples often ache for each other to at least see their opinions and the feelings behind them. When a spouse does not do that, the instinctive reaction is to become further entrenched in their own opinion. On the other hand, if each spouse earnestly tries to understand the background of their partner’s opinion, it makes the decision itself both more pleasant and more effective. Once you have several conversations that allow you to understand each other, the decision itself becomes easier to figure out together.
Remember that no matter whether the place you ultimately choose to live is the one you wanted, the one your husband wanted, or another place, your home will be built by your shared understanding, love, and respect, wherever you are.
Wishing you much success,