My husband's retired, but he wants to keep moving

I followed him everywhere in his military career. Now it's my turn!

Published December 22, 2004 7:14PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

My husband recently retired from the military after 30 years (we have been married for 23 of those 30 years). In the course of our life together, we moved every two to three years, nine moves in all. I loved our life and wouldn't change it, but as a professional, I found it difficult to achieve much career continuity with all the moving. Generally, I had to take whatever job presented itself. This made for some interesting jobs, but I was unable to work anywhere long enough to qualify for a pension of my own. Now that my husband is retired, he has a job offer in the town we have lived in for four years and want to retire in. I have a good job here with opportunity to advance, and we are putting down roots. Suddenly my husband is applying for other jobs all over the world, and has a serious job offer in Honolulu.

I can appreciate that the job in Hawaii is more challenging than the one in our town, but I feel like it's my turn. I want to stay put, and have told him that, but he can't let go of this other job. Is he being selfish, or am I? I have told him that I will go with him to Hawaii, but confess that I feel somewhat resentful that he is putting his own needs first. Part of his problem is that he has been a big shot in the military and won't be if he takes the job here in our town. What should I do? I am 54 and don't relish job-hunting or starting over yet again.

A Job of One's Own

Dear Job of One's Own,

I agree that it's your turn. He probably agrees too, at least consciously. But you should be prepared for some stiff resistance from him -- including the kind that isn't completely conscious or transparent. There are powerful forces of habit, inertia and identity at work, as well as institutional forces.

He may consciously want to change his life and stay in your town and watch you develop your career. But I suspect that nevertheless every fiber in his being is telling him to take the job in Hawaii and take you with him. That's what he's done all his life and it's worked for him. And you've gone along with it every step of the way.

He's been a successful military man. Success in the military requires deep and complete dedication to a way of life, utter integration of certain beliefs and methods into one's very being. In return for our deepest allegiance, the military gives us permission to act on our deepest and most terrifying desires, as long as we act on behalf of the state. But what such complete merging of the self with the institution does not allow for is the kind of individual inner conflict that might slow one in battle or muddy one's decision making. So the military also acts a surrogate upon which such conflict and repression can be projected. And it acts as a surrogate self to grant us requests we cannot make on our own behalf, and to excuse us from duties we fear far more than battle -- for instance, your husband's unconscious desire not to change, not to hand over power to you.

So I would not be completely surprised if the military suddenly appeared, almost in a mystical or supernatural way, to express what he is trying to repress, and to grant him his wish. Something may "come up." His country might need him. If he has been in intelligence, it would not be so unusual for him to be asked to fill an unofficial role in retirement, say, of all places in Hawaii!

So you may need to push back hard and make some kind a deal with him. How about some kind of negotiated arrangement where he agrees to stay where you are for seven years -- a little over twice your usual stay -- during which time you will advance as far as you can in your career. Who knows, perhaps in the meantime he will have acquired a new base of power. He might even start to like letting somebody else run the show. But if he truly wants to move then, and has good reason to, promise him you'll consider it. But also make it clear that if you do move, that's your final move.

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