Career-and-Family Balance

How single men can prepare now for a happy family life later

My friends John and Justin were seminary-trained, ministry-minded, Christian men. Both destroyed their marriages in remarkably similar ways. No, they didn’t have affairs, at least not with women. Their infidelity was with their careers; they weren’t able to balance their pie-in-the-sky ambitions with the material needs of their wives. They were pursuing work they loved, but not bringing home much (if any) income to show for it. Payday always seemed to be around the corner. Their wives felt increasingly isolated.

An inability to bring home a steady income, to get on the lowest rung on the breadwinning ladder, has crippled many a man’s marriage. When true of a single man, it can relegate marriage to the distant future. It also plants the seeds of future marital tension. After all, the patterns we form before tying the knot tend to bleed into our married lives. Marriage doesn’t change us as easily as it exposes us.1

“Work-life balance” is a piece of cake compared to career-and-family balance. “Work-life balance” implies one person deciding how hard to work, how much to play, and how little to sleep. “Career-and-family balance” for a man means taking into account how his work and earning habits impact his wife and any children. Don’t have a wife yet? Even better — now’s the time to learn to balance your embryonic career with your as-yet unformed family. That way you can hit the ground running.

Embrace Your Role as a Provider

If you’re a single man, understand that you will probably marry someday. And embrace God’s design for marriage, which calls on you to provide for the tangible needs of your wife (Ephesians 5:28-30). Put simply, you should plan on earning a living so that your wife and children know there’ll be food on the table and a roof over their heads. If your wife feels a burden to generate an income but you don’t, I guarantee that will not bode well. She’ll find it difficult to respect you, which will encourage her to act in ways that will make it difficult for you to love her. From there it’s a predictable downward spiral.

Oh, I know. Plenty of wives have supported their husbands through college, graduate school or seminary. But if a wife perceives that her support is indefinite or enabling laziness, watch out. John and Justin were too busy chasing ministry aspirations to bring home an income — even though both had the skills to earn reasonable salaries.

Don’t try to be more spiritual than God. Earning a steady and sufficient income is an important, tangible way to demonstrate love to a wife and any children. Doing it before you have a wife is a great way to show a woman that you plan to do it after. If you’re still in school, expeditiously move in this direction. If your heart is in a dream job that hasn’t yet come with a paycheck, understand that if God is in it, He’ll provide a way for you to earn a living from it. Until He does, don’t quit your day job — or any other job you have or can get. Working, and reaping an income from those who benefit from your work, is God’s will for every able-bodied man (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).2

Get a Job That’s Going Somewhere

But I understand: The job market is brutal. The unemployment rate of recent college graduates is more than double that of experienced grads,3 many of whom are displacing younger workers.4 Kristof writes: “Of the 4.3 million jobs created in the past three years, nearly 3 million have gone to people over the age of 55.” And some of you are underemployed, perhaps questioning the value of your degree. Well, be assured: Things would be far worse if you hadn’t graduated from a two- or four-year college.5 So whatever work you’re in, do it to the best of your abilities, as if for God himself (Colossians 3:23). Don’t ever be too good for what someone is paying you to do. A job well done is the best path to a better job. But if you can’t land a job that uses the highest degree you’ve earned, the next best thing is to find one that has strong identity capital.

In her insightful book The Defining Decade, Dr. Meg Jay defines identity capital as “what we bring to the adult marketplace…the currency we use to metaphorically purchase jobs.”6 A job with identity capital is one that can go on a resume without requiring a painful explanation. It’s a job with the potential to lead to something better, a job that meaningfully contributes to the storyline of what you studied, what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and where you hope to be in five years.

In your early years, fight to avoid arbitrary job switches that basically make you start over. But it’s good to switch to a job with more identity capital or with a greater set of responsibilities (and salary). Dan, a biology grad, did well to switch from a management job at REI to a lab coordinator position for a university. His friend Ryan did better to switch from a retail job to a technician position at a large biotech company — even though his starting salary was less than Dan’s at the university. Why? Because Ryan’s company said that if he did well he’d be promoted to research scientist within four years, and his pay would double.

Not sure you’re in a job or industry that you’re passionate about? Don’t be so quick to turn down a reliable position to chase your aspirations. Social media and the power of networking tools like LinkedIn have made it easier than ever to test-drive your interests in the freelance market. Whether it’s singing, photography, writing, starting an Internet company, explore it on the side while working your regular job. If people pay you for your hobby, great. Maybe it will take off. If not, at least you won’t starve.

When you do get married, a steady job — and one with the potential to lead to a better job — is great to fall back on.

Get Your Finances in Order

I just saw a report that 1 in 3 adults with a credit history (about 77 million people) are so behind on their payments that debt collectors are chasing them. Seems too awful to be true. If you have student or consumer debt, your single years are absolutely the time to get your financial house in order.

Live below your means, and make extra payments on your loans, starting with the one that has the highest interest rate. If you have debt on your credit cards, ditch them and pay for everything with cash, checks or a debit card. Not spending money you don’t have will save you more than whatever you’re making in points or frequent flier miles (which few people who earn them on credit cards ever use).

What makes bringing debt into marriage so messy is that it’s individual debt: his debt, her debt, not our debt. If Tyler brings in $15,000 of debt, but Brittany brings in $25,000, it’s easy for Tyler to become resentful or suspicious. Theoretically, Tyler and Brittany know that “they” have $40,000 in debt, but it’s not easy to remember that when Brittany wants a $900 sofa and Tyler wants a $500 flat-screen TV. A debt-free slate is an excellent gift to give your future bride.

A couple caveats: One, in your debt-killing zeal, don’t forget to max out your employer’s 401(k) match — that’s free money not to be left on the table. Two, once your credit card debt is gone, immediately set aside a rainy day fund of a few thousand dollars. Otherwise you’ll fall back into credit card debt when you’re hit with an unexpected expense (like car troubles). But beyond that, yes, throw extra money at those student loans. The faster you pay them off, the less overall interest you’ll pay, and the sooner you’ll be fully debt free. An extra $100 to $200 each month makes a huge difference. If needed, get a friend to help you track your progress on a spreadsheet. That’ll keep you motivated and even get you excited about the process.

But You Don’t Need to Be Rich to Get Married

Does that mean you can’t marry unless you’re debt-free? I don’t think so. Postponing marriage can cause more problems than it solves, especially if you’re already in a relationship with someone you’re otherwise inclined to marry. Financial readiness for marriage is less about where you’ve been than where you’re going. If two people are moving in the right direction — living within their means, tithing, maintaining short-term reserves for emergencies, throwing extra money at debt, saving — there’s a good chance they’ll move faster together than apart.

For one, you don’t share costs with a roommate as much as you would with a spouse. But more importantly, there’s a greater seriousness and focus that comes with having a wife. It tends to make men better employees and more careful money-managers. Lifestyle expectations, when you’ll start having kids, whether your wife will keep working — these and other topics should definitely be discussed, but don’t think you need to be rich to pop the question. You just need to assume responsibility for the material needs of your wife and future children.7 The rest will follow.


John and Justin could have avoided their sad outcome if they remembered the needs of their wives. We’re commanded to love our wives (Ephesians 5:25) because we sometimes forget them in the midst of our pursuits. Whether it’s through failing to develop your earning power or through making a fortune as a neglectful workaholic, now’s the time to ditch the habits that will make it harder to cultivate a happy family life.

Copyright 2014 Alex Chediak. All rights reserved.

  1. I’m not denying it changes us, but the right kind of change takes hard work (and God’s grace). Our sins and eccentricities affecting our spouse — those come more naturally and immediately.
  2. I grant that some men truly cannot earn a living due to a disability. But in many cases a disability isn’t comprehensive and need not be debilitating. Some are physically disabled but can work with their minds. Others have a mental illness (autism, severe dyslexia and so on) but can do other kinds of mechanical or physical labor.
  3. Jordan Weissmann, “How Bad Is the Job Market for the College Class of 2014?Slate, May 8, 2014.
  4. Kathy Kristof, “Older workers snapping up all the jobs,” CBS News Moneywatch, June 25, 2012.
  5. Pew Research, “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” February 11, 2014.
  6. Meg Jay, The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter—and how to make the most of them now (New York: Hachette, 2013), 7.
  7. See also Russell Moore, “What I’ve Learned in Twenty Years of Marriage,” May 27, 2014.

About the Author

Alex Chediak

Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of Thriving at College, a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).