Last week, I reflected on the impact of hearing, “You don’t have to work”.

How do we handle this conversation? How can we understand and appreciate the intention behind the statement? How do we create an opportunity from this confusing moment?

While you may be reeling in a maelstrom of emotions after a perceived threat to our core values of Identity, Control, Freedom, Achievement and Independence, you can take 5 steps to turn a potential blowout argument into a future-focused opportunity.

  1. Become conscious.
    Stop and take a few deep breaths. Listen to the words that were said. How are you reacting to what was said? Are you reacting to the words or the person? What is your immediate feeling? Put words to those feelings and emotions. What is your immediate thought? Articulate it. Then become curious about how those first thoughts might be making you feel. What judgements are you making about the situation? What assumptions or interpretations are you making about what was said? How else could he have meant it? If you’re feeling defensive, why? What values might be feeling under threat? Articulate this to yourself, to a friend, in writing or out loud.

    For example, your first thought might be: “He doesn’t think I can do it!” You might be feeling angry, sad, insecure, deflated. You might want to fight; you might want to go cry. These thoughts and feelings might become additional evidence in a mounting pile you have been gathering – whether you know it or not – to prove yourself right about feeling insecure about returning to work.

    Now what is this conversation really about?

  2. Come up with some new interpretations
    You’ve just become conscious of the thoughts and feelings driving your reactions. And you realise you might be interpreting meanings that may not be there. You can now choose how you interpret your partner’s “offer”. You can choose to treat it as a flippant remark, wishful thinking on his part that he would like to take a career break, an invitation to have a meaningful conversation about your family’s future.

    Connect with your partner – find out more about what he was really thinking. Do you know what your partner really wants? Does he know what you really want? How often are you left guessing at his priorities? Often, I surprise my husband at the trade-offs I make. They’re clear to me, based on my priorities, so I don’t explain much, make a decision and move on. He’s left behind, having guessed at my priorities and trying to make the same decisions according to his values and priorities, with different outcomes. Have the seemingly “obvious” conversations. Take time to figure out where you both are right now.

  3. Start from a place of choice
    Is this a topic that warrants more time and attention? Choose to talk about it at a time when you have some space and feel rested.

    Right now, do you feel you have to work? You want to work? You choose to work? Is this a chance to work because you choose to? What elements of your career are your choice: location? hours? role? organisation? One client shared with me that when she walked into work “choosing” to be there, she felt happier and more engaged than days when she felt she “had to” be there. Feeling “I choose” naturally makes you literally, physically lean in, move forward in your situation.

  4. Embrace the opportunity
    The reality is something huge has happened in your life. Your values and priorities are likely to shift somewhat. This is your opportunity to learn what is important to you, and choose what you want to prioritise. Your partner may or may not recognise this milestone, but this conversation is a great way for you both to embrace what could be an opportunity to change aspects of how your family operates.

    There could be conflict within yourself over this process of starting a family, taking on new role, and returning to work. Solve that conflict before engaging in conflict with your partner. Talk to a friend, write a journal, or find a coach.

  5. Align your career and your values
    What is it you are getting out of your career and work? What values are you satisfying through work? What might be missing? How have your values changed since starting a family? How might your current job fall short? How else can you satisfy your core values?

    Discovering your true values and figuring out how to align or design your job or career to those is where working with a coach can make a real difference.


What opportunities have you discovered when from a potentially threatening conversation?