Can Your Relationship Survive If You're More Ambitious Than Your Partner?

What role does ambition really play in our relationships? Here's what an expert says.
Sophie and Johnathan from Married At First Sight
Channel 4
Sophie and Johnathan from Married At First Sight

What is a relationship non-negotiable to you? Most people have a list of traits they need in a partner. These could range from sharing similar religious or political beliefs to having a partner who is patient or kind or financially stable.

And ambition? Well, it’s relative but for some people, it also plays a big role in relationships, especially when it’s not equal. Just look at Sophie and Jonathan on the latest series of Married At First Sight UK.

Sophie works in tech and has big career goals, whereas her partner Jordan is comfortable continuing his work as a carpenter. He wants to earn “just enough” and works to live unlike Sophie, who prides herself on her achievements and wants to climb the career ladder.

Can differing levels of ambition make or break a relationship?

For Louise*, 27, a product manager from London, her partner’s lack of ambition also threw up issues.

“We didn’t align on several key points across different areas,” she tells HuffPost UK. “We felt as though some of those points were non-negotiables for each of us so it didn’t make sense to continue the relationship.”

Louise says she’s never been afraid of taking career risks, because she’s always starting from a place of more experience, but her partner didn’t share the same views.

“I found that he lacked drive and determination to change his circumstances when he wasn’t happy,” Louise adds. “He moved up the career ladder, but when he had the opportunity to change his trajectory completely, he chose the safer route.”

“He could never dream big. It was always a ‘realistic’ view of the world. He would always dream big for me, but never for himself.””

- Louise, 27

She continues: “That lack of ambition to try something new and unfamiliar caused issues in our relationship because I could see he was unhappy with his career, but he kept being negative about starting something new.”

“He could never dream big. It was always a ‘realistic’ view of the world. It was bizarre because he would always dream big for me, but never for himself.”

However, psychologist and therapist Tara Quinn-Cirillo tells HuffPost UK you don’t have to have matching ambitions for your relationship to succeed.

“The important factor in any relationship is the ability to be supportive of the other one’s ambition and being in touch with their values that underpin this ambition,” she says.

“Its good to have individual goals, hope and dreams when in a relationship. In fact it’s healthy to have a life together, but be able to have time apart and also time to work on your individual needs too.”

When does ambition become an issue in relationships?

Quinn-Cirillo says people need to be aware of what ‘ambition’ actually looks like to different people.

“It can take many forms, from hopes to practical elements. Ambition may be problematic if the behaviours associated with it dominate much of that individuals time and divert this away from focusing on the needs of the relationship,” she says.

The key is good communication about your values and your own ambition, she says, which means “talking about how this may impact the relationship and what you may need to do to keep it on track. It is important not to automatically put aspirations aside for the sake of a relationship.”

Why do some people get threatened by someone else’s ambition?

“There are so many factors influencing ambition,” says Quinn-Cirillo. “These may be related to our upbringings, culture, societal expectations perceived or actual expectations from peers, loved ones or family.”

Some people may have had personal experiences of failure and seeing someone else succeed can be triggering,” she adds. “We may have dreams ourselves but are finding roadblocks along the way which can be frustrating. Therefore if we see someone else succeeding this can be difficult for us.”

Keeping the lines of communication open will help you work through this.

* Surname omitted to offer anonymity

Before You Go

Go To Homepage