How to Deal With Sabbatical Resistance: Reluctant Partners

July 10, 2009

Reader J. writes that he’s having a tough time convincing his partner to buy in to his sabbatical vision:

I’d like to have one…but she’s not interested.  So the question is …how to overcome resistance from your partner?

Common ground can be surprisingly uncommon when it comes to the early stages of sabbatical planning. But don’t let resistance from your partner derail your dream.

Make The Sabbatical About Them
It might be hard to convince your partner to take six months off to do what YOU want to do, but the story can change if you shift your focus. What does she want to do? What’s his passion? You may be interested in Peru, but would you settle for Spain if that’s what lights up your partner? Likewise, she may not be interested in travel, but would be open to volunteer work or returning to school.

It may not seem ideal to have to compromise your dream, but sometimes any sabbatical better than no sabbatical. And you’ll be surprised at what you get from shifting the focus away from yourself.

Pick a Time Frame That’s Farther Away
Immediacy creates anxiety in many people. It might energize you to dream about leaving as soon as possible, but it can paralyze someone else. When you raise the sabbatical topic, do so with a reasonably distant or vague time line. “Do you think it would be interesting to take a few months off from your career to travel?” is a harmless, dreamy kind of question. “Let’s leave in December for a year,” is a bit scarier and likely to lead to more initial resistance.

Don’t Confuse What with Why
If at first you don’t succeed, don’t assume that your partner isn’t interested in a sabbatical at all. They may well love the “why” of sabbaticals – recharge, reconnect, learn, recover, etc – but not be inspired by the particular “what” that you’ve presented, like hiking the Himalayas. Don’t assume that a “no” to one sabbatical activity means a “no” to the whole idea. Dig a little deeper until you discover the real barrier.

Keep The Scary Stuff Out of The Early Conversation
Things like careers, businesses and money can shut down the early, all-important stages of sabbatical discussion pretty quickly. Successful escapes begin with the excitement of the dream, not the intricacies of financial planning.  It’s that early, mind-wide-open discussion that fuel a successful career break, so it’s critical to put these early conversations in the right context.

Don’t Give Up
Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of timing. We all go through phases where it’s hard to focus on the big picture benefits of a sabbatical. We’re immersed in an important work project, emotionally or physically drained, or focused on another consuming area of our lives. If you don’t get the answer you need, give it a couple of months and try again. Just like pitching a sabbatical to your boss, you can’t always expect to get a yes on the first try.

Go Alone
Sometimes, a no is a no. Not everyone is interested in a sabbatical, but if a career break is really important to you, you need to consider the possibility of taking some time away on your own. It may not be what you have in mind, but don’t discount it too quickly – there could be many benefits. And a few months apart is much better than many years of hidden resentment over a dream that never was.

The real trick to all of this is not to assume that reluctance is a deal-breaker, and to recognize that it can take time to share your sabbatical vision with your partner. It’s not a case of, “Don’t take no for an answer,” so much as it is simply respecting the fact that this is a big deal, and big deals take time.

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