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Striking a Balance: Achieving Happiness & Success as a Dual-Career Couple
By Dr. Ray Angelini
April 3, 2007
In the past two decades, we have experienced dramatic changes in the way we view careers and relationships. I believe that the greatest challenge for most couples has been how to balance the demands of career and relationships in order to achieve a fulfilling and economically viable life.
During the 1950s, the typical family consisted of a father who worked full time and was the sole wage earner, a stay-at-home mom, and 2.3 children. Today, less than 3% of American households fit this profile. Fully 80% of U.S. households consist of dual-earner couples. As most of us are aware, balancing the demands of two hectic careers, children, and trying to stay connected can be very challenging for even the best and strongest relationships.
However, dual-career relationships can survive, and even thrive, if they are willing to learn and implement techniques for balancing the demands of work and family life. Dual-career couples are more likely to be successful if they develop ad practice effective strategies for dealing with the inevitable stress and challenges they will encounter. The following are some strategies I have found to be effective in working with dual-career couples:
Communicate early and often.
Good communication in relationships has become almost cliché, but it is still nonetheless an essential ingredient and critical skill for successful dual-career couples. Good communication is comprised of several components. First. It is essential to confront the potential pitfalls inherent in being a dual-career couple in an honest and open manner and to have realistic expectations of what the lifestyle will involve. Secondly, it is critical to reserve time together and talk to each other frequently in order to plan and coordinate family responsibilities and schedules. Finally, it is critical to be able to express thoughts and feelings and to work through the invariable misunderstandings and miscommunications that will occur.
Support each other's career and personal goals.
Honoring your partner's career and personal goals means taking them as seriously an s your own. This often means making sacrifices in terms of your own career goals as well as learning as much as you can about your partner's career field so that you can be in a better position to help them advance.
Be flexible in your roles.
Dual-career couples cannot afford to be rigid in their gender roles. In dual-career couples, there is often a lack of an official support person to provide the necessary nurturing and emotional support. Many of the dual-career couples that I work with lament, "I need a wife!" Dual-career couples need to be flexible and to be willing to switch roles back and forth in order to accommodate both careers. Paying bills, preparing meals, or maintaining vehicles are just a few examples of activities that can, and often must shift for the family to function effectively.
Nurture yourself and your partner.
The old adage, "If you work hard, you have to play hard" is especially true for dual-career couples. Taking time to unwind and relax, making time for friends and family, health and fitness, and individual interests are all critical in this area. All of these things can provided needed relief from the daily grind and ideally should be enjoyed in equal balance both alone and together.
Have a strong support system.
In your career and social activities, it is best to seek out those people who understand and support your lifestyle. You may find that some people may be jealous or resentful of your lifestyle. You would be wise to avoid spending too much time with people in this category, as they are likely to drain your energy and become more part of the problem, rather than the solution.
Get professional help when you need it.
Communication, compromise, and flexibility are not skills that come naturally to many. If you and your partner are struggling to make your dual-career relationship flourish, don't be afraid to ask for help. Enlisting the help of a skilled therapist or relationship coach can prove to be invaluable, especially if their services are sought early on before problematic patterns become too deeply ingrained.
Focus on the positive.
It's easy to bemoan the difficulties inherent in balancing the demands of careers and relationships, however, as in anything in life, it is critical to accentuate the positive. Dual-career couples can bond in ways that non-dual-career couples often can't. Higher income and greater amounts of social support can also contribute to greater satisfaction with the dual-career lifestyle, so there is quite a bit to be grateful for. While the challenges are certainly daunting, in the end, the teamwork and shared sacrificing involved in being a dual-career couple can serve to make your relationship stronger and more fulfilling if you work at it and allow it to flourish.