Dual-career couples—couples in which both people in the relationship work outside the home—are more common than ever. According to the latest research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly half of marriages in the U.S. are composed of dual-career couples—and that’s just couples without kids. Add children into the mix, and BLS statistics show both parents work in 63% of relationships. That’s up from 31% in 1970, according to Pew Research Center.
And while couples in dual-career relationships enjoy a bevy of benefits—such as more financial stability and a stronger sense of identity for both people—this kind of relationship isn’t without its challenges. Those in dual-career relationships—especially for those whose partner also has a demanding job in the security clearance industry—may find themselves at odds, unsure how to balance a complex career with family commitments, or dealing with a lack of communication.
Jennifer Petriglieri, INSEAD professor and author of “Couples That Work: How Dual-Career Couples Can Thrive in Love and Work,” studied more than 100 dual-career couples across 32 countries and four continents. She found there is limited guidance out there for career-oriented couples. “Most advice treats major career decisions as if one is flying solo, without a partner, children, or aging parents to consider,” Petriglieri writes in the Harvard Business Review. “When it’s for couples, it focuses on their relationship, not how that intersects with their professional dreams, or it addresses how to balance particular trade-offs, such as careers versus family, or how to prioritize partners’ work travel. What couples need is a more comprehensive approach for managing the moments when commitments and aspirations clash.”
To address that lack of guidance—and to help dual-career couples navigating relationships while working in the security clearance sector—we spoke with career and marriage experts to get tips and tricks for how to create that needed comprehensive approach for managing work and family.
Create a plan.
Couples in a dual-career relationship will benefit from having a plan “for how their two careers support their relationship—not the other way around,” says Lesli Doares, a marriage coach and author of “Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage.” That’s different than attempting find elusive work-life balance, she says. “I don’t use work-life balance because work is part of life,” she explains. “A focus on professional-personal balance is a better way to think about it. Are you working to live, or living to work? Making it the former is a way to minimize stress” in your relationship.
And revisit that plan often.
Once you’ve created your plan—a way that you define how work supports your relationship—then you’ll need revisit it often to make sure it’s still working for both of you, says Doares. “This can be done on a smaller scale, weekly or monthly, as well as on a grander scale, yearly,” Doares says. “Being intentional in both your work and your relationship—and making sure the two are in alignment—is the way to keep both things heading in a productive direction. Keeping lines of communication open and being flexible in ways to reach your goals will allow you to succeed.”
Connect emotionally with your partner.
Another strategy for creating a comprehensive approach to how handle the times when work and marriage don’t jive is to get into the habit of connecting emotionally with one another. Couples “need to make time every day to connect emotionally,” says certified marriage therapist Alisa Ruby Bash. “Spending time communicating and listening to each other helps you stay present in each other’s lives. And having each other as a safe space to decompress and support one another keeps the emotional connection feeling safe,” even when you have to discuss tough topics, such as relocating for a new job opportunity, or accepting a promotion that will require more hours.
Define one another as teammates, not competition.
When two people in a relationship work, a sense of competition can arise between them, warns career coach Hallie Crawford. For example, “if one mate has been working hard for a promotion but has yet to get it, while the other mate finds that it is easier to advance in their organization, that could be a cause for a type of jealousy or rivalry,” she says. But, “instead of viewing your mate as competition, view them as part of your team,” she advises. This subtle shift in mindset can help you navigate the situations when your aspirations and family commitments might clash, and make sure that “accomplishments contribute to the overall success of the family,” she says.
Set boundaries for both work and family.
It’s important that you always keep your relationship in the picture, says Doares. “Make sure the lifestyle you are living is the one you really want,” she says. “If your careers aren’t in alignment with the relationship, decisions need to be made earlier rather than later.” One easy way to set boundaries—and make sure you’re making work and your marriage a priority—is to schedule time each week with your spouse, just like you mark time on your calendar for a meeting, says Crawford. “Sit down with your calendars and discuss when you can have family time—and on a regular basis,” she says. Schedule it in your calendar and do not skip it or schedule over it.”