If one looks back about fifteen years ago, one would occasionally hear about DINKS - double income no kids couples, and people would wonder how they would manage once they do have kids. The underlying implication being that when they have a family, one of them - presumably the mother - would step down from her career.
But times are changing and now when we look around we see that there are more and more couples where both partners have flourishing careers. When we say "career" it means something more than a job. "Career" is different from "job" in that a career requires a high level of voluntary commitment. Men and women in careers expect to grow and be promoted in their companies over a long period of time. They are dedicated to their professions and even personally identify with their work.
In dual career couples, there is a high level of commitment to work. Money is rarely the only motivation, even if the husband is earning more than enough to cater to all needs the wife wants to work for personal growth. Both husband and wife seek steady professional growth; personal satisfaction related to their individual goals; as well as financial satisfaction.
For the woman it is not just a "job" but something that fulfills her needs that are based not only on finances but also the need for personal growth. Exploring and using her potential is something that she derives a sense of enjoyment and achievement from.
However as one would anticipate this is no easy task. There are a lot of pressures that have to be dealt with and a lot of work - life balance concerns.
Some of you who are reading this may be a partner in a dual career couple. Some of you will be looking forward to perhaps joining the category of being a dual career couple by getting married. It would be helpful then to look at some of the challenges that are faced by Dual Career couples.
CHALLENGES AND STRESSORS:
1. Time stress: There isn't enough time to do everything that needs to be done. Both spouses come home and think, "He could do something to help too," or "She should have made a better dinner by planning before hand".
2. Role conflict: With regard to childcare and housekeeping, a dual-career couple may struggle with dividing chores equally. Even though both husband and wife work full time, studies have shown that the wife still carries the burden of childcare and housekeeping. It may be difficult for a dual-career couple to change social standards that they have lived with all of their lives. However, an unequal division of work at home often leads to fatigue on the part of the wife, and conflict for the couple. The husband on the other hand may feel pressed into a role that he is not equipped or ready for. He may be called upon for skills in child rearing or homemaking that he has never been taught or prepared for and that builds resentment.
3. The "trailing spouse" syndrome can be another source of relationship stress. If one partner experiences significantly less professional success than the other, especially if that partner has made significant sacrifices for the sake of the other's career, resentment can build. Establishing and communicating priorities is the key; talking about it and having clear expectations about who can give up the job, take leave in emergencies, or relocate more easily makes things easier and less conflict ridden.
4. Marriage takes a back seat: The time commitment to career and family is heavy, and often the marriage has last priority especially when children come along. According to a study, a husband and wife who both work outside the home will, on average, spend less than 15 minutes a day talking with one another. By the time they both return home from work and have prepared a meal, cleaned the house and tucked in the kids, they are just too tired to carry on a conversation. There is no time for communication and therefore many dual-career couples have a high level of conflict that goes unresolved due to fatigue and lack of time to talk.
STRATEGIES FOR COUPLES
How then can dual career couples try and overcome these challenges that invade their lives? Let us look at some strategies that can be used:
* They need a lot of experimentation on "how" to do things. They need to be creative and flexible. Just because no one does it a certain way does not mean that they cannot.
* The "standard" needs to be open for negotiation: this involves compromise. Tolerance and the ability to be satisfied with less than 100% are very important, especially for women who caught in the multiple roles want to do each thing as perfectly as possible. Being able to tolerate imperfection when work is being shared leads to fewer conflicts.
* Roles and duties should be interchangeable. It gives a feeling of relief to know that once one partner starts doing something they won't be stuck with it forever or at least a very long time. Common tasks can always be exchanged after a certain time frame within the constraints. For e.g. for 2 months one partner buys the rations and the next two months the other does. When a husband and wife cooperate and divide work equitably, they appear to be more satisfied with their combination of roles and the strain on the marriage will be lessened.
* They need to enhance their marriage: Both spouses are typically more self-reliant and self-sufficient therefore they need to try harder to keep togetherness alive. They need to intentionally allow time for building a sense of intimacy. They need to take time out every night after the kids are settled or the work is done and just talk over a cup of coffee/ tea of what happened over the day. This has to be a priority. They could try and get out for a movie or a dinner at least once in a month to remember what it feels like to be a couple. Forgiving often and freely is something that works wonders. With so much to juggle things may get forgotten, mistakes will happen and nothing works better than forgiving and moving on.
THE BRIGHT SIDE???
While we have talked about the challenges and how they can be addressed, that is not all. There are also a lot of positives that come along with being a dual career couple:
• The couple understands each other's challenges uniquely well, they are passionate about many of the same things, and they can help each other over the rough spots.
• There is considerable financial enhancement and therefore quality of life is enhanced.
• Both husbands and wives report that it is very rewarding to be married to someone who is interesting, intelligent and powerful.
Just like most things in life, being a dual career couple comes with its own share of trials and tribulations. In the words of Henry Ford:
'Coming together is a beginning;
Keeping together is progress;
Working together is success.'