Dual Career Couples - Facing the "Stress of Success"
by Beverly Baskin MA, NCC, CPRW
How Families Cope
The past several decades have witnessed dramatic changes in the way we
view American Families. These changes are in terms of the way we view
relationships and in the way we integrate career and family issues to
obtain a satisfying and economically prosperous life. In 1950, the
typical family structure consisted of a full-time working father, who
was the sole wage earner, and a stay-at-home mom. Today, less than 3%
of the population fit that stereotype. Donald Super was truly ahead of
his time when he wrote that people face a multitude of decisions in
their roles as parents, workers, learners, and leisure participants.
This construct has never been more critical than in the work force 2000, and
it is truly related to life planning issues for both men and women.
By the year 2000, 80% of the work force will be comprised of dual-earner couples. Twelve percent + of working adults are single mothers and fathers or displaced mothers. By the year 2000, women will represent 60% of the work force --a majority.
When it comes to relocating because of a promotion or a job change, couples will very often be faced with a dual career dilemma - his move or hers?
(Stoltz-Loike, 1992). Actually, the term "dual-career couple" is an
offshoot of the phrase "dual earner couple." In the dual career family or couple, wives are more career oriented rather than simply holding
jobs, as in many cases of dual earner couples. Currently women and men
ages 25 through 29 are equally likely to have four plus years of
college, which I find very exciting. In dual career couples, there is a
higher commitment, higher level of training, and accumulated experience
in their careers. Money is rarely the only motivation. Both husband
and wife seek steady advancement and psychological, as well as financial
In her book, Marion Stoltz-Loike (1992) asks the question
"Who is the dual career couple? Are they a pair of young professionals
with much money to spend and little desire to be restricted by
responsibility or are they a pair of haggard, overworked partners who
have no time for themselves or one another?"
In younger dual career couples, there are several other factors that have
been noted as these couples increasingly seek assistance from counselors in
negotiating the particular stressors that arise from the dual-career
lifestyle: Both spouses are typically more self reliant and self sufficient. They often have one child, but rarely more than two. Usually they do not have
their children until the wives are established in their careers. These
couples are higher educated and have higher incomes than dual earners.
Dual career women are more likely than women in traditional marriages to
have had mothers who were employed when they were children. I find the
last fact very interesting, because we are actually the professional
role models for our daughters. Years ago, if someone's mom was a
working mom, her daughter wanted to be a housewife because she felt she
missed her mom being at home. Now women's roles are emerging
differently with new commitment and interest in career as well as
commitment to families.
According to Jim and Jane Carter, in their book, He Works, She Works
(1995), the number one conflict faced by women in dual career families
is role conflict. Actually, women are used to multiple roles. Taking on
multiple responsibilities in connection with others traditionally gave
us our power and our feeling of self worth. However women are so often
in a situation of giving precedence to one role, either wife or mother
or their career that causing great stress. It is referred to as role
conflict, which results in role overload.
In contrast, married men may be given more leniency by society in their
gender socialization to identify with work and family roles without trading
one off against the other. The Carters feel that the number one conflict
among male clients in dual career marriages is the lack of nurturing that they receive from their wife or significant other because their partner is not fulfilling the "feminine" part of their marriage or couples contract. There are expectations of intimacy that were supposed to continue after work and
I agree with the importance of these female and male
conflicts and frequently experience it with my couple clients in their
counseling sessions, and in my own life as a wife, mother, and career
professional. The same conflicts were also validated in my presentation
when I asked what counselors felt were the major issues in dual career
families for both men and women. Both sexes responded with similar
Here is the crux of the situation. Dual career couples have
been proven to be the among the most successful marriages, yet also have
the highest rate of divorce in the United States (Carter, J.& J.,1995).
We, as counselors, can help reframe and restructure specific stressors
facing Dual Career Couples. Stressors encompass the following areas:
Society's expectations and socialization of gender and changing sex
roles; clarifying values of each couple; finding new support systems
congruent with dual career family lifestyles; re-establishing the
couples dependency needs and needs for nurturing within the marriage,
aside from the external gratification they are both receiving from their
work; working with conflicts related to power and competition, and
helping the couple make educated decisions regarding occupational
Use of an Integrated Approach
Marion Stoltz-Loike (1992) writes that counselors can use a variety of
theories when assisting with counseling interventions. An integrated
counseling perspective incorporates approaches from career counseling,
developmental psychology, couple and marriage counseling and, of course,
gender psychology. Couples are counseled in individual sessions and
co-joint sessions. It is very important for counselors to show the
couple that societal stressors, rather than the actual marriage are
where many problems lie.
Re-evaluate Gender Roles
Couples need to reevaluate their sex roles and integrate new notions of
masculinity and femininity within the marriage. Career issues largely
remain women's issues. Gender and feminist theory challenge those
societal beliefs regarding gender socialization and how women have to
choose one role over another. In counseling, couples learn to
incorporate some positive opposite sex characteristics while
accommodating losses of certain same sex role characteristics.
Counselors need to be coaches in helping couples to discover insights
and a heightened sense of control to decrease the amount of personal
guilt and blame. Counseling interventions prompt the couples to explore
seeking outside help to make adjustments with work setting, child care
assistance, cleaning help, parental leaves, alternative work schedules
or relocation assistance.
Dual Career Couples - Facing the "Stress of Success" How Families Cope Part 2
Beverly Baskin, MA, NCC, CPRW is the Executive Director of Baskin Business
and Career Services.
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