Dual Career Couples - Facing the "Stress of Success"
by Beverly Baskin MA, NCC, CPRW
How Families Cope
Counselors Can Help With Role Overload
As counselors, we can help the couple eliminate or emphasize the less
critical roles and help the couple stop attempting too many things. The
couple then redefines themselves in a more realistic manner. Dual
career couples are usually using time management skills, but we can help
them alter less successful time management tasks.
Introducing mind-body stress reduction also proves very helpful to many
couples. This includes: exercise, sensible eating, and ensuring that
internal energy is not depleted because of the great amount of externalizing in their dual roles. A counselor can suggest co-joint career counseling to
observe how work and home can best be balanced based on individual needs
and developmental needs of the couple. Couples can define their own
sense of equity within their relationship. The distribution of roles
does not necessarily have to be equal. It can be different depending on
peaks and valleys of the couples work schedules.
The couple's relationship can be compared to an ever-growing, flexible
landscape, which has to be watered and taken care of and re-evaluated for growth
and stagnation each season. Each person in the relationship has their
own personal feeling of comfort that should be respected and/or negotiated with respect to the roles that they perform.
New Support Systems
If a problem cannot be negotiated within a family, the family often
relies on its support system for help. Some friends and family who are
not in the same position may seem hurt that the couple has no time for
socializing. The couple can occasionally be encouraged to socialize
individually with family and friends, freeing each spouse from some
social obligations. The couple can also share work-related friends and
activities to develop a truly supportive social network. Very often
families with small children can concentrate on two well-established
friendships that involve whole families socializing with each other
including children and even pets!
"I Need a Wife" Syndrome
Lack of support can also occur within the dual career couple's own
relationship. This occurs because the dual career couple is very often
highly cognitive and achievement oriented, very futuristic--not known
for their "in the moment" thinking. Both spouses may feel a sense of
insufficient caretaking. "There is often a lack of an unofficial second
person to provide the back up nurturing, empathetic listening and
emotional support." Hence, the "I Need a Wife" Syndrome that is
expressed by both the man and the woman.
Work is an easy escape route from conflicts in relationship. Both parties
receive recognition from their second "work family." Couples can use the lack of time together as a defense against intimacy. Counselors can teach
couples emotional expressiveness by getting into their feelings in counseling sessions. The counselor can support the concept that the existence of marital or
family problems should not be viewed as a failure behavior, but that we
are only human. Short-term psycho-educational counseling will assist
couples in planning emotional time together.
The Carters (1995) write about relearning courting skills, date nights,
long weekends and "playtime." If lack of intimacy is based on avoidance of conflict, however, underlying issues need to be brought to the surface and resolved through more traditional therapy.
Sometimes spouses may "keep score" as to promotions, whose career takes precedence, and even who makes more money. The counselor can reassure
the couple that it is natural to have "spousal rivalry" and reassure
them that couples do have competitive feelings, which often stem from
childhood sibling rivalry. The couple can develop rituals or
celebrations that mutually acknowledge the relationship's existence and
importance. These celebrations also recognize the behind the scenes
support of the other partner, so it is both of their successes.
Most experts agree that there is no easy solution when it relates to
occupational moves. Wives seem to be less willing to relocate because
of family considerations, but I have personally seen that the opposite
is also true. Forty percent of trailing spouses are men. Many career
service organizations perform spouse relocation services. Organizations
find companies and recruiters for trailing spouses and help the whole
family adjust to new careers, schools for children, and family life in a
new geographic location. BBCS performs those services in New Jersey.
Other couples choose commuter marriages, where both partners work in
different cities and see each other on the weekends. I have personally
seen three of these marriages end in divorce and the authors suggest
that people speak to many couples in commuter marriages before they
make the final decision as to whether to choose that option.
How Corporations are Responding to Work and Family Issues
Large corporations are very cognizant of the fact that a large number of
their professional work force will be women in the year 2000, so they
have made significant adjustments. Some of those adjustments include:
Dress down Fridays, telecommuting (working from home with fax and modem)
job sharing, flextime hours, and parenting support groups. A
significant number of workplaces have child care facilities on site or
within their industrial park. The largest "family-friendly" employers
in New Jersey are Motorola, Eddie Bauer, Merrill Lynch, Du Pont, Cigna,
and Lucent Technologies. Employee Relations Departments are "feminizing
the workplace." Concessions are made mainly for working moms. Men
subtly are told to adhere to their traditional role expectations in the
workplace...that is...career comes first. I hope that the Men's
Movement will bring these issues to the forefront.
Themes are Emerging
The themes that are emerging in dual-career marriages are that men
experience a certain amount of career freedom because of the wife's
substantial income. Men said they were able to take more risks
regarding their own career. Men and Women supported each other's work
priorities in peak workloads. Couples re-evaluated the equity
relationship periodically and made appropriate changes. Both partners
felt that the marriage was exciting and fresh because of increased
individual independence, and couple companionship and partnership.
Women noted that the marriage had an empowering quality. Each person
could literally survive without the other, financially. Husband and
wife were in the marriage because they both wanted to be there. Each
spouse was considered on equal footing with the other.
The hallmarks of a successful dual career marriage appear to be
flexibility and a mix of independence and interdependence. Each person
in the relationship expresses gratitude to the other for letting him or
her be who they want to be. It is, at times, the highest form of
creativity and love between two people. Freud said, "The successful
person can love and work." Hopefully, we are moving toward that
philosophy, ever so slowly.
Alger, I. (1991) Marital therapy with dual-career couples. Psychiatric
Annals, 21, 455-458.
Anderson, E.A., & Leslie, L.A. (1991). Coping with employment and
family stress: Employment arrangement and gender differences. Sex
Roles, 24, 233-237.
Career Opportunity News (1997). 5-3,8-15. Chicago IL: Ferguson
Carter, J.& J. (1995). He Works She Works: Successful Strategies for
Working Couples. New York, NY: American Management Association.
Cook, E.P. (1993). The gendered context of life: Implications for women's
and men's career-life plans. The Career Development Quarterly, 41,
Granello, D.J., & Navin, S. (1997). Clinical issues in working with
dual-career couples: implications for counselors. The Family Journal, 5,
Hazzard, L.B., & Kolsow D. (1992). Co-joint career counseling: Counseling
dual-career couples. In H. D Lea & Z.B. Leibowitz (Eds.), Adult Career
Development: Concepts, issues and practices (pp.218-233). Alexandria VA.:
American Counseling Association.
Dual Career Couples - Facing the "Stress of Success" How Families Cope Part 1
Beverly Baskin, MA, NCC, CPRW is the Executive Director of Baskin Business
and Career Services.
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