Dual Career Couples - Facing the "Stress of Success"
How Families Cope
Part 2

by Beverly Baskin MA, NCC, CPRW


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.

Competitive Feelings

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.

Occupational Mobility

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 Publishing.

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, 227-237.

Granello, D.J., & Navin, S. (1997). Clinical issues in working with dual-career couples: implications for counselors. The Family Journal, 5, 19-31.

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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