Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Spring 2000

Dual Career Couples:
Good News and Bad News

Good news: If you are a dual career couple or thinking of choosing that life style you are not alone. A 1999 survey by Catalyst found that among employed people 60% are in dual career marriages.

Psychologist Pepper Schwartz reported in her 1995 book, Peer Marriages, that the couples in her research sample who saw themselves in partnership marriages, called peer marriages, rated themselves as having the highest level of marital happiness.

Bad news: The rate of conflict and divorce is higher in dual career couples than in other life styles. Probable reason: the stresses that the life style creates as two people balance a marriage, two jobs, a home, and children. Couples interviewed in the Catalyst survey said their biggest complaint was lack of time.

Dual career couples juggle many balls as they balance and negotiate the roles and tasks of this life style. The ball most often dropped is that of the couple relationship. Negotiation skills are absolutely necessary yet many couples have no training for the high level of communication required to smooth out the rough spots.

Life Management Tips for Couples:
How to Simplify Your Complicated Lives.

Grocery list. Make up a generic grocery list on your computer, putting the items in order they are found in your favorite store. Run off multiple copies. Keep a copy on the family bulletin board or refrigerator. Whenever anyone notices an item running low, they circle it on the list. The meal planner adds items for next week's meals and the grocery list is accurate, complete, and finished with less fuss.

Off duty. Instead of both parents feeling "on duty" with the children every night and all weekend, you and your spouse can trade evenings and parts of the weekends so you get time to catch up on work, housework, and have time for yourself. Children adapt quickly to "Who's taking care of us tonight?"

Cleaning service. Use some of your earnings to reduce the stress of dividing household tasks. Get recommendations for a reliable service and organize the family to remove clutter the night before they come. If possible, come home early or go into work late for the first few times to check on how well the job is getting done.

Calendar meeting. Fast Company (May, 2000) reported the results of a recent study following couples in the Silicon valley. The researchers found couples touching base over a dozen times a day to coordinate activities. Many of those calls could be eliminated with better advance planning. Schedule a calendar meeting with each other at least once a week to keep all the to-do's from falling into the cracks. Including the children as they get older is a great way to teach them responsible calendar keeping.

Scaling Back:
Creative Strategic Management for Work/life Balance

The most common question dual career couples ask is "How can we have a life outside of work." This is especially true of the high powered couples we meet in our workshops in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

The recent movie, Random Hearts, depicts the lives of two such couples. One is a congresswoman and her attorney husband, the other a D.C. police sergeant and a fashion photographer. A plane crash kills the attorney and the photographer on their way to a romantic rendezvous. Their respective spouses have to deal with the death of their spouses, the revelation of the affair, and the question of how their busy lives masked the secret affair.

One recent study of dual career couples in upstate New York revealed that more couples than expected are actually strategically planning their lives to protect their homes, marriages and children from the stress spillover of their demanding careers. Penny Edgell Becker and Phyllis Moen, authors of a study published in the November, '99 Journal of Marriage & Family, found 75% of couples they interviewed used one or more of three "scaling back" strategies to buffer home from work encroachments.

Placing limits. Some of the couples place limits on the demands that drive them. They may limit the hours they work, refuse to take a new job or promotion, or refuse to engage in the materialism often expected with the stereotype of the high powered couple. Two out of three people using this strategy were women. Men used this strategy when there were children at home, while women used this strategy across the life span.

One-career, one job. The 40% of couples using this scaling back strategy emphasized more career dedication for the "career" spouse and more flexibility including job interruptions for the "job" spouse. Women more often saw themselves in jobs while men more often saw themselves in careers.

The spouses with the "job" whether husbands or wives did more household and childcare work. They often had help from the "career" spouse or hired help.

Trading off. This scaling back strategy involved taking turns on the "one-career, one-job" strategy because of opportunities and life stage changes. Thus, couples could work long hours before the arrival of children, switch to "placing limits" or "one-career, one-job" strategies, and switch back to two careers later. Trading off allows couples to have it all - eventually.

The authors comment that the couples in their study are struggling with private solutions to a public problem, namely, work demands that do not respect couples' desire for more balanced lives. Until more workplaces have family-friendly job requirements, couples need planning skills involving flexibility, mutual support, trading off, caring and resilience.

Strategic planning and com-munication skills can be learned from books, tapes, workshops, and couple coaching. These skills are absolutely necessary for dual career couples who want to protect their fun, friendship, and families from the costs of high-powered careers.


Wayne & Mary Sotile's book, The Supercouple Syndrome, talks about how to avoid getting pulled in to having the "big life."

Our tape series, Secrets of Extraordinary Marriages, covers communication & strategic planning skills needed by dual career and all couples.

Copyright 2000 Drs. Susan & Philip Robison. Feel free to copy and reproduce as long as you print with contact information:

Copyright © 2024

Center for Extraordinary Marriages:
Office: 3725 Font Hill Dr, Ellicott City, Md. 21042
Mailing Address: 3725 Font Hill Dr, Ellicott City, Md. 21042
Phone: 410-465-5967
Home |  Extraordinary Marriage Program |  About Us |  Services |  Articles |  Programs