Dual-career couples can both succeed
If you’re an ambitious lady boss forging yourself a glittering career, chances are the love of your life is similarly stellar. You’re both set on going places, the problem is there’s no guarantee that those places will always be in the same direction.
A secondment to Paris? Mais oui! A promotion in New York? Go on, then. But how do you navigate maintaining a relationship and forge a common life path when there’s so much you both want to do?
The reality check is that society is still skewed to make sustaining a successful career and a happy love life harder for high flying ladies than for all-star chaps.
They have had a seat at the boardroom table for longer, and cultural hangovers contribute to keeping them there. To rise to the top with your partner in crime, you need a plan, and essential to that plan is a proactive conversation about compromise. It doesn’t matter if your partner is the most progressive, Feminist T-shirt wearing dream boat, you need to talk about your plan As, Bs and Cs, to make sure your relationship stays balanced whilst society is playing catch up.
“To rise to the top with your partner in crime, you need a plan”
Here’s why proactively talking about compromise is key for dual-career couples:
According to sociologist Kathleen Gerson, 80% of women and 70% of men today enter relationships wanting an equal partnership, but when life forces them to compromise, 70% of men want to revert to traditional gender roles. Abstract life goals are much easier to stomach than concrete trade-offs, and it’s therefore essential to find out what your guy’s long term expectations are, and how far they’re willing to compromise for you.
The breadwinner/ housewife model
Many offices still function on the breadwinner/ housewife model, which assumes that employees have few domestic commitments outside of work. This means that at different times in your careers, one person in the relationship is likely to have to compromise, particularly if you want kids. The prevailing gender pay gap means that it often makes more financial sense for women to cut back their hours, or stop work altogether to avoid hefty child care costs. How will you deal with this as a couple? It’s never too soon to make a plan.
Why we are socially conditioned to compromise
From childhood it is still the case that we are conditioned to think of men as the dominant breadwinner and women as the subordinate care giver. This video about children’s books gives some good context. Being subconsciously sexist, even as a woman, is an actual thing. This can make women more likely to de-prioritize their own work goals in favour of their partners. We also still disproportionately shoulder the burden of housework, another way that we self-sabotage and give more space to our spouses to forge ahead with their careers.
“We are conditioned to think of men as the dominant breadwinner.”
The good news
There’s a lot we can do to make sure our relationship stays on an even keel, and continue conquer the world as a team.
Ask for things more often
Writing for the Atlantic, Anne Marie Slaughter tells us that if we want a shot at equality, we need to speak up about our needs and drive changes in working cultures that enable us to succeed. She gives the example of Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who shares child care commitments with his wife. When Steinberg took office, his immediate priority was to get access to classified information at home, so he could leave work at a reasonable time. As women, we should have the confidence to ask for things that make our lifestyles work for us so we can succeed. That begins with our spouses, but also our bosses, our friends and family.
Be brave and initiate the DMC
Have a deep and meaningful conversation about your life goals and make sure you’re discussing these as regularly as you are discussing his plans. Try to get concrete before compromise is firmly on the horizon, because if your goals are already on the table, it will be easier to factor those in to any big life decisions. Make sure this isn’t a one-off conversation either. Priorities evolve and change with time, so share yours regularly, and stay up to date with his. Once you’re on the same page, there’ll be no stopping you.
Have you ever had to pass on a promotion or an exciting job opportunity in another country because your partner’s job took precedence? Go ahead and share in the comments below. Then head over to the Iris Lillian Squad to chat with me and other businesswomen and entrepreneurs about how we navigated the dual couple career quandary (what a mouthful!).
Hannah is a UK based journalist who writes about lifestyle, travel, culture and careers. How to be a woman in the 21st century and other lady life hacks are also among her fave topics. Tweet her @Hannah_Mays
Dual-career couples can both succeed