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Teamwork for Two-Career Couples

“Miles has done so well,” says Tia. “I can’t ask him to follow me when everything is opening up for him in Boston.”

“And I can’t ask Tia to put her career on hold. Good opportunities in history are really hard to find. She needs to go wherever she gets a good offer.” Miles too is generous and supportive.

These two are remarkably alike. Neither wants to ask the other to give up on personal dreams. Neither sees a way to do their own career differently either. They didn’t realize it but the problem that brought them to therapy is not competing careers. The problem is that these two good people each privately decided they couldn’t ask the other to compromise and didn’t have the flexibility to imagine personal alternatives.

Good communication instead of pointless fights just might lead to a solution. Redefining the problem might make it possible to talk. They’ve been working on their problem separately and drifting apart. My job is to help them learn to work as a team toward the shared goal of finding satisfying work for both while staying together.

We imagine different scenarios: Long-distance relationship while they each get on their career feet; staying together and alternating whose move gets priority; one or the other exploring a more portable job option within his or her field; looking harder for a city where both can work. I encourage them to take a longer view. Confining their thinking to the next year puts unnecessary pressure on their decisions. If they can allow themselves to think about where they want to be individually and as a couple five or even 10 years from now, there is more room to think creatively. Helping them each be clearer and more specific about individual and collective wants and needs adds depth to the discussion. Reaffirming their support for each other’s dreams lets them both continue to be generous.

I remind them that millions of dual-career couples daily work on similar issues. Most succeed at coming up with a system that works for them. Whatever solution to the “two careers, one relationship dilemma” they come up with can work as long as they are committed to each other and committed to working it out. What matters most is that they work as a team.

Tia and Miles are smart. They’re accomplished. They’re in love and want very much to build a future together. Now that they have learned how to work together when confronting a complicated and important problem, they will figure it out.

Tips for two-career couples

  • Communicate. No matter how well you know each other, you can’t read your partner’s mind. It’s unfair to expect him or her to read yours.
  • Look at all options. Let yourself really try on various ideas before judging them.
  • Be clear about the difference between wants and needs — for example, you may need to make a move to advance your career but you may only want to live in a particular city. If you compromise on wants, there is more room for needs.
  • Take the long view. Look at a five-year plan. Make sure both people’s career goals are being advanced over time.
  • Build in time to nurture and support your relationship. A good relationship is even harder to find than a good job.
  • Appreciate sacrifices. Make sure you take turns making them so neither gets resentful.
  • Don’t come to closure on a decision too quickly. Take the time to get to a decision you can both live with.
  • Respect each other’s dreams and share the daily support tasks that make them possible.
Teamwork for Two-Career Couples


Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Teamwork for Two-Career Couples. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/teamwork-for-two-career-couples/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.