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How a spouse can doom your work life balance success

 

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Sheryl Sandberg, the outspoken COO of Facebook, repeatedly has said one of the most important career moves you make is who you marry. I see that played out, over and over, sometimes in a positive way, and sometimes not. 

Just as lack of consensus around finances can doom a marriage, lack of support from your husband or wife can effectively sink a career. For decades, it's been wives who have supported their husbands careers -- emotionally and physically. But now that most couples are dual earners, the whole dynamics of career priority are changing in marriages. Men are being asked to do more at home as women do more at the office.

Earlier this week, NPR Morning Edition featured a stay-at-home dad for its "The Changing Lives of Women" series.  Jonathan Heisey-Groves and his wife, Dawn, a public health analyst, didn't exactly plan for Jonathan to be a stay-at-home parent to Egan, 5, and Zane, who's 4 months old. The Heisey-Groves were both working full time when he lost his job as a graphic designer.  Jonathan stayed home at first just to save money on child care. But then, Dawn got a promotion.

 "She took a position at her company that involved a lot of travel, last-minute work, late nights and so forth," he says. "And I have some understanding of how it feels to be in that position, so I try to be as supportive as I can."

You might not be married to a Jonathan, who is willing to give up his career to raise the kids, but are you married to someone who wants you to succeed in your job? Are you showing your spouse the physical and emotional support that he or she needs to succeed? 

Think about that before you answer....

A friend of mine complained for weeks that her husband was going to accept a promotion that involved more travel. For her, it meant she would need to leave work earlier to pick their kids up from after school care. But instead of talking it through, she informed him he can't take the promotion. Now they're both resentful. 

Monique Valcour, a professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, has just published a great article on the Harvard Business Review blog called the Dual-Career Mojo that Makes Couples Thrive. She gives suggestions for how to be more supportive of each other's careers. They're so good I'm sharing them with you (edited a bit with my own comments added in) 

Communicate priorities: Talk early and often about what matters most to both of you. In other words, you want to avoid realizing too late (e.g., when you've already called a divorce lawyer) that there is a big gap between what you say you care about most and how you actually invest your time and energy.

Talk about work at home: Look for solutions together that will reduce career-related conflicts and maximize opportunities for career enrichment between the members of the couple. Valcour says,  "My husband and I routinely help each other decide how to approach issues we encounter in our careers by listening, asking questions, and offering a broader perspective."

Think like a team. This often means taking turns. Dual career couples who are movie actors often take turns being away on set and home with the kids. Valcour notes that many dual-career couples confer with each other before accepting travel commitments to ensure that both parents are never away at the same time. In  less successful dual-career partnerships, each partner's interest in the other's career is often more self-referential — as in, "How will my partner's work demands or rewards affect me?" as opposed to "How do we meet the demands and enjoy the rewards together?"

Ask for help. Your partner may be willing to let you sacrifice some family time to do what you need to do at work or to go back to school. This takes open communication and the ability to help the other person overcome guilt.

Be open to change.  Modern careers don't typically follow a predictable path; the road is ever-changing. That's where a spouse's support is critical. Let's say your business suddenly takes off or your boss offers you a promotion. That inevitably impacts your home life in a way your spouse might not have expected. Valcour notes that few people make it all the way through a career without experiencing an unexpected company event that affects their career prospects, a significant failure, an apparent success that turns out to be unsatisfactory, or a desire to make a significant change. As changes occur, remember the upside of dual career marriages. Having two careers takes the pressure off either person to be responsible for all of the material support of the family unit. Of course, both spouses have to believe that to be true.

Readers, has your spouse been a powerful resources in helping you work through career and life challenges? If not, in what ways has a lack of support created havoc in your personal and professional success?


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Sharon Teitelbaum

Great suggestions for a dual career marriage. I want to offer two extraordinary resources for egalitarian marriages in which both partners are actively engaged in career, childcare & householding, and have "time off" too. Here are the two terrific books:

Equally Shared Parenting, by Marc & Amy Vachon

The Libra Solution: Shedding Excess and Redefining Success at Work and At Home by Lisa D'Annolfo Levey

These books are written by people who are living it, very intentionally. They are well-written, engaging, and very down to earth.

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