For better or worse, in many professional fields, women are more likely than men to wind up in two-career couples. Though this math won’t necessarily stay the same as women become a greater proportion of physicians, lawyers, professors, etc., I know it’s a situation a lot of Best of Both Worlds listeners are navigating.
So Sarah and I were delighted to welcome Jennifer Petriglieri to the podcast. Petriglieri is a professor at INSEAD (a French business school), and the author of the new book Couples that Work, which explores dual income life.
In case you were wondering, this is not a book about how to get men to do more housework. Instead, after studying and interviewing more than a hundred dual income couples at all stages of life (20s to retirement), Petriglieri describes life as a series of transitions that couples need to navigate. While having children certainly can be one, the first real couple-defining moment happens when they have to make a joint decision. She’s been offered a great job in San Francisco, but he likes his job in New York. Now what? These transitions can bring up all sorts of assumptions that each party might not even know that he or she believes.
Couples fall into various categories. Some choose to make one partner’s career the primary one. Others choose to alternate, either by choice or circumstance. And others go for the “dual-primary” option where both people are pretty gung-ho.
Petriglieri’s initial findings were that the dual-primary couples actually worked best (that is, they felt most fulfilled in life). She was quite excited by this — as you might imagine, this is her family’s model — but as a researcher she also knew to be suspicious any time the research confirms exactly what you are hoping to be the case. So she went back to her results. Her deeper analysis is that there were successful couples in all categories; what made these couples successful is that they chose their life courses deliberately. Because two hard-charging careers are logistically tough to navigate, these couples were most likely to have hashed these things out. But if both parties decide — mindfully, and with an eye toward their broad philosophies of the good life — that she will climb the ladder for a while to make sure the family has income and benefits while he builds a business and takes advantage of that flexibility, and then when that business reaches a tipping point she will step back and take a more supportive role, that can work great.
I think this is a really important conclusion. A lot of the angsty, negative literature out there about two career couples is focused on a situation where the parties have assumed — without adequate discussion — that his career should automatically take precedence and she should focus more on the home front. In any case, once decisions have been made, it can be challenging to re-make them. But Petriglieri has suggestions for having these discussions and navigating these conversations. I’d note that Sarah ranked Couples that Work as one of her favorite books of 2019, so definitely worth checking out!
In the question section we talk about how an introvert can handle evenings with little kids. The listener works in an office and wants to decompress after work, but she comes home to intense toddler time. We offer a few suggestions. First, make the commute home into quiet me time. No work calls, no podcasts with voices. Either silence or uplifting music! This listener could possibly add a small, 10-minute decompression stop along the way. Ten minutes reading a book in a park (or parking lot!) can help her reset. She can use my favorite toddler management technique: strap them into a stroller so you can actually zone out, and go for a walk. And she can also take herself out of the equation occasionally. We didn’t hear exactly why evenings with the toddler were her responsibility, but this may be one of those dual-career questions to navigate…
Please give the episode a listen, and let us know what you think. Also, if you enjoy Best of Both Worlds, please tell a friend about us. We’d love to grow our audience and reach more people trying to figure out work and life.