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June 12, 2018

How Can You And Your Partner Achieve A Stable Work-Life Balance?

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Many suggest that when it comes to our love lives and professional lives, we simply can’t have it all. Professionals from various backgrounds think compromise as essential to happy relationships and when it comes to work-life balance some experts suggest that when we thrive in one area, we tend to suffer in the other. But new research with dual-career couples suggests otherwise. Jennifer Petriglieri, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, is optimistic about dual-career couples with regard to attachment styles and work-life balance.

Jess joined Jeff on Global TV’s The Morning Show to discuss the implications of this latest research.

1. This research looked at attachment styles in dual career couples. Let’s first address what we mean by attachment styles…

The field of developmental psychology uses attachment theory to examine how our foundational relationships (e.g. our relationship with our parents) influence our adult identities. The theory suggests that secure attachments can lead to an ability to trust and feel safe in relationships; insecure attachments can leave us feeling fearful of relationships and the associated risks. It’s an older theory that heavily considers the role that early relationships play in later life and it’s important to note that we can grow in our relationships to feel more secure regardless of childhood experiences.

2. Why would attachment styles be related to professional success?

In interviewing dual-career couples, the researchers found that participants frequently commented upon the ways in which their relational dynamics were connected to their career success (or stagnation), so they decided to use attachment theory to analyze the results of their interviews.

3. What did they find with regard to attachment styles and relationships in which both partners are working?

In this research, they were assessing whether or not both partners felt they had a “secure base” in the relationship (not simply a safe haven, but a source of strength and support in the relationship). If both partners viewed the relationship as a secure base, they were classified as bidirectional and if only one partner felt that the relationship provided a secure base, they were classified as unidirectional.

The researchers found that unidirectional couples reported less dynamic professional development and tended to believe that they needed to make sacrifice or compromise in order to make things work. The result of this zero-sum logic involved feelings of resentment, settling, and dissatisfaction with professional growth.

One couple, for example, described the following experience:

  • She felt she needed to sacrifice parts of her own career to support his and was unhappy with this approach, but felt it was the only choice.
  • He credited his professional success to her sacrifice and felt that the relationship was a safe haven from the pressures of his work.

That is, it worked for him and not for her and therefore produced an unhappy outcome.

4.  So what do we learn from this? How can we make sure our relationships support our own careers and our partners?

We need to let go of the belief that you need to make sacrifices. Bidirectional couples feel that the relationship is strong enough to support two careers, so sacrifice is not required. They feed off one another’s successes and realize that one person’s growth does nothing to detract from the other’s. They realize that investment in the career does not need to detract from investment in the relationship.

It may seem that dual-career couples will inevitably face more conflict with regard to housework or childrearing, but these practical challenges are surmountable; if they seem insurmountable, it may be a matter of an underlying power struggle (e.g. it’s not really a conflict about who makes dinner, but a conflict related to underlying resentment and feeling unappreciated).