It helps to be flexible when both spouses work
West Point, N.Y. — Young career people considering marriage should be pragmatic rather than romantic. That's the advice of Francine S. Hall, coauthor of "The Two Career Couple," which she wrote with her husband, Douglas T. (Tim) Hall. Couples should figure out where they are going in their careers, how work will fit into each other's plans, and how supportive each spouse will be after they marry.
"It sounds very pragmatic, but it has to be," she says. But her husband adds that love still figures in.
"That's what makes people willing to make compromises and sacrifices in their careers," he says. "The two career couples we have talked with say it takes a lot of commitment to their relationship to make it work."
Dr. Francine Hall thinks young adults today have a different attitude toward two-career families than past generations.
"Young men have seen their mothers work, and they know it is an economic necessity," she says. "And they are dating a whole group of women who carry around a new set of values. Careers are not even an issue. The nitty-gritty is how it will work."
The couple has spent the last year at the United States Military Academy as visiting professors. While there, Dr. Francine Hall taught a seminar on contemporary issues in the military, which includes discussion of dual careers.
Priorities are a key element in making a two-career marriage work, the couple says. And along with that is flexibility.
"It is very hard to have it all," Dr. Francine Hall says."You have to know which part you want most. Couples have to make compromises, and it's not uncommon for women to make them."
Although many young adults may support the idea of both husband and wife working, they are apt to find conflicts when both are just getting started on a career, she points out. When careers take different paths, one has to give way.
Sometimes couples have even lived apart temporarily. Young couples are often reluctant to approach a company to ask for special benefits, such as flexible work hours or paternity leave, she says. These workers are lower on the ladder and afraid they might be looked upon as uncommitted.
Older, more established workers feel secure in putting their family as top priority.
"As they mature," she says, "they realize that a career really is not everything."m
Couples may trade off chores around the house, but when career development is at stake, the trade-offs might not be possible. Having two careers at different levels can be good, since it can make decisions easier, but it can also mean one person will always be behind the other.
"Tim is more advanced in his career than I am," says Dr. Francine Hall, who operates a consulting firm in human-resources development programs, along with her teaching activities. Her husband, who specializes in management, has taught at Northwestern University, Michigan State, York, and Yale. "He's a bigger star and he has more options." And so she has put his career first on some occasions.
She says that for the other spouse, this may mean investing more in another area of life, such as children, which can be even more rewarding. The Halls have two children, aged 10 and 12.
"It is no free lunch," she says. "You don't always have the special moments, like ball games or concerts."
Dr. Tim Hall says a two-career couple may also make more sacrifices in terms of making it to the top of their field.
"It might be harder to make it all the way, when compared with a single person or a traditional family, where everything is focused on the one career."
But his wife says that neither women nor men should have to give up careers. She sees both workers and employers accepting job sharing, part-time work, and flexible work hours. She feels corporations should see that such working strategies will benefit both the community and the company.
"They need to recognize that working parents are two working people with different needs. There should be different benefit packages for such families."
The rewards of having both a career and family are the day-to-day satisfactions from both, says her husband.
"People get a sense of identity from both," he says."It makes their lives fuller."
His wife does not think that having two careers in a family breaks up marriages.
"People who have strong marriages stay married," she says. "If a marriage is weak, the stresses of two careers may be the final catalyst, but counselors consistently say that it is not a career per se that breaks up a marriage."