Overview (Spoilers Abound):
A few weeks ago Luke and I went experienced the joys of a labor and delivery/newborn class through our local hospital. Interestingly, one segment of the class we weren’t expecting to be included was a local marriage counselor, who popped into give a brief spiel about how having a newborn can change and stress relationship dynamics. It was a fascinated talk and honestly very business smart on his end as it is a relatively painless way for him to get his name out into the community. One of the books he recommended was Couples that Work, which immediately piqued our curiosity as Petriglieri focuses on a topic that Luke and I have much debated from early on in our relationship and is likely due in part as to why we waited so long to have kids. This much debated subject is on dual career couples, specifically for Luke and I who are both driven in our respective fields, how to navigate a relationship in a way that both couples feel validated and prevent any resentment from building as one career might take precedence over another.
Petriglieri doesn’t necessarily focus specifically on our situation but she has interviewed hundreds of couples and found that generally relationships take on three different transitions during which the couples must tackle and evolve together to be successful and happy in their lives. I found her proposed transitions to both be realistic and applicable in my own life, even though we are just coming up on our second, first transition. That is one key question I had for her, post-read was if couples could experience the same transitions step twice. Her first transition revolves around a first major change and realignment of priorities, such as moving as a couple for a job or having children. I enjoyed Petriglieri’s break down of how a couple can assign career priorities such as having one member of the couple having the job priority, or perhaps the roles can switch as some defined point. Even more challenging is having a dual career approach. Interestingly, Petriglieri emphasizes that priorities should not be chosen based on financial implications.
This can also be applied to parenting usually with the career roles reversed. For Luke and I, we feel as though we have already navigated the first transition in our relationship after graduate school. We’d been together for three or so years and were planning on getting married in the distant future when we’d started discussing where we wanted to settle our roots. When we’d started dating I’d rather bluntly informed Luke that we shouldn’t progress to a serious level unless Luke was willing to move cross country upon me graduating with my PhD. As he was in a job at the time that wasn’t a great fit for him, he easily approved of this plan. Fast forward three years and Luke had stumbled into his dream job where he was thriving and for him moving was no longer in the cards. It was a life altering conversation when we both realized that despite loving each other and wanting to plan our future together, what we wanted out of our careers might be coming to an insurmountable impasse. It was a pretty devastation revelation for both of us. Over the next six weeks or so we revisited this topic over and over and over again as we mulled over our feelings and really defined what our goals were. These conversations were in no way fun, but both of us approached the subject from a position of respect. Eventually, we mapped out what our personal priorities were, whereupon Luke came up with a compromise that allowed us both to feel fulfilled and allowed us to build a life that has been happy and busy.
Now with Baby O making her debut in approximately five weeks, those conversations have been back and taking place for the past year and a half. We are currently operating successfully with Luke having the career priority, and while I still have a career that I enjoy, I get my main fulfillment out of reading, blogging, and traveling. With adding Baby O to the mix, much of the new responsibility will fall in my lap, with me filling the lead parent role. So we find ourselves at the first transition again of how to navigate this change in schedules and priorities without resentment taking root. According to Couples that Work, Luke and I are approaching this the right way by having many open conversations, however we found the book valuable because it added actual terminology and focus to this subject. We haven’t had the easy compromise emerge yet but at least are going into this transition with eyes wide open.
The remainder of the book focuses on the second and third transitions that can loosely be tied to the stereotypical mid-life crisis and then becoming empty nesters, respectively. While those hurdles are still in our future, I appreciated reading about these time periods to hopefully identify them before they gain too much of a foothold. Overall, Couples that Work is an interesting read that is applicable to any couple that is driven and career focused. This read managed to both validate the conversations Luke and I have been having as we edge ever closer to another transition, while providing new prospective and focus