Although the number of dual-career couples is rising, equal partnerships have not necessarily become the norm. Despite much talk about splitting housework, there is a surprising lack of guidance on how exactly to address the deeper challenges that these couples face, such as when and where to relocate, how to split parenting responsibilities, or how to honor both partners’ ambitions. I have spent the past five years studying more than 100 working couples around the world to learn how they combine two careers and a relationship. Most of the couples I interviewed aspired to split their responsibilities at home and at work equally, but few managed to really do so. For many, resentment and guilt festered, and equality became a mirage.
Through my conversations, I found that the couples who were able to thrive in love and at work had three characteristics in common. They acknowledged that they were not fulfilled in their current working and love lives. They formulated specific, detailed action plans and solutions together that allowed them to equitably divide responsibilities. And they were relentless in keeping each other accountable for living up to that view.
Take Aanya and David (whose names I’ve changed to protect their privacy). A couple in their mid-30s, they were both committed to their fast-track careers, to each other, and to a 50/50 marriage. When their first child was born, both were excited to invest in their new family and had no doubt that they would share parenting duties equally. A few months in, however, they were a long way from their ideal.