Four reasons why an equal, dual-career relationship will make you happier

What a dual-career approach means

  • Primary-secondary: One of the two careers always comes first. This does not mean the one in the secondary role has to give up their career or work part-time. It just means that when moving up the career ladder and making decisions such as relocations, the primary career is prioritized. This is basically a ‘dual-career light’, an approach where both partners work and probably also share the workload at home, but the one in the secondary role will regularly contribute more to housework and childcare. This has never been more obvious than in the pandemic, where when difficult decisions are required, it is usually the woman who has step back or even give up her career to make it work. In times of crisis, the primary-secondary model tends to shift to the old-fashioned single-career approach.
  • Turn-taking: Both partners get to be ‘primary’ in different periods of their careers. For example, one gets a promotion and really needs to make time for the new responsibilities, so the other carries a larger burden at home. Then things settle down for the promoted partner and they switch, easing the way for the other partner to achieve their promotion and focus on the new career step. These periods can last a few years each or even longer.
  • Double primary: Both careers stay roughly equally important, though there might be small shifts at any given time. This model is different from turn-taking in the flexibility it both gives and requires. If one gets a promotion, they might need some more time, but both partners still adjust constantly so that the other can work on their own career at the same time. Think of this as a daily turn-taking.

Four ways the double primary model will push you towards happiness

  1. Communication is key. No surprise! Again, the key to happiness is not the double primary model itself, but the fact that it forces you to communicate your needs and organize your daily routines so that both partners are equally considered. You learn not to take the others’ work for granted. You adjust your day according to both of your needs, making compromises every day.
  2. Unpaid work is appreciated. Staying home and taking care of the entire housework, not to mention children if you have any, can be more tiresome than your average day at the office, yet tends to go unappreciated because you do not contribute to the income. It may still work for some couples. But in dual-career relationships, appreciation comes automatically because both need to do unpaid work and both learn to be grateful when the other takes over more household duties than normally.
  3. More quality time as a family. This is not as obvious, but when you share your daily routine as a team, you tend to have the same stress levels and the same amount of free time. You are more inclined to spend that free time with each other. During my maternal leaves, I sometimes felt as if I was working from dawn to dusk; while my significant other was relaxing after work or playing with the kids for the first time in the day, I was still busy with another to-do on my list. Now, we communicate daily (see point 1) when we are ready to fetch the kids and drive home together, and when we are home, we decide what needs to be done and what can wait so we can spend more time as a family.
  4. You are happier with yourself. If you cut back your career, you earn less, you are less independent, you feel less fulfilled and you still have so much to do at home that it is seldomly outweighed by having more free time or quality time with your children. If you are the primary or sole income earner, you will feel the additional pressure and sometimes guilt towards your partner, and perhaps you will strive to be an overarchiever at the cost of family time. It is much easier to give away 20% so that your partner can also have a satisfying career.

Dual-career also means you will both only reach 80%

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