Some of the couples that we work with can pinpoint the reason for their struggles to a specific event–the affair, the moment of intense, violent anger, the relapse. However, many of our couples enter the first session with exhausted expressions. Both partners have full-time jobs, a growing trend (both partners work in 59% of two-parent American families), but also a necessity for survival, as Boston is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. These couples play multiple roles–partner, parent, and employee–and struggle with juggling each of these tasks. One of these roles (generally, the role of partner) often takes a backseat to prevent a stressful situation from becoming completely overwhelming.
The Pew Research Center recently published a chart that highlights the stressful schedules that dual-income families keep. On average, dual-income fathers work more than 40 hours a week. The average dual-income mother works almost as much to maintain the needs of the house and children as she does in her actual paying job. The average father spends an hour a day in activities strictly devoted to his children; the average mother spends just under two hours a day connecting with her children. This chart accounts for almost 60 hours a week.
Notice that the chart doesn’t account for time partners spend together. Perhaps the Pew Research Center didn’t assess for that in this particular survey. Nevertheless, as dual-income couples attend to the needs of their jobs, homes, and children, often their relationships suffer as they want to spend their remaining hours decompressing in isolation or sleeping.
Many of our couples try to justify their prioritization strategies, claiming that the extra shift they pulled, for example, is to provide for the family. The reality is, dual-income families, particularly those with children, require tons of effort as adults shift in and out of the roles and expectations of partner, parent, and co-worker. Here are some tips that can help couples find a balance between these roles, with the ability to reduce stress and increase the amount of time you and your partner can spend together.
1) The relationship with your significant other comes first. Many families establish their calendars around work and children’s obligations, while hoping to find gaps in their schedules for date nights. Prioritize your schedule so that date nights are the first things that enter your calendar each week, and organize other family events around shared partner time.
2) Identify core beliefs about what it means to be a good parent and partner. How much time and money should be spent with/on the children? How much do we want to rely on a support network to help us rear our children? Is organized childcare worth the financial and emotional investment? These core values should establish future decisions about the details of daily decisions, such as whether or not to pick up the extra shift at work.
3) Identify your village. There’s a tendency to think that others are just as busy as you are and may not have the time or willingness to help your family, an assumption that prevents many families from opening their social network. Who are people that can provide babysitting services? Who can pick up your children in case of an emergency? It’s important to mix your community with family members and non-related friends. Many families fear asking others because they don’t want to be a burden; overcome that by offering to reciprocate services
4) Initiate flexibility in your job. How flexible can your schedule be? Is it possible to work from home? Can you work four longer days and take Fridays off? Depending on the flexibility and family-friendliness of your office, you can define your schedule so that one of you can leave early to begin the afternoon with your children or carve out some time during the day to share breakfast/lunch together. Many people don’t realize the flexibility in their occupation because they don’t talk with their boss or management about their needs. You may discover you have limited adjustability with your schedule, but the only way you’ll find out is if you ask.
5) Strive for equity with your partner in the decision-making process. Define clear parenting and housekeeping expectations for you and your partner. If you can’t take time off together, alternate duties such as picking up the kids and running errands. Many couples develop unproductive patterns where one partner perceives they do (or actually do) more than the other, which increases the potential for blame.