Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Dual Career Dilemmas

I recently rendezvoused with a 20-something friend, Eileen, who lives in Washington, DC. Our conversation are always energizing as we exchange personal and professional updates and talk about what each of us are striving to achieve. Eileen is finishing up a 2-year gig and will be applying to graduate programs in various geographic hubs. Why? Her significant other, who lives 1,200 miles away, will also be in transition and they are determined to be within the same geographic axis to reduce the distance in their long-distance relationship.

Couple Chaos

Eileen’s situation is not unique; it is a challenge that dual career couples face on a regular basis. It is also one that can create couple chaos and bog down a relationship. My husband and I faced a similar situation several years ago. After finishing graduate school, we moved from Texas to Pennsylvania for my job. My husband found a job fairly quickly with a software startup and everything was hunky dory.

A year and one winter later, I caved. Missing my family, friends and familiar surroundings, I wanted to move back to Texas – but my husband liked his job and wanted to stay put. The ‘to move or not to move” exchange began to dominate our discussions. I became preoccupied with making my case and formulating a strategy for returning back to Texas.

Approaching the Issue

Finally, in a moment of calm, we hatched a plan: every 3 years we would revisit the question about where we wanted to live, alternating who had veto power. Since I had moved us to Pennsylvania, my husband would cast the deciding vote in year 3; in another 3 years, it would be my turn. This allowed us to take a hiatus from discussing and debating any moves and refocus ourselves on the here and now. At the 3-year mark, we talked about where we wanted to live. At that point, I enjoyed work and we had made considerable friends and a real home in Pennsylvania, so we stayed.

No couple can endure the constant banter and debate that can come with being a dual career couple. Finding an approach that helps halt the endless deliberations will allow you to move on and enjoy your lives together.

…And, Today

Down the road, several years later, we faced the question again. I had been offered a position at the University of Texas. Our situation was different and we had considerably more flexibility. What did we decide? It’s a true compromise: I agreed to a half-time position at UT and we split our time between Pennsylvania and Texas. And, we’re happy.

How have you approached dual career issues? What’s worked for you? What’s gotten in the way? Share your stories. Ask your questions.

Janet Walkow is the Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer of the Drug Dynamics Institute at The University of Texas and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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