The popular question ‘how do you balance work and family?’ is often directed at successful women than men. We use the terms ‘career woman’ and ‘family man’ to appreciate the somewhat uniqueness of women who give their careers a high priority – sometimes with a negative connotation - and men who give their family the highest priority. But: why do such situations exist?
Well, one reason is that women are natural caretakers and supporters. This is an undeniable truth, as they take care of their children, spouses and aging parents. They are expected to support their husbands’ careers. But when things go sour in a relationship, whose career takes the most hit?
Books have been written to advise women on how to achieve career success, to break the proverbial glass ceiling. But, this advice is mostly given on the assumption that the woman operates solo, without the influence of her husband’s career and other family dynamics. But, the truth is that the professional and love lives - especially for the woman - are intertwined to the extent that if one goes down, it may take down the other with it.
I ran a public poll on Twitter recently asking to what extent women give up their dreams because of marriage – whether it is few, some or most. A majority of the voters said ‘most!’ Clearly, there is some truth is this. And, if so, the link between ‘work’ and ‘love’ deserves much more attention in efforts to promote women empowerment and gender balance at the workplace.
‘Behind every successful man is a (supportive) woman’
The ‘support role’ is almost intrinsic to women and it is of course a wonderful thing. But: how far can it go - and at what cost? The key thing here is that this support is supposed to be a two-way traffic. ‘Dual-career’ couples are increasingly common in the developed world. As such, each partner needs as much support from the other as possible.
But, if the support is mainly one way, the woman is left at the mercy of the relationship going well – when she is able to support the man. But what happens when there is no common ground in the relationship? The woman loses her footing - both on the ‘supportive partner’ role, and on her career. Feeling trapped, she spends years darting from one motivational speaker to another seeking ‘relationship fixers’ - and, before she knows it, she is left holding on to the relationship because it is too expensive to leave.
Be nice. Don’t be aggressive. Don’t be loud. Don’t let out your frustration to your husband when he is tired, when he has just come from work. This is a common advice to women, some of it starting from when they are girls. However, this is definitely good advice for anyone regardless of their gender. But, being nice sometimes translates into the woman forgoing her wishes and desires - suppressing her emotions until the time when it is best suitable for the man. However, if there is a career and wellbeing at risk in the name of being ‘nice,’ the diplomacy needs to be more candid - and two-way.
Humans are emotional beings - and, perhaps more so: women. When relationships are not going well, women run the risk of finding themselves in an emotional rabbit hole, digging out and healing with one emotion after another; letting their career take the back seat. Family and career are both important - not only for the financial wellbeing of the family, but also for the general wellbeing of the couple. Everyone loves to work towards some purpose in life, and that purpose can come from a fulfilling career. If women are more prone to letting emotional residues from family quarrels spill over to their career, then again, clearly, more debates about the work-life/love-life relationship can instigate awareness, leading to possible solution(s).
The fact is that dual-career couples face more frequent and unique challenges in keeping both their career and family afloat. In addition to transparent communication about these unique challenges, public debate and professional advice can help couples steer through these turbulent times - and also, acknowledge what the woman can effectively do under the circumstances, and together devising solutions. And, of course, never forgetting that ‘it takes two to tango!’