Jasmine and Alejandro met in their late 20s in Toronto. For the first three years, their relationship flourished and their careers prospered in parallel. Then, just as they were planning their wedding, Jasmine was unexpectedly offered her dream promotion, which would put her at the cutting edge of her field, provide plenty of learning and likely accelerate her career. But it was based in Vancouver.
The couple knew that living more than 2,700 miles apart was not for them. But Alejandro’s company had no office in Vancouver. He considered resigning and looking for a job on the West Coast of Canada. She considered forgoing the promotion. Until this point, they had never discussed the possibility of leaving Toronto, or thought of their careers as anything but independent. Suddenly they found themselves paralyzed by the choice and unable to decide how to move forward.
A geographic relocation, an unexpected layoff, a new baby, a serious illness, a decision to join two families from previous marriages — these are all life events that can force couples to shift from having parallel career and life paths, to combining their lives into a joint one. This kind of transition raises a critical question that all working couples must face: How can we make this work?
I spoke with scores of dual-career couples over the course of five years to research how they worked together to develop two careers they were proud of and a fulfilling relationship. I found that the most successful couples figured this out deliberately and together — and I’ve consolidated what I learned from these successful couples into a tool that I call couple contracting. A couple contract is not designed to tackle specific challenges. Instead, it is designed to help couples map out and agree on what really matters to them over the long-term. Having this explicit agreement makes it easier for couples to navigate the many transitions they will face across their working lives together. If you create a roadmap for how to face unexpected challenges now, those challenges will be far less daunting when they arise.