The good news is that divorce rates in America are going down.
The bad news is that Americans tend to work insane, relationship-damaging hours.
According to a Gallup poll released earlier this year, the average American worker logs 46.7 hours a week.
A full 39% of people report working over 50 hours a week, enough to qualify them as “workaholics” — people who, by the way, have double the divorce rate of the rest of the population.
Which presents the bind that hard-charging careerists are in: Is it possible to put in the hours to make it to the top professionally while also nurturing a mutually life-affirming relationship?
Can we, in other words, have it all?
Some people do. Consider the case of Jessica Jackley and Reza Aslan, parents of twin three-year-old boys and a new baby due in January. You may recognise their names. Jackley cofounded the microfinance site Kiva and the crowdfunding platform Profounder and has her first book coming out next year. Aslan teaches religious studies at the University of Southern California and authored “Zealot,” a book about the historical Jesus that set off a storm of internet outrage on its way to the bestseller list.
They work a lot. Aslan works 70 hours a week; Jackley is working 30 to 40 hours a week less than a month away from giving birth. Yet for all their productivity, they spend lots of time together — thanks to how they have structured their professional lives.
“Both of us have incredible flexibility,” Jackley tells Business Insider. “We get to be together a lot, not just with each other, but with our kids. Even if we’re tucked into the office for a quick call and someone falls and needs mama or dada, we’re right there.”
This is made possible by a few things. First, they can afford to have help. Beatriz, a nanny, spends about 30 hours a week with the family, including travel. They also eat breakfast with the twins every day, providing family time first thing in the morning.
Jackley and Aslan both do lots of speaking and have the same speaking agency, so they book talks strategically. For example, last year they each had lectures in Las Vegas and Miami within 24 hours of each other, so they made the trips as a family.
The couple also has a shared calendar, and they’re not afraid of moving one another’s appointments. And perhaps most importantly, the two of them escape for a retreat at the end of each year, where they can dream about their individual and shared goals.
It seems as if the family is run like a startup, which experts say may be the best way to approach a relationship.
As we’ve noted before, businesses and marriages often fail for the same reasons: not learning from experience, not adapting to disruptive change, and not planning for the future.
“Most couples stop thinking critically about their relationships after the honeymoon stage,” couples therapist Peter Pearson tells Business Insider. “After they get married, they just assume that things will work out.”
He sees it all the time in his practice at The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California, the heart of Silicon Valley.
“But [getting married] is no different than two people beginning a startup company,” he explains. “No two people would ever begin a startup company thinking, ‘Well, now that we started it, we don’t need to talk about it anymore.'”
Quality communication is the core of any relationship. But it doesn’t happen by accident; like a successful business, you need to have systems.
Research shows that it’s important to have a structure in place to deal with the menace of household chores. A UCLA study that tracked the lives of 32 dual-earning families from 2001 to 2004 found that “couples who don’t have a system for household tasks can get really resentful, really quickly,”
according to the Atlantic.
Similarly, Northwestern psychologist Lesley Seeger says that couples should take time every week — say, Sunday night — to make sure that their schedules are aligned. Seeger suggests asking questions like
: What’s on my spouse’s schedule? What’s on my schedule? What do we feel about our respective duties together?
Just like an organisation might have weekly meetings to get everybody on the same page, couples need to give themselves the space and time to imagine their future.
Jackley and Aslan’s annual retreat is a great example of this in practice. Ever since they met five years ago, they have been taking this weeklong vacation. The kids go to hang with the grandparents, and the two of them find a quiet corner of the world, either near their Los Angeles home or as far away as Argentina, to forecast the coming year.
“It’s not one [New Year’s] resolution,” Jackley explains. “We map out all the areas of our lives: individually, together, family, professional, everything, and talk about our hopes and dreams.”
They then pin those aspirations to the wall of their shared office to guide them throughout the next year.
Far from fanciful, plotting out your shared destinies is essential to nurturing a long-term relationship. And Pearson, the couples therapist, says “date night” can’t possibly be enough.
“You’re going to need something more exciting to pull you through those low spots,” says Pearson. He encourages couples to think about goals that “excite their imagination.”
Pearson’s advice: “Look for a joint endeavour.” Then, you can have the adventure together.
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