There’s the sort of couple that draws admiring glances from other couples — one partner is a head honcho at some big-name company and the other is a head honcho at another big-name company, and together they have three kids who all look to be healthy and not wanting for parental attention.
What’s their secret? the rest of us wonder.
There’s no one answer, of course. But the overarching theme behind all those varied secrets may be that, before the couple got married or got serious in their relationship, they talked about their individual professional ambitions.
According to Joann Lublin, author of the new book “Earning It” and management news editor at The Wall Street Journal, communicating about your respective career plans is crucial to any successful partnership. That might sound overly simple — but it’s all too easy for couples to leave that issue to fate, or to wait until a specific problem comes up to tackle it.
For “Earning It,” Lublin interviewed dozens of high-powered women about the personal and professional obstacles they overcame on the path to success. But perhaps the most interesting parts of “Earning It” are those in which Lublin shares her own experiences being married to a fellow journalist, and the resulting frustrations.
Lublin met her now-husband, Mike, while they were working for the college newspaper at Northwestern University, she told Business Insider. Both planned to pursue careers as professional journalists — something they correctly anticipated would be difficult to manage.
Before they got married, in 1972, they signed a “marriage contract.” In the book, Lublin explains that the couple hired a lawyer to draw up a contract in which they agreed that they would alternate who took the lead in any relocation for a job.
And indeed, there would be many joint relocations — from San Francisco, back to Evanston, Illinois, to Washington DC, and to London, for example. At one point, Lublin writes, she realised she had disrupted the pattern of alternating career moves by initiating a move twice in a row. Her husband burst out: “I am tired of being the suitcase to your career moves!”
Lublin writes: “My husband’s subsequent outburst of frustration made me recognise that each partner in a career couple must occasionally act as baggage and weigh down the other person’s career. The professional price exacted by such trade-offs was preferable to divorce.”
Lublin told me that a marriage contract isn’t necessary for a successful marriage — and as evidenced above, it’s not the cure-all for marital discord. But communicating about your professional priorities is key.
“Whether it’s formal or informal, it’s an issue you need to talk about and you need to talk about early in the relationship,” she said. That’s especially true if you’re planning to have kids (Lublin and her husband have two).
That way, you have a better chance of avoiding what Lublin calls the “blame game.” In other words, one partner might get angry at the other because they have canceled multiple business trips to stay home with the kids while the other partner travels out of town.
“That doesn’t really help human kindness or, much less, marital bliss,” she said.
Since publishing the book, Lublin said she’s had multiple conversations on this topic, especially with ambitious young women who are wondering how they’re going to make their marriage to an equally ambitious person work.
She said: “You’ve got to have this conversation at the outset of your becoming a serious relationship and/or getting married. You have to talk about the fact that you both care deeply about your careers, and at least in principle, agree about how you’re going to manage it.”
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