Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Developmental Aspects of Dual-Career Relationships: Reflections and Issues

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Developmental Aspects of Dual-Career Relationships: Reflections and Issues

Article excerpt

The concept of dual-career couples in student affairs and higher education, while not new, continues to be a growing phenomenon. These dual-career relationships present both professional and personal challenges and require regular adjustments. The authors discuss these challenges and adjustments from both a theoretical and an experiential perspective.

Dual-career couples in student affairs, as in other professions, are becoming increasingly prevalent (Creamer, 2000). Presenting both professional and personal challenges, dual-career relationships require regular adjustments. Astin and Milem (1997) examined employment and career patterns and the stresses experienced by dual-career couples in higher education, and they discussed the evolution of dual careers and the interrelationship of professional and personal adjustments. One noteworthy finding was that dual-career couples with a common academic discipline reported less stress and more satisfaction in their professional and personal lives.

Dual-career couples with a common academic discipline are a growing presence in higher education. Creamer (2000) has noted, for example, that 35% of full-time higher education faculty members have a spouse or partner in the same profession. As a dual-career couple sharing a common academic discipline (counseling psychology and student affairs), we describe in this paper the challenges and adjustments of dual-career heterosexual relationships from a developmental perspective and discuss such relationships from both a reflective (experiential) and a theoretical basis. We propose that heterosexual dual-career relationships develop in a three-stage process across the lifespan, and that the stages - exploration, adaptation, and resolution - are interwoven with career development and personal development.

For purposes of this paper, we have used Cron's (2001) definition that a dualcareer relationship is "present when each spouse is pursuing a career that (a) demands a high level of personal commitment, (b) requkes a constant updating of knowledge, and (c) has a component of upward mobility" (p. 18). We have focused our discussion on dual-career, heterosexual marriages, though, of course, many of the issues are relevant in other dual-career relationships. (see Miller and Skeen, 1997, for an excellent discussion of dual-career issues relevant to unmarried and to gay and lesbian couples.)

As a further caveat, it should be noted that basing even tentative hypotheses about dual-career marriages on the limited experiences of a few couples is problematic; there are so many situational determinants that affect relationships that controlling for all potentially relevant variables is virtually impossible. Therefore, our model should be recognized as being in an embryonic stage. Also, we describe the stages from the perspective of our 31-year marriage; we met and married in graduate school and thus embarked on both marriage and careers at the same time. Couples formed after the partners' careers are established or those whose marriages (and, perhaps, children) come long before both partners commit themselves to careers, clearly will have different developmental experiences from those we describe.

Theoretical Model

Our model may also have limited applicability to dual-job relationships where both partners are employed, but only one has a "career." Our proposed theoretical model involves the stage of exploration, adaptation, and resolution.


In our theoretical conceptualization, the exploration stage of dual-career marriages involves both partners in clarifying their individual and shared goals and values, and it requires regular employment of negotiation skills to resolve differences and conflicts. Reported sources of tension include initial job seeking strategies and decisions, the irregular and on-call hours often required of student affairs professionals, and the question of whether to have children. …

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