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Anne Zimmerman

Anne Zimmerman

December 23, 2014

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Power couple: Whose Career Takes Priority?

Having trouble balancing two high-octane careers? One of you has a great opportunity… a state away? How do modern power couples make it work?

Recently, I was wondering the same thing. I am lucky enough to have a boyfriend who cares almost as much about my career as he does his own. Together we are hardworking, ambitious and successful, and our friends often refer to us as a “power couple”. We’re passionate about each other and our work and are always trying to find time for the other; as he likes to say, we strive for equality. All has been fine and dandy, but recently, our egalitarian relationship has been put to the test and we’ve been forced to negotiate whose career REALLY comes first.

What happened to jostle my perfect 21st century relationship? Well, we decided to think about living together. There was just one tiny problem—we reside in two separate states. This meant one person was going to have to pick up and move to a new city and get a new job.

Early in the discussion about who should move, we made the usual lists: which city had the best restaurants, the best parks, which was cheaper. Soon the conversation turned to reality. And the reality was that he makes significantly more money then I do.

The answer seemed clear: I was going to have to uproot my job and my life to promote his. Needless to say, this was not the right answer for either of us. I looked at other successful couples I knew and wondered how they determined whose career comes first.

Not so long ago the man’s career always took precedence. Men and women abided by stricter gender roles: the man went to work every day and the woman supported him by staying home, keeping the kids happy and the house clean.

Things are very different today and deciding whose career is the top priority can be a struggle. By my count, there are several obvious things that can make one job more important: who makes more, who has been in the workforce longer, who is most satisfied in their current position. Some other factors can include whose job is more “valuable.” Working for a non-profit may not be profitable, but the job benefits the common good. A person in law school may not have a large salary but it is sure to increase at the end of three years.

What I have found is that for ambitious couples, flexibility may be the key to a happy two-career relationship. I now view my potential move as an opportunity to switch gears and pursue my dream of writing a book. A move that initially seemed like a sacrifice now genuinely feels like an opportunity.

Despite my optimism, the nagging feeling that his job is more important than mine persists. I am working on breathing deep and trying to come to terms with the idea that in any successful relationship there must be compromise and understanding because it is inevitable that at different times and for different reasons either of our jobs may take the top spot.

It all comes down to the idea of the power couple and what it means. For me, more then work ethic, ambition, and money, being one half of a power couple means that though we’re both successful on our own, and our true power comes from our shared strength. We’ll get even bigger and better by valuing both of our capabilities. That’s a pretty powerful idea I can get excited about.