Singaporebrides | The Groom Room

April 2013

Making Working Couples Work

How do we make a dual-career marriage work? Especially when the traditional roles of women as dutiful wives and men as breadwinners have turned on their heads. Fu Jinming explains how a man can – and should – adopt a more supportive role.

They used to say that behind every successful man is a great woman. These days, the opposite may well be as true. With more and more women entering the workforce at the turn of the 21st century, it is not uncommon to find couples in double-income, dual-career marriages.

There are advantages to this. Money, obviously, is a big plus. With an extra source of income, household finances can become a little more comfortable. Pressure on the otherwise-sole breadwinner is eased too. And more money means more possibilities for the family. Suddenly, that year-end vacation to Paris doesn’t seem so unaffordable anymore.

But the pluses go beyond the monetary. When your spouse goes out to work, she brings home more than just the bacon. She returns with fresh perspectives, new ways of seeing and doing things, of solving problems, and even of having fun. All of which can enrich a marriage and broaden your children’s horizons.

Yet, with every silver lining comes a dark cloud. The double-career marriage throws the traditional husband-and-wife model into question. The old distribution of labour is out of whack. We are no longer the “Man of the house”. We don’t get to make all the important decisions at home all the time. And when we do, our decisions are often probed, dissected, challenged, and sometimes, dismissed.

Egos are bruised. Arguments are raised. Unhappiness ensues. Left unchecked, it could leave a serious dent in your marriage. Not to mention a bitter aftertaste.

So what’s a man to do?

Making Working Couples Work

For starters, stop trying so hard to be one.

More specifically, stop trying to exert the old-fashioned ‘listen to thy man” rule on your spouse. Accept that a woman’s role in the house has changed. By that measure, so must a man’s. That means welcoming your wife’s contribution to the working world, supporting her career every step of the way, and understanding that she has as much right to pursue her dreams out of the home as you do.

It also means working better as a team. Household responsibilities will have to be shared. Priorities have to be re-organised. Time has to be managed carefully. And respect has to be mutually shown. Do that, and your marriage will be the richer for it – in more ways than one.

Here are five tips you can follow to make your dual-career marriage a double success.

#1 Make Long-Term Plans Together

Best done before or immediately after your marriage, sit down with your partner and talk about how you’d like the story of your marriage to turn out. Discuss your dreams and aspirations – both for yourselves and the family. Then talk about how you can both achieve them together.

Make practical plans towards your goals. Would she be happy with a life spent with the kids at home while you go out and work? Or would you spend more time at home with the kids doing freelance work, while she works full-time?

It might even be a case of taking turns. You could both work until you have kids, and your wife could decide to switch to being a full-time mum. Or if you’re interested in academia, your wife could support the household financially, while you concentrate on graduate school. Then when you do graduate, take over the breadwinner’s role while she pursues her professional or personal interests.

Making Working Couples Work

#2 Work Out a Schedule

Chances are, you and your wife will come home from a long day at the office tired, hungry and downright cranky. The last thing anybody wants is to ask for dinner, and finding out that neither of you have prepared it. Which could be a recipe for disaster, and a big, fat fight.

All of which could have been avoided had both of you made concrete pre- and after-work plans. Decide who’s sending the kids to school and who’s picking them up. Take turns to prepare dinner or buy take-aways. Draw up a house chore list so you know who’s supposed to do what on which day.

But while it’s good to have a timetable, remember that a little flexibility goes a long way. There will be some days when one or both of you are not able to fulfil your part of the schedule. Rather than playing the blame game, offer to cover that particular errand or chore for your partner. She will appreciate the effort and maturity. Besides, that’s what playing as a team is all about.

#3 Take Time Off

In the midst of the hustle and bustle, it becomes all too easy to forget whom we’re working for. The real boss isn’t the one sitting in the corner office two cubicles down from yours. It’s the one who agreed to spend the rest of her life with you.

So make sure the both of you make time for each other. Plan a trip together. Block out a date for a special dinner. Make it part of your working schedule. And stick to it. Work is important. But it’s nothing compared to the person you’re going to retire with.

#4 Don’t Try To Read Her Mind

If you see that she’s upset about something, don’t guess what it is. Ask her. Chances are, she’s annoyed at something you did or didn’t do. It could be that you forgot to pick up the groceries after work. Or that you’ve forgotten a date the two of you were supposed to be having. Or – heaven forbid – you’ve forgotten your wedding anniversary.

Ask her nicely and calmly what it is she’s upset about, and how you can make it better. Don’t snap at her, or become defensive. Don’t blame work for your oversight – it’ll just make matters worse. Instead, apologise and promise it’ll never happen again. Then order a bouquet of flowers for her the very next day.

Remember that you’re not likely to win this one. And that the word “sorry” is free.

Making Working Couples Work

#5 Be a Pain Killer

Whenever your wife is distressed by something at work, fight the male impulse to fix the problem. Rather, open up your ears and offer yourself as a “pain killer”. When women talk about their problems or frustrations, they don’t necessarily want you to provide all the answers. What they simply need is someone who’ll listen.

So focus less on being a problem solver, and more on being a husband. Be supportive. Be honest. And most importantly, be there for her. Always.