Tuesday 20 November 2018

Modern couples: Can they ever be successful at the same time?

In a recent interview, Bill Clinton revealed how he had a struck a deal with Hillary 26 years ago that she would put her political ambitions on hold while he was in power.
In a recent interview, Bill Clinton revealed how he had a struck a deal with Hillary 26 years ago that she would put her political ambitions on hold while he was in power.
The see-saw success theory

Aoife Stuart Madge

In a recent interview, Bill Clinton revealed how he had a struck a deal with Hillary 26 years ago that she would put her political ambitions on hold while he was in power.

Now though, the  former US Secretary of State is the bookies favourite for the 2016 presidential Democratic nomination. Last year, Victoria Beckham spearheaded her family's move back to the UK so she could better manage her London-based fashion empire; quid pro quo for David uprooting the family to the US in 2007 while he was signed to LA Galaxy. Angelina Jolie has said that she and Brad take turns accepting movie roles so one of them is always at home to pick the kids up from school. Welcome to the ups and downs of successful 'see-sawers' - couples who alternate career highs, while the other acts as a stabilising force, keeping their feet on the ground.

But it's not just celebrity couples who are adopting the see-saw mould in the name of mutual success. It seems that this generation of career couples are realising that enjoying success in tandem with your partner is often unrealistic - particularly when kids enter the equation - and that modern success works best if you take turns.

"So many clients I coach face burnout because they have become so preoccupied by their work that they have neglected their health, wellbeing and those they love," says Jayne Morris, life coach and author of the upcoming book Burnout to Brilliance: Strategies for Sustainable Success. "As a result they often lose so much - ending up ill for months on end, losing their partners, having broken relationships with their kids, and ironically, often losing the jobs they worked so hard at."

Jayne adds: "For ambitious couples, the solution that many identify with is turn-taking. Having a turn-taking arrangement in a relationship, in order to achieve optimum career success, is often the only option for couples who both want to reach full career potential. This is why we are increasingly seeing couples supporting each other in this way."

Doctors Anna Jackson (35) and her husband Conor (34) are one such couple. They recently struck a Clinton-esque deal to take it in turns to complete their surgical fellowships. So last month, Anna pressed pause on her medical training in Ireland to follow Conor to Auckland, New Zealand, where he is completing an intensive one-year medical fellowship in paediatric surgery. "It's a year of intense experience for Conor," says Anna. "He starts work at 7.15am and often isn't home until after 7pm. On top of that, he is on-call at nights and weekend."

With Conor completing such labour-intensive training, it's fallen to Anna to find the family a house to rent for the year, secure a crèche for their boys, aged three and two, look after their baby daughter, and generally keep the wheels oiled at home. "Anna has taken the pressure off me by taking care of home life so I can concentrate on work. It sounds harsh but it's important for a short, intense period. And it should stand us in good stead in the future," says Conor.

When the year is up, the couple plan to swap roles so that Anna can do her own surgical fellowship. "I know my turn is coming up and when that time comes, Conor will try and take the year away from work to accommodate me. He will work part-time and look after the kids and the house."

In a recent interview, Bill Clinton revealed how he had a struck a deal with Hillary 26 years ago that she would put her political ambitions on hold while he was in power.
In a recent interview, Bill Clinton revealed how he had a struck a deal with Hillary 26 years ago that she would put her political ambitions on hold while he was in power.

For Anna and Conor, the see-saw model is the only workable route to joint success. "There is no way we could do it at the same time. It's just too hard. When you are going hell for leather at work, it is all consuming, and every hour of the day is used up. We are both career-orientated and extremely motivated but you also have to be willing to take a back seat occasionally, look after things at home and let the other person lead," says Anna.

Jane Downes, principal coach at the Clearview Coaching Group, Dublin, says arrangements like Anna and Conor's are increasingly common. "If two people have high-powered or high-input careers, it's about ebbs and flows. It's deciding who is going to the forefront at certain periods in life and who is going to 'gate keep' in the interim. It's all about compromise and communication and a little bit of strategy too."

She adds: "It's about working out who is in the driver's seat at any given time. It takes planning and open lines of communication."

Inevitably, the see-saw ride is not always evenly balanced between a couple - especially when the woman is bearing the brunt of the childcare duties.

Charlotte Hunter (30), a music teacher from County Down, admits that the see-saw has been tipped in favour of her husband Billy, a marine biologist, for almost four years. Recently, Charlotte was forced to quit a permanent teaching post so Billy could take up a research post at Queens University in Belfast. Prior to that, she took a career break to have her son Ruairidh, now two. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Vienna for two years for Billy's work.

"You can never take turns fully evenly; life is too messy," says Charlotte. "From the beginning, it wasn't quite even and it won't be until 10 years down the line. But you need to be really supportive so you don't come into conflict over the fact that it isn't even. Especially if it is going one person's way quite a lot. I would say with Billy, we have been focussing on his career for three or four years. Our hope is that it will even out and we will be doing everything we can as a couple to get me into the position I want to be in with my career, and I couldn't ask for anything more. If we didn't have the support of one another, it would be impossible."

So, is the see-saw method the only way a couple can both enjoy success? Not according to Corinne Mills, MD of Personal Career Management, a company she co-runs with her husband. She argues that the emerging hot-desking working culture and more flexible working arrangements make symbiotic success more attainable than ever. "You have to have a career that has some flexibility," says Corinne. "But people do work more flexibly now and employers are getting better at enabling this."

For couples like Corinne and her husband, enjoying success at the same time as your partner has its upsides: "You can give each other advice, share contacts, and they can be a great sounding board," says Corinne. But it also has its drawbacks: "Where things get tricky is that people want to come home from work and offload to their partner. It can be hard when the partner wants to do their own offload. I think that can cause real friction. In those circumstances, it's really helpful for each person to have another person - a friend or mentor - to whom they can offload."

Louise O'Sullivan (41) is CEO of Dublin-based firm Anam Technologies, and her husband Peter is also a CEO of an oil and gas company. She says being successful at the same time as your partner is only possible with staff to help with childcare duties and military planning. "It's a constant negotiation at the calendar as to who is where at any one time. We try to be at home when the other person is travelling and we have a lady who helps us at home. Support in the home is one of the most important functions I have in my career. I wouldn't even attempt it without help at home."

Louise refuses to subscribe to parental guilt: "Working makes me a better parent. You want to teach your children what it is to make a difference and what it is to work hard.

"We teach our kids that if you want to achieve and if you want to succeed and if you want to make a difference, you have to work very hard at it."

Irish Independent

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