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Guest Column: Can Working Couples Have It All?


We have been on a three-year journey asking the question: Is it possible to change the world, stay in love and raise a healthy family? We were curious and wanted to ask other dual-career families if it was at all possible. When we researched historical heroes who are shining examples of creating societal change, we noticed that the mission was the primary focus, even at the cost of the family unit. Could purposeful work be done in a different way? 

Weekend by weekend, we interviewed couples. Another story, another interview, another point of view. The stories added up, and we saw common threads in the responses to our questions. Similar concepts bubbled to the surface, about how to build a healthy life where love and work were possible. There was a story that needed to be shared. 

We conducted 100 interviews. As we rambled along from interview to interview, in the back of our scientific brains, we kept thinking, “This is not enough information to make an accurate assessment.” (One of us is a closet nerd!) Humor us, and our geekiness: 100 subjective stories are helpful, but what if we surveyed a much larger group of people to understand more deeply this navigation of love and work? Enter: Barna Group. 

We instantly connected with Brooke Hempell, senior vice president of research at Barna and a working mom with two young children. “I want to do this,” she said. “This is exactly the tension I feel on a daily basis, and I am so interested in the data we could uncover.”

Together, we surveyed 1,501 committed couples. So, what did the research reveal?

83% of couples say that work has made them better parents. 

Record scratch. Wait. What? 

That was the last thing we expected to uncover with this survey. We imagined that working made everything more difficult in the home. That working plus managing kids’ schedules, practices, activities, homework and general chaos made parents crazier, not better. Yet, when reflecting on our own lives, we see that work has given us purpose, a place (away from home) to use our gifts to contribute to a community beyond our bubble. Work tethers us back to our true selves, the individual person who was there even before kids and the unique identity we always will be. Work is a part of us, but not all of us. Mothering and fathering is a part of us, but not all of us. They both have their significance in different ways, and they both matter. 

Another interesting statistic uncovered:

Only 3 in 10 people feel encouraged by their partner to pursue their work and dreams. 

This statistic hurts our hearts, as a couple on the same team. Only about 30 percent feel encouraged by their partner to go after their dreams! This number needs to be higher. We believe that learning to love the purpose of your partner is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give. But this is a learning process. As individuals, we may be drawn to very different work (in our case, a first responder and a non-profit founder), but we can still be drawn toward each other. It is in loving each other, loving what we do and loving each other’s purpose that a lifetime of true partnership is created. A lifetime of partnership means that as you progress together—through highs and lows, paychecks and gaps, moments of courage and moments of fear, changing seasons of opportunities and losses—you will support, celebrate and fight for your partner in their journey of finding their purpose. 

25% of men say their spouse has sacrificed their work / interests for their job, compared to 13% of women who say their spouse has sacrificed for them. 

This statistic stirred up a lot of questions in our partnership. Why are women perceived as sacrificing their work more than are men? Are marriages still following gender norms in regard to work, even though the workplace itself has changed? Whether we’re looking at the 25 percent or 13 percent … aren’t these low percentages for what should be a shared endeavor? Something has to give, but who is actually giving?

During this COVID-19 season, there has been a lot of talk about how this pandemic may force working moms out of the workforce. Couples need to pause and take inventory. Are you stopping and listening to your partner and helping them pursue their dreams as much as your own? Are you encouraging each other to dream and pursue passions? How are you deciding who should sacrifice? How do you learn to make tradeoffs without forfeiting the health of your family or home life?

In the time of COVID-19, we are all learning that we need to sacrifice. Many of our kids are home and in virtual school, many of us have virtual jobs now, many of us have lost jobs. There is a lot of sacrifice and strain that is happening within marriages and families right now. May we hold onto the “same team” mentality—that as working couples living out our purpose, we are in this together, as partners that love each other, and we can encourage each other and sacrifice for each other. 

Both. And. Together. 

This exclusive national research study is featured in a compelling new book entitled: Love or Work: Is it Possible to Change the World, Stay in Love & Raise a Healthy Family by André and Jeff Shinabarger. Purchase your book today.

To stay up to date on everything Love or Work, follow André and Jeff on Instagram or subscribe to their podcast.

Jeff Shinabarger is the co-author of Love or Work: Is it Possible to Change the World, Stay in Love & Raise a Healthy Family? and founder of Plywood People, a non-profit in Atlanta leading a community of startups doing good. His work has been featured by Forbes, Inc., CNN, USA Weekend and Huffington Post. He is the co-founder of Q, has mentored over 600 start-ups and created the largest social entrepreneur event in the South called Plywood Presents.

André Shinabarger is an adventurer who loves seeing the world. Born in Bolivia, she has a deep passion for building community with marginalized people groups. She works for Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta as a Physician Assistant and is an adjunct professor for Emory University. She is an Advisor to Plywood People, host of the Love or Work Podcast and co-author of the Love or Work book.

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