One facet of my novel, Playing the Game, relates to the marriages of three corporate executives. Each of these three couples interacts differently, though each is typical of how many married professional couples handle their relationships. Each of the three models can be a successful method of balancing work and marriage, and each has its risks.
1. Working Spouse/Stay-at-Home Spouse
The CEO of Playing, Rick Players, and his wife Paige have the most “traditional” marriage. He works and spends most of his time at the office, sometimes happily, sometimes not. Meanwhile, Paige manages the home and children and volunteers in community organizations.
This clear delineation of responsibilities between the spouses offers clarity. However, if either partner changes their desires or expectations, the clarity vanishes. When that happens, the partners may not have much basis for finding or accepting a new equilibrium.
2. Spouses With Similar Careers
Grant Mason and his wife Linda both work at PlayLand. Grant is the VP of Operations and Linda Mason is the Staffing Director in Human Resources. Although Grant has the higher level position, Linda pushes him to be more ambitious, based on what she knows from her HR role and her perceptions of corporate politics.
When both partners work in the same organization (or when they work in the same field in different organizations, such as when both spouses are lawyers), they can develop a strong understanding of the other’s career successes and frustrations. But when one career takes off and the other does not, the balance shifts. Whether the partners can shift along with changing fortunes determines whether the marriage will survive.
3. Partners at Home, Separate at Work
Maura Ramirez and her husband Carlos seem to have the most peer-like relationship at home. She is VP of Human Resources at PlayLand and Carlos runs his own construction company. They juggle their children as many working couples do—negotiating on a daily basis which partner will do what.
While equality between the partners may seem like today’s ideal relationship, anyone who has tried it knows that the ideal is never reached. Given the vicissitudes of life, the balance that works one day does not work the next, and there is a constant struggle to find a lasting stability. Petty arguments can erupt daily.
Through the course of the novel, the equilibrium in each of these three marriages shifts in subtle ways. Rick is injured. Career paths change. Work obligations interfere with family, and vice versa. How the three couples accommodate these shifts is integral to the plot.
Obviously, no marriage fits any of these models exactly. Most marriages and domestic partnerships these days combine aspects of all three. And there are other models of partnering not depicted in the novel, and different life stages requiring different accommodations. (All of these couples are heterosexual and past prime child-bearing age.)
I hope that readers of Playing the Game will think about what in these marriages is working and not working for each couple, and how similar or different each couple is to readers’ own experience.
What advice do you think each of these six characters would have for married couples struggling to balance home and work obligations?