What is a work-linked couple?
As the phrase implies, work-linked couples are those couples in a romantic relationship whose professional identities overlap by the couple either working together or working at the same organization. In the military, these couples are known as dual-military or mil-to-mil couples, such that both partners are service members. Recently, researchers sat down with individuals in dual-military couple relationships to better understand work-linked couples within the military. Most commonly, dual-military couples spoke about the benefits and challenges related to work-linked schedules and experiences.
As any service member can attest, work schedules in the military can change on a whim. Dual-military couples are in a unique position to understand abrupt work scheduling changes. This mutual understanding may allow dual-military couples to better empathize with demanding and unpredictable work schedules. Nevertheless, empathy can only go so far. Dual-military couples must also balance the competing demands of work with completing personal responsibilities (e.g., attending family events, doing chores). This balance is difficult when both partners have schedules that are demanding and sometimes difficult to predict. The key to this balancing act, according to individuals in dual-military couples, is to create flexible plans. Dual-military couples can do this by:
- Planning multiple date/quality time options – Think about a few different date ideas (a walk, movie at home, dinner date), and determine which activities work best for your schedules week by week.
- Making a weekly chore schedule that rotates household tasks – This approach creates shared meaning about what needs to be done around the house so that each individual can pitch in as time permits.
- Planning backwards – As a couple, put all the events on the calendar and then see if there are some you can take off, combine, or reduce to have more time with your significant other.
Working in the military can be quite different from civilian jobs. The policies, procedures, credentials, and endless acronyms can be difficult for civilian spouses to grasp. Dual-military couples have an in-depth understanding of the military and may be better able to leverage their knowledge to support each other’s work. With that said, dual-military couples must also make a concerted effort to maintain appropriate work-family boundaries. Bringing up family concerns at work or having relationship disagreements with a partner at work can be viewed as unprofessional and may create an unpleasant work environment for fellow service members. To help manage these issues, it is important to recognize that there is a time and place for family conversations. Here are some tips to help you uphold appropriate work-family boundaries:
- Designate when to have family conversations, especially difficult ones – This boundary-setting can allow dual-military couples to feel mentally prepared to have a conversation.
- Designate when (not) to have work conversations – Although work and family are often intertwined, setting aside time to focus on shared leisure and enjoying down time without talking about work helps to create some boundaries between work and family time.
- Consider couples therapy – Couples therapy is not only for when partners are struggling; it can also be utilized as a relationship “checkup.” A couples therapist can help guide you through difficult conversations and help provide communication skills that work for your relationship.