Couples and Career Transitions: 3 Steps to Effectively Work Together

These days, positive career transitions come in a variety of forms. It may be a new position or launching a new career. More often they are tied to:

  • Advancement in company leadership and scope
  • Development or growth of skills
  • Anticipating an exit and next iteration with thoughtful succession planning.

No matter how welcomed, job changes and career transitions are stressful. They are stressful when you are growing within a company at the same office. Such stress is compounded when transitions are required frequently. And, they are even more stressful when they involve relocation to another city or even another country.

And as you move along a career and chronological path, chances are your choices involve not only you, but typically a mate and family as you achieve more of your personal dreams and take on more life responsibilities.

Think about these folks:

Matt is a late-40’s, seasoned business leader in a global company overseeing thousands of employees in multiple countries. He also has a family and nearly middle-school aged kids. This wasn’t always so. He started out single and fresh out of grad school like most. He has successfully grown in his company and career through thoughtful mentoring and by carefully partnering with his wife and now kids every step along the way. In that process, career growth demanded national and global relocations. He and his family have moved 5 times internationally in 10-11 years. At the right time they’ll return to home-base.

At one end of the career continuum there is Mary Beth.

Mary Beth is 25 and with an international company training skills through rigorous stints in various departments over a fast-track 3 year development program. She’s moved 5 times in the last three years, every 9 – 11 months. Great experience, she’s done a great job, but she’s a bit worn-out, ready to settle down in her current location, engage in a more robust social life, decorate her sweet apartment and figure out how she’s going to integrate some of her other desires for marriage and family along with her career. It will be interesting to observe her choices as she transitions into this next phase.

At the other end of the continuum is Harold.

Harold is in his 60’s with a member of a successful professional partnership. He’s worked hard and grown within the firm while raising his family. His grown kids are going through their own transitions and the family is anticipating a second grandchild. While he still enjoys his clients, work is not everything on Harold’s mind as he thinks about his future and plans for 7-10 years out. He and his wife of 32 years are putting some attention to talking about their next phase, individually and together—finances, fun and location are in the mix, along with practicing some of the changes now. This thoughtfulness will impact discussions within his firm going forward.

All of these individuals have been able to go further, faster, enjoy and be in-the-moment with each phase of recent years because their decisions are built on the following foundation they revisit at every choice point.

If you are anticipating or experiencing a transition, it may feel like you have no time for such a check-in with yourself and your loved ones. However, these 3 Steps will save you from another kind of stress down the road—that’s the stress of having made a hasty decision that backfires and requires a redo or detours your career and personal path.


Step 1: Revisit Your Core Values

Core values are fairly consistent over, but some may come to the fore depending on what’s going on in your career and personal life. It’s grounding when you do this individually and know you are on the right path; it’s especially helpful to do this with your mate and family members to give a meaningful context to how your career is going to impact their lives. It’s a way to reassure that their needs are also addressed in your changes. When they are content and you’re all connected, you’ll have more energy to focus on your work at work, and enjoy the family when you are together.


Step 2: Vision and Revision The Next Phase

This is an honest look at what the next phase is going to require of you time and energy-wise and how it will impact the people around you. Consciously get a handle on as much as you know and then have a discussion (realistically, more than one) with your mate and kids.

People do better when they have a framework or structure. Your spouse will feel respected and your kids will feel less anxious if you all communicate about what’s happening.

Talk about length of time for the whole assignment (see how Mary Beth knew this was a 3 year stint. Matt and his wife had a sense from the company and some input about their personal desires as they moved around the globe.) Discuss as much as you know about the relocation process itself and then what life might look like when you have settled. Make a schedule of family time and work time that can be counted on as much as possible. Once you are in a new position and/or location, be sure to Re-Vision and communicate together so everyone has information.


Step 3: Set Goals, Achieve Them Together

We know you have business / career goals during this career transition. You will feel good and benefit from the structure if you set personal life goals and do this with your family. Your partner and children will feel cared for and connected to you if you spend time talking about and writing down each person’s individual goals—things they want to accomplish during the next phase. (A global stint may include adventures and foods particular to the country, experimenting with new foods, etc.)

Add to this a conversation with your partner to clarify couple expectations/goals during the move or transition and into the next phase. (Who will do what in the relocation process? Address date nights and how you’ll handle long-distance communicating if you are traveling a lot. Talk about how you wish to spend time together and with the family when you are home, etc.)

Add to this a conversation about Family Goals. Everything from making sure the kids have a good education to family adventures. It’s good to start this young. Younger kids love these activities and often have much input. If you start these discussions when they are older it can be more challenging. A colleague recently shared the story of a teenager asking his father “So tell me, what’s in this for me?” when the family was being moved one more time for his dad’s job.  Heartbreaking and conflictual for a professional parent, but there are ways to mitigate the negative by involving your loved one’s in the process. Giving them time to absorb, revision and then get on-board with their own goals that you respect and the entire family supports and works toward during your next career phase.

All of these suggestions apply just as well if your transitioning within the same company and not moving anywhere. It’s good role-modeling for all and gives permission for their transitions through school, college and into the future to be openly discussed and supported as well. They ground you and everyone you love in solid Values, Revisioning and working toward Goals together as a home-front team while you excel on the job!

Dr. Jan Hoistad

A Business, Career and Relationship Strategist, partnering with leaders, teams, and professional couples helping them achieve their business, career, relationship and life goals. Gain clarity, confidence and the tools necessary to succeed in both career and personal life. Have more of what you want. Go further, faster.