What happens in dual-career couples is identity is a big issue. It's about my work identity, our identity as a couple, my parent identity. All these things are swirling around in the mix. So there's one couple I spoke to. They were a real high-flying couple. And one of the partners, he really started to question whether his corporate path was his way. And the thing he said to me was I'm afraid of telling my partner because what if he doesn't love me anymore if I let go of this piece of my identity.
Such an integral piece of who we are. There's a lot invested in the relationship and in the career. And I think that sums up the real challenge for dual-career couples. Dual-career couples face a set of rather predictable challenges. And these come up in the form of three transitions. In the first transition, this occurs at any age, but it occurs usually within the first three to five years that we get together and really join into one relationship. How can we make this work?
How can we practically combine these two careers, these two lives, onto a single path that supports us both? One exercise I recommend is something called couple contracting where couples talk through three areas. Hopes, what are the things I'm aiming for in life. Boundaries, what's the area we might want to live in. What is the minimum amount of time we want to spend together? And the third area is about fears, and this can feel the most difficult to talk about. But it's what are the things I worry could go wrong in our relationship, and how does that bleed over into our careers and vice versa?
So the second transition is often the most stressful period of couples' lives. So when they have disagreement of how do we prioritize careers, how do we manage our families, they tend to polarize a little bit in the couple. So one becomes the ambitious one, and one becomes the holder of the family, the laid back counter balance. As we grow older and we grow in our careers, these roles become constraining, and they become a piece of the issue for dual-career couples. We really need a very different kind of support from our partner. We think of our partners as someone who's always in our corner and always telling us we're great.
And at that phase in that particular moment, that's exactly what we need. So the second transition is partly a matter of thinking through and reassessing what do I really want from my life. But dual-career couples can only do that if they look at the roles they're holding underneath and look at how might we need to re-balance these between the couple to enable us to do those things we want to do with the rest of our lives.
The third transition is around purpose. It often happens at a stage where we've become more senior in our careers, our roles are changing, maybe our children are leaving home if we've had them. On the one hand, there is a sense of loss that we need to mourn. There are roles that have passed. And at the same time, there's enormous opportunities that bring. So these ideas of part-time working, having a portfolio of jobs, maybe doing some volunteer work, there's a bringing back of the freedom that we enjoyed maybe 20, 30 years ago.