10 Proven Ways to Balance Family and Work
Successful couples work at it.
Posted February 26, 2020
Researchers at Colorado State University studied 47 middle-class, dual-earner couples with children to identify key strategies for successfully managing family and work balance.  Here are the 10 ways that these couples found to balance family and work in a committed relationship. These are the kinds of choices successful couples make to have the kind of marriage they want, described in their own words.
1. Valuing Family. Successful couples stress the importance of keeping family as their highest priority. They create family time such as “pizza night” on Friday or bedtime stories every night. It is not uncommon for these couples to limit work hours, sacrifice career advancement, make career changes, or accept less prestigious positions to keep family as the number one priority.
- Husband (H): ...Every night, one or both of us read with our son for about 20 min.
- Wife (W): ...David was going to go to medical school…. creating eight-plus years of being an absentee father…. we said no…. we needed to pursue something else.
2. Striving for Partnership. Being partners means being equally valued.
- H: ...My job is both earning and caring, and so is hers.
- H: ...If I win and she loses, then we both lose.
- W: ...We continue to talk about career…where do we want to be?
3. Deriving Meaning From Work. Successful couples experience enjoyment and purpose from their careers and jobs.
- W: ...We both really like our jobs…they’re stressful at times, but we…feel good about what we are doing.
- H: ...I get a great deal of satisfaction from my job.
4. Maintaining Work Boundaries. Successful couples make a commitment to maintaining control over work, not allowing careers to dictate the pace of their lives.
- W: ...We both like our jobs, but, when it’s quitting time, we’re out of there.
- W: ...When you’re at home, you’re at home; and when you’re at work, you’re at work.
- H: ...We’ve always said “no” to jobs that required long hours…weekends, lots of overtime.
5. Focusing and Producing at Work. Being productive at work is important to successful couples. Setting limits on their careers has not adversely affected their productivity.
- H: ...We’re both pulling our weight at [our] jobs. [No one] has ever felt that we’re slacking off or we’re getting off easy because we’ve got kids.
- W: ...I don’t mess around. When I’m there, I’m working.
6. Prioritizing Family Fun. Successful couples use play and family fun to relax, enjoy life, stay emotionally connected, and create balance in their lives.
- H: ...I think a lot of our family bonding revolves around these excursions, going on lots of hikes or bike rips…sometimes fishing, concerts…the three of us.
- W: ...Once in a while, we’ll just try and do stuff off the cuff; one night we had a camp night in front of the fireplace.
7. Taking Pride in Dual Earning. These couples believe dual earning is positive for all members of their family and do not accept negative societal message about their family arrangement.
- W: ...Of course [children] fulfill you, but they can only fulfill a certain part of you.
- H: ...One of the nicest gifts that Patty has ever given me is to go to work and to bring home a good income.
8. Living Simply. These couples consciously simplifying their lives.
- W: ...He doesn’t go out to eat. We don’t need cable. We don’t need to sit in front of the TV anyway.
- H: ...We don’t use credit cards. We can’t have fancy cars where the payments just eat you up.
9. Making Decisions Proactively. Being proactive in decision making is most important. Successful couples are vigilant in not allowing the pace of their lives control them.
- W: ...If you define success as what you do at work, then that is all you will do…if you define success as having a happy family and a happy marriage and [being] happy at work, then you make all those things happen.
- H: ...We talk a lot during the day…[about] anything from getting the oil changed in the Volvo to who is bringing plates over to mom’s house. There’s not much I don’t know about.
10. Valuing Time. Successful couples try to remain aware of the value of time.
- W: ...I think you are almost forced to make better use of the time that you have together by nature of the fact that you work.
- H: ...We try to do a lot of our [house] work… during the week, so that the weekends are free.
More About the Research
The couples in this study were predominantly well-educated, middle-class couples with at least one child under the age of 12. The couples had to describe themselves as successful in balancing family and work. While it’s possible that the results of this study cannot be generalized to include all couples, their core values seem pretty universal. Perhaps the way these general strategies are carried out in your relationship will be different, but the intended goals of each strategy are pertinent to most couples.
Creating Family and Work Balance is a Big Deal
It can make or break your effort to co-construct an equitable marriage. Most of you want a committed, equitable, and vibrant family and work life, but social and economic pressures continue to work against you. In my book, A Marriage of Equals: How to Achieve Balance in a Committed Relationship, I present a vision of how to work on these 10 strategies through a process of collaborative negotiation. 
- Be intentional about achieving the kind of work-family balance you want; talk about it.
- Managing household tasks, work, childcare, and caring for each other requires rethinking traditional ideas.
- Be prepared to negotiate and renegotiate regularly.
- There are successful strategies you can use to create and maintain balance in your marriage.
- Learn how to negotiate collaboratively to accomplish your individual and marital goals.
1. Haddock, Shelley, et al., (2001) “Ten Adaptive Strategies for Family and Work Balance: Advice from Successful Couples.” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 27, no. 4 : 445–58.
2. Aponte, Catherine E. (2019). A Marriage of Equals: How to Achieve Balance in a Committed Relationship. Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press