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Work happiness or marriage happiness? You don't have to choose



When you're doing well at work, your marriage suffers and when you're happy with your significant other, your career must be failing.

Many of us buy into this school of thought, but according to recent research, balancing work life and family life doesn't have to be a zero sum game.

Social psychologists studied 169 newlywed couples over the course of four years and measured their workload, work satisfaction and marital satisfaction.

For couples who didn't have children, the results were fairly predictable. When husbands had a higher workload, they were happier in their marriage, and so were their wives.

"A husband's hard work is part of being a good husband," said Benjamin Karney, one of the study's researchers and a professor of social psychology at UCLA.

Wives are happy when husbands are hardworking because this is consistent with "the husband role," he said. The couples were even more satisfied with their marriage when husbands were happy at their jobs.

But when couples became parents, the roles changed and so did the levels of marriage satisfaction.

When husbands became fathers and had a higher workload, their wives were less happy. Now that husbands are being asked to fulfill an extra role, work does interfere, Karney said. Work gives you an excuse not to be a dad, while the wives are left at home to take care of everything, he added.

"It's much more difficult to balance the roles of husband, father and employee," he said.

Another finding that came as a surprise was when the mothers' workload did affect the marriage, it added to a couple's marital satisfaction.

"We know that when moms are working hard, husbands have to step up and do more around the house," Karney said. "So we're thinking, when wives are working really hard, they're happier because husbands are contributing more to housework. Also it might be healing for moms to get away and have space from their kids."

The big takeaway is this: If your work is consistent with your gender role and you like the work you're doing, then there's no reason your career has to take away from your marriage, Karney said.

The advice Karney would give to couples is be aware of all the different roles you're trying to meet.

"And maybe cut each other a little slack when you're having difficulty," he said.