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Academy of Management Review






Academy of Management

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Dual-earner couples are increasingly prevalent and encounter demands arising from each partner’s commitment to various work and life domains. Unfortunately, there has been little theoretical progress in explaining how dual-earner couples navigate work-life shock events, which we define as disruptive, novel, and critical events that require investment of a couple’s resources. Drawing from identity and sensemaking theories, we develop a theory of work-life shock events to explain how dual-earner couples perceive and respond to these events. We theorize that partners initially make sense of the event as individuals and then engage in couple-level sensemaking. We argue that each individual’s shock intensity perceptions are shaped by the shock event’s characteristics and the identity factors of role salience hierarchy and future self. A subsequent couple-level process of sensemaking ensues, influenced by the salience of the originating domain and partner role, as well as relational identity factors. Couple-level shock intensity perceptions result in the couple’s decision regarding resource investment in the shock event’s originating domain. We discuss implications for future research and for organizations.



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