What’s Love Got to Do with…Careers?

By Tara Iagulli

With a focus on professional development education and the recent trend towards coaching and advising models within university career services, the personal counseling elements of career development are at risk of falling out of practice. Over a decade of career development work with college students, along with anecdotal and growing empirical support, demonstrate to me that clients’ significant others have become an increasingly salient variable in their career decision-making.

The growing body of research on Emerging Adulthood (e.g., Domene, et al, 2012; Jay, 2012) indicates that developmental trajectories do not evolve in isolation from one another making this a particularly sensitive time for psychosocial maturation. The twenties (Emerging Adulthood) are a critical period in not only starting a career, but also in finding a partner and even starting a family (Jay, 2012). Other research shows that relationships influence career decision-making for both genders (Mortimer, 2010). Furthermore, career success also depends on relationships since “social capital are increasingly important in the contexts of market work” (Arnold & Cohen, 2008).

So what does love have to do with career development for college students?

While career offices prioritize individual career planning, many clients are inclined to prioritize romantic relationships - or pursuit of one - above all else. For many, finding the perfect career is empty without someone to share their life with and simply acknowledging this fact can unlock a crucial part of clients’ motivation in regards to career planning.

Consider your own experience:

  1. Have you ever modified or negotiated a career-related decision to accommodate a relationship?
  2. When have your choices been constrained or enabled by your relationship circumstances?

Many have negotiated career decisions numerous times over the years for one or multiple relationships. In a study specifically on the transition of young adults to work J.F. Domene et al., found, “most participants stated that their partner’s happiness and sense of being able to pursue the partner’s own aspirations were important to them, sometimes as important as their own career plans. This led many of them both males and females to prioritize their partner's occupational/educational plans over their own” (2012). Helping clients achieve their true aspirations requires connecting and building trusting relationships, which inevitably involves addressing young adults as holistic beings that need guidance beyond resumes and interviewing.

In my own practice, there are certain issues that generally come up when working with a coupled-student, which are summarized below.

Issues Students Might Face in the Intersection of Romance & Careers:

  • Balancing multiple priorities (complexity)
  • Conflict about their commitment to multiple roles (professional, spouse, student, mother, etc.)
  • Willingness to relocate, deciding where to live (geographic flexibility or constraints)
  • Pursuing and implementing career plans jointly
    • Relative priority of each partner’s career path (flexibility)
    • Motivation to support each other
    • Turn taking or equal gains
  • Progressing in the relationship and joining lives together
  • Immediate housing needs and financial concerns.

Fostering a contextual counseling environment to elicit sharing and invite complexity
Here are some guidelines and specific interventions to keep in mind when starting with clients that may want to or need to share a romantic relationship.


  • Required Orientations and Self-Disclosure – Set the tone in your initial orientations for what issues are relevant to career development. Mention how you negotiated a career decision for the sake of a relationship or helped a client with geographic constraints.
  • Require Intake Interviews – Add “Are there any other influencing factors that I should know about?” (a partner, ailing parent, health concern) to your standard questions. This is a great question for subtly opening doors.
  • Supportive Guide – Students get notification that I am pursuing a license in counseling (LPC) and often ask me about it and the knowledge that I am a counselor seems to make them more comfortable in sharing. Let students know that you are a non-judgmental support person whether you are a counselor or not.

Specific Interventions:

  • Acknowledge importance of relationship – emerging adults are fearful that they are sacrificing career success for romance and need reassurance that developing both trajectories is possible and natural.
  • Be understanding of conflict in career decisions – coupled-clients often experience conflict and may express a desire to move in one session and a desire to stay local in the next session.
  • Validate feelings, emotions – clients might cry and express feeling overwhelmed and unsupported by their partner – validation helps to normalize these emotions for clients.
  • Suggest alternatives to reduce anxieties & fights –talking about every job application with one’s romantic partner can produce a constant threat to the status quo of the relationship; only discussing positions that have resulted in interviews may reduce the tension that expected change often brings to relationships.
  • Provide unconditional support – some sessions may be productive in terms of writing cover letters or practicing interview skills while others may be tearful and emotional times when clients need support, understanding and encouragement to tackle what they can move forward with.

Managing Major Life Transitions with Counseling
Job searching is an inherently anxiety provoking process for anyone. With coupled-students the process can become overwhelming with simultaneous floods of positive and negative emotions including joy of being in love, grief over the loss of the individual dreams, feeling supported, and conflict/tension in negotiating mutual career and life plans. In a contextual career-counseling environment, coupled-students feel welcome to wade in and out of discussing academic, career/professional topics, and personal matters.


Arnold, J., & Cohen, L. (2008). The Psychology of Careers in Industrial and Organizational Settings: A Critical But Appreciative Analysis. International review of industrial and organizational psychology, 23(1), 1-44.


Domene, J. F., Nee, J. J., Cavanaugh, A. K., McLelland, S., Stewart, B., Stephenson, M., ... & Young, R. A. (2012). Young adult couples transitioning to work: The intersection of career and relationship. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 81(1), 17-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jvb.2012.03.005


Jay, M. (2012). The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now. New York: Hachette Book Group.

Mortimer, J. T., Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., Holmes, M., & Shanahan, M. J. (2002). The process of occupational decision making: Patterns during the transition to adulthood. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 61(3), 439-465.



Tara IagulliTara Iagulli, M.Ed, Counseling and Guidance, University of Alaska Anchorage Bachelor of Arts, Spanish, University of Wyoming, has been career counseling, teaching, and managing events and recruiting programs for 10 years.  She joined the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin as the Director of Career Development in February of 2010. In this position, she oversees the professional development of the graduate students and alumni of the UT iSchool. Tara leads employer outreach and builds relationships with organizations that seek top Information Studies talent. She came to the iSchool via the College of Natural Sciences at UT, where she was a Senior Career Advisor working with Computer Science, Textile and Apparel, and Human Development and Family Science students. Prior to her tenure with UT Austin, she was a Career Counselor at Tulane Law School.  Before discovering her passion for the career development field, Tara amassed diverse professional experience in the federal government, secondary education and the mental health industry. You can contact Tara at tara.iagulli@austin.utexas.edu


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