Because work is a four letter word. But so is life. And so is love.

How to Work at Home Together and Still Have a Happy Marriage

My husband and I both work at home. He’s a professional telecommunications marketing consultant. I’m a professional writer and speaker. Our workplace is our home and our home is our workplace. On this simple fact hangs the fate of our marriage: connubial bliss or domestic disaster.

I came to this realization one lunchtime as Kalle (my husband) and I circled each other in the kitchen. I looked determined as I coldly made MY tuna salad, sat down and ate it. He looked confused as he grabbed a hunk of cheese and slunked back to his office.

“The nerve!’, I seethed. “What right does he have to expect me to make lunch for him just because we’re both at home. After all, I’m working, too.”

Four months before, both of us had grabbed parachutes and bailed out of the corporate world for the land of the SOHO’s (sole owner, home office). Since then, I noticed that, during our work day, whenever I went to the kitchen, my husband responded to the sound of the refrigerator door the way a cat responds to the sound of a can opener.

That afternoon, sitting at the kitchen table, I felt guilty and confused about my intense anger. Kalle and I both love to cook, but during our pre-SOHO days, I had insisted on making most of our meals. Now, however, during my working hours, I wanted none of it. My poor husband was getting mixed messages and feeling slightly crazy.

What was happening with us is not unusual. According to Working Solo, a small business marketing firm based in New Paltz, NY, a major worry for small business people, right up there with dried up cash flow, is “driving my spouse crazy”. I could definitely relate.

I am a psychologist, an organizational psychologist. I am suppose to help people at work, not make them crazy. So, I set out to understand (and improve) how my husband and I work together at home. Here’s what I found out:

What Works At Home Doesn’t Work At Work Even When Work and Home Are The Same Place. Because my spouse and I work in the same space, a space that also happens to be our home, all of our marital presumptions are now in the workplace and all of our workplace presumptions are now in the house.

Consider how I used to “dress” for work. My presumption: “Hey, its my office and I’ll dress like I want to”.

But I am not alone in my office/home. As Kathy Marshack, author of Entrepreneurial Couples suggests, when you are sitting across from your partner at a home business meeting in your jammies, the wrong presumptions may be made. Since I am at the age where my husband and I are embroiled in thermostat wars, I used appear at our meetings in a lot less than jammies. I quickly discovered this detracted my husband/co-worker from serious consideration of my business opinions. I now cover up.

Or take dishes in the sink. Prior to our dual SOHO status, that was a no-no. (We used to live in Manhattan where dishes in the sink were an invitation for the whole apartment to be carried off by the crawlies.) When we first started working from home, we presumed that rule still applied. After some stressful lapses, we now know its better to have dirty plates in the sink than late proposals in the mail.

Be Ready To Meet A New Spouse (No Matter How Long You’ve Been Married). Before we became cohabiting SOHO’s, I didn’t know how Kalle did business because, well, I had never done business with him. And, of course, I had no idea he didn’t do business exactly the same way I do.

Take bookkeeping. How a spouse keeps business receipts is as much a marital Rorschach as the way he or she puts on the toilet paper roll. It can be a real eye opener.

Then there’s office equipment. I am a technological troglodyte. Burned by the chaos that followed so-called “upgrades” in the corporate world, I am a very late adaptor. Kalle, on the other hand, is a tech wiz. He not only keeps up with the latest and greatest: that’s what he wants for our home offices. When the new telephones arrived, I thought a space ship had landed on my desk. After a few days of me mumbling about new fangled gadgets and him grumbling about outdated dinosaurs, we talked. We realized that both our business and our marriage benefit from Kalle’s expertise and from my caution. Now we use our balanced set of skills proactively.

How Your Parents Worked Is Still At Work. Kalle and I got very different messages about work growing up. Kalle was raised in a Finnish-Brazilian family of reserved diplomats and educators. I was raised in the African-American family of a scrappy real estate man and his wife.

In Kalle’s home, work was something that was done “out there” by the grownups. In my home, work was done “right here” by everybody, including my Mom writing rent receipts and me stamping envelopes.

So my husband and I are both entrepreneurs, but with a difference. I am what psychologists call an all-rounder : versatile, adaptive, ready to do whatever needs to be done. Kalle is an organizer, rational, administrative, ready to find the right person to do whatever needs to be done. When our company started, I was shocked that Kalle wanted to hire someone to design the logo and he was horrified I wanted us to whip up something on the computer. Talking it out helped us get to the root cause of the brouhaha: messages we got in childhood about hiring people.

Talking things out. That’s been the key to success for our marriage and our company. Not able to finish my tuna salad, I went to Kalle’s office, apologized and asked him to help me figure out what to do about lunches. Now we do what all those folks in the big companies do: we order in.

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