Working With Your Significant Other
When I tell people I work with my husband, I generally hear the same response: “Oh…” The tone of that “Oh…” falls into two distinct categories.
There’s the genuinely cheerful “Oh… that’s so awesome,” and there’s the bewildered “Oh… I think I would kill my husband if we worked together,” which is usually followed up with wide eyes and a “I don’t know how you do it.” Guess which response is more common.
Most other couples working together have completely different jobs. They work in different departments or maybe even different buildings. She’s an account manager on one team and he’s a designer on another. They don’t see each other much.
My parents have worked together for over fifteen years. My dad is a mortgage broker and my mom does the bookkeeping, admittedly from home most of the time now to avoid thoughts of strangling my father.
My husband, Eric, and I take working at the same place one step further than the typical couple. We essentially do the same job — we’re both web developers. He’s front-end; I’m back-end, and if you’re thinking that’s what she said, you’re not the first.
The first time.
It was fairly early in our relationship. We weren’t married yet but shared a home and had been engaged for a few months. We’d been together for about a year and a half. I’d been at my job for about three and a half years and recommended Eric when a position on our four-person development team opened up. I knew he was talented, but he had a job that stifled his creativity and there were a lot of Flash projects in his portfolio. Ew.
Loss of identity.
I noticed very quickly that Eric became known as “Alex’s fiancé”. He wasn’t often referred to as “the new dev” or even his own name. Since I’d been there for so long, it was like he was existing in my shadow. I don’t know if it bothered him as much as it bothered me but I wanted him to be recognized and appreciated as the individual, talented, creative person I knew him as.
To our coworkers, we sort of merged into a single person. It was always Alexanderic. My name wasn’t spoken without his, nor his without mine. It was frustrating and something I never anticipated. Each time it happened, I’d grit my teeth, ball up my fists and silently mumble about the guilty coworker.
Nowhere to hide.
There was a McDonald’s right across the street from our office. One of the only things Eric has ever nagged me about was going there too often, which in retrospect, is actually kind of hilarious because given the chance, he’d happily eat there almost daily. Each day he’d routinely ask if I’d gone, because, well, chances were I had. Sometimes I just wouldn’t see his message (wink, wink, wink) or I’d deflect and change the subject. I wasn’t fooling him. Now he had a front-row seat to the addiction. There was no more deflecting or ignoring his inquiries. Was it smart to get McDonalds for breakfast and lunch on the same day, multiple times a week? No, of course not, but did I want him telling me that or giving me his look of disappointment? Hell no. Get off my lawn!
Someone needs an attitude adjustment. Spoiler: it’s me.
Eric might just be the most patient, even-tempered person in the world. It’s one of the things I love most about him. He thinks of himself as a real-life Vulcan or Dexter, minus the homicidal tendencies. You have to really work to piss him off, which makes it painfully easy to realize when you’re being a jerk.
For some reason, I just hated explaining things to him. Most of the time I didn’t know how to explain the way things worked because they were so weird and particular I wasn’t even sure how they worked. I’d get mean, defensive and speak to him in a terrible tone when he’d ask me a simple question or give a reasonable suggestion. Every time I’d do it, there would be a little voice in the back of my head telling me to stop, but I’d almost always ignore it. When I look back at this, I can’t help but cringe. I really don’t know how he kept his cool and stayed with me through it all. I was awful. It boggles my mind how we can be so hurtful to the people we love the most.
You again. What do we talk about now?
I’m not going to lie, I got sick of seeing him. He was everywhere. The face I couldn’t get enough of became the face I wished would take a sick day or go away for a few days. One of the most important parts of a healthy relationship is alone time and having opportunities to miss your significant other. We had none. Even our home office was shared.
At home there was nothing to talk about because we’d already experienced everything together and talked about it on Google Chat throughout the day. On the upside, we became very comfortable with silence. I appreciate those silent car rides and quiet dinners. We shoot each other knowing smiles over the screaming child who just fell on his face while his parents let him kick and climb the booth behind us or the guy whose top hat is too small for his perfectly shaved head.
After about eight months, shortly before we got married, Eric found a new job. He wasn’t looking but received an offer he couldn’t refuse. He went on to make some incredible websites and was finally able to replace all those icky flash projects with super innovative and creative work. His exit was bittersweet. We missed getting to have lunch with one another but appreciated the time apart. I was sure we’d never work together again, but it’s a good thing I didn’t bet on it.
The second time.
A little over a year ago, Eric and I made a huge move to Portland, Oregon from the Orlando, Florida area. As a Michigan native and self-proclaimed ginger (because only a ginger can call another ginger ginger), Eric never intended to stay in Florida after college as long as he did. He was eager to move someplace where the sun was less prevalent. We decided Portland was the ideal mix of tech jobs and weather.
While on vacation to visit the area, Eric applied at Parliament. Several weeks later, he had a couple of interviews and was offered a position. Just a month later, we sold our home in Florida and moved across the country to escape the sun. I never expected Parliament to offer me a contract position a few months later, eventually leading into a full-time job.
It’s going to be different this time.
I started working on contract for Parliament in November of 2015. That put my relationship with Eric at just under three years married and five years together. Despite saying we’d never work together again, I couldn’t resist the allure of Parliament. They wooed me with fun field trips, Call of Duty games and a one-of-a-kind vernacular. I learned a lot from my last experience working with Eric; it was going to be different this time. It had to be. Armed with the perspective from our first experience, I thought I’d be better.
The return of the ‘tude.
Things were great at first, but it started happening again. I started reverting to some of my old bad behavior. I would speak to Eric with a nasty tone, get defensive over stupid things and insist things be done my way. I was doing a better job of stopping it as soon as I could and apologizing immediately, but it was still happening. This time, however, Eric wasn’t having it. Instead of letting my bad behavior slide, he’d call me on it and do it right back to me.
We argued a bit. Despite being happy and fulfilled with the work at Parliament, I was having a hard time adjusting after our move. I missed my friends. It was my first cold winter in over ten years. Dealing with public transportation when it was cold and rainy made me particularly grumpy. Having to cook dinner in our small apartment with about one square foot of counter space sucked all the joy out of it. I realized I was taking all of these annoyances out on him.
After a bunch of tears (obviously mine because Vulcans never cry) and talking, things are much better now. I’m not perfect and sometimes give him a bit of the ‘tude (especially when I’m hangry or grumpy), but now I’m more cognizant of the behavior and try to stop it before it starts. It seems like common sense, but I think about how I’d feel if he treated me like that. I instantly regret it and try to start over.
I try to empathize and think about how there’s a reason he feels as strongly about his ideas as I do about mine. He’s not just trying to defy me for the sake of it. It puts me in a more open state of mind where I’m not so quick to veto anything that goes against the plan I had in my head. I try to listen and ask questions to effectively evaluate the merits of both options. When you take a step back and look at the situation objectively, it’s easy to see that these disagreements are not personal attacks. It’s just two people with two different approaches to the same issue.
This feels stupid to say but the first time around, I hadn’t yet recognized how talented Eric is. Seeing his professional growth and humility firsthand over the years has made me feel like a proud mama bear. He is now the bar by which I (probably unfairly) judge other front-end developers. I completely trust that he’ll crush any project. It’s really cool to say we build things together every day.
We don’t always have to talk.
Two of the biggest changes I’ve made the second time around are not chatting with Eric as much throughout the day and prioritizing alone time at home. We chat a bit throughout the day on Slack, but I try not to talk much about work until we get home unless we’re directly collaborating on a project. We usually don’t even have lunch together either, so it feels more special when we do.
When we get home, we eat dinner and talk about our day. After that, we do our own thing for a couple of hours before regrouping to watch shows before bed. He’ll go play Hearthstone or Overwatch and I’ll read a book or watch embarrassing shows on TV.
One last name, two separate people.
Two of my biggest fears starting at Parliament were getting stuck in another identity loss situation and feeling like I wasn’t hired for my own merit, but for nepotism. This time around, I’m happy to say I haven’t had either of those feelings.
Eric isn’t Alex’s husband, he’s the fearsome Gingerbread who relentlessly dominates almost everyone in Call of Duty and crushes it with CSS animations. I’m not Eric’s wife, I’m Pony, the one you’ll find doing “the worm” in Call of Duty and pushing the limits of Craft CMS.
At the end of the day, we can always look forward to our coworkers playing the “Van Holtz March” as we leave, which is really just a random version of the “Imperial March”. Eric will do this half-robot, half-solider march I always roll my eyes at. I can’t help but smile and appreciate how natural this new routine feels.
Our story isn’t over at Parliament, rather, it’s just getting started. I know not every day is going to be perfect, but that’s okay. I can’t wait to finish up the projects we’ve been working on and see what’s in store for us next. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with my ridiculously talented husband in an environment where we can both thrive individually.
Also, it’s kind of great having a personal chauffeur again!