How I Learned to Work Happily in the Same Office as My Husband

It was more than just my career at stake.

Photo by kate.sade on Unsplash

Bring up the idea of working with a spouse to your average Joe/Jane and the typical response you’ll get back will be along the lines of “Ugh, no thanks,” “Ugh, that would never work for us,” or “Ugh, we’d kill each other.”

Common theme: Ugh.

And that was our response too when life circumstances had us working together, in a small open concept office (read: cubicles), two desks away from each other.

We both work for the same company and we’re both engineers but we’d never been in the same office and we actually spent the majority of our careers even working in different cities.

We wouldn’t choose to work together for ourselves. But we do enjoy being employed and we would like to live in the same city, so we’ll run with it.

When life gives you lemons, make lemon drop martinis.

It definitely required an adjustment period and there definitely were a few awkward moments. But after three years of working with my husband two desks away from me, I have a few reflections about sharing your workspace with your husband.

1. It’s okay to be seen together.

We’re a respectable married couple and we are both working professionals who just so happen to be based in the same office. Gosh darn it, I’m a #strongindependentwoman!

This isn’t an office scandal and it’s not the end of the world if we both happen to be at the coffee station at the same time. We don’t have to turn around and walk away if one of us is already in the kitchen.

Maybe I’m opening the door to socially awkward engineering jokes but after consciously building our identities — both personally and professionally — as separate entities, everything becomes a bit of a hodgepodge seeing your spouse at work.

In the beginning, when we’d accidentally bump into each other in the office, we’d awkwardly go out of our ways to not talk to each other. Very maturely pretending the other person didn’t exist. Walking past each other making “ugh” faces reflecting how we felt about being in the same office. Shooting each other half-joking glares to say, “I was here first.”

If we did talk, it most often would be to tell the other person to get lost because this is my meeting room or my cubicle pod.

We were both trying to mind the lines of a professional office setting, but it’s awkward doing that with your partner. In our attempts to not obviously “reveal” our relationship, we might have swung a bit too far the other way with this near-hostility. It took us some time to be able to treat each other like normal coworkers and just say, “hello” when passing each other in the hallway.

2. It’s okay to continue trash-talking each other.

Everyone has to blow off steam about their spouse and sometimes the best place to do this is at work when you’re safely out of earshot.

Oh wait — that doesn’t work when your spouse happens to be two desks away in a cubicle-style “open office” environment.

Actually no, it does work.

It just evolves. You just have to be ready for the gopher-popping self-defense voice that floats over the cubicle wall.

For example, the time my field supervisor chewed me out for being late in the morning.

Me: “Ugh, my husband wouldn’t get out of bed this morning and we only have one vehicle…”

Husband (popping his head over the cubicle wall): “Hey! It’s not my fault!”

Me: “I wasn’t talking to you. But since you’re eavesdropping, next time I’m taking the car and just leaving you behind…”

And it goes both ways since I did occasionally step into the room just in time to catch the tail end of certain conversations.

Coworker: “Come on, she wouldn’t do that. She’s cool.”

Husband: “Ask her yourself. I don’t have permission.”

Me: “Permission for what?”

Coworker: “To buy a boat!”

Me: “Nope, he does NOT have permission to buy a boat. I am not ‘that’ cool.”

3. Realize that not working well together is okay.

Thankfully, there were very few projects that required us to work together. The few interactions we did have did not go well.

For some reason, neither one of us could summon any patience for the other person.

You know when you talk to a co-worker who asks you a question that you think is utterly stupid but, because you’re in a professional office setting, you simply smile and explain the ABC’s to them while secretly thinking, “Wow, what an idiot… how does he not know this?”

Now apply that same feeling/sentiment to every question and interaction we had with each other, but without that professional courtesy to not call someone stupid. Not that I’m calling my husband stupid — just stupid in those conversations.

Since I’m the one writing this and my husband has no say and no opportunity to defend himself, I will at least own up to some of my own shortcomings. Any time I required his input or had a work-related question, I all of a sudden had the unrealistically high expectation that I would be his topic priority.

I prioritize emails and questions from my friends at work. Likewise, I know that I will get faster response times when I’m emailing someone that I interned with a decade ago. So by that logic, shouldn’t your spouse get the fastest of all responses?

4. Establish the boundaries.

From day one, we established that we wouldn’t talk about work stuff at home. It’s enough to work in the same industry, in the same company, and now in the same office. Leave the work at work, and make the house as work-free as possible.

Work rants and complaining are allowed. If anything, it was made easier since there’s no need to “introduce” people and explain who they are, why they’re annoying, and what’s got you so riled up.

But similarly, we also had to learn to not talk about home stuff at work. Don’t forget to pay the bills. What’s our bank account password? Did you remember to leave our spare keys under the mat?

All of which are terribly annoying interruptions when you’re in the zone and trying to crank out one last work item before leaving the office.

5. Be true to who you are.

One of the things that inherently happens when your partner is in the same office as you is that your coworkers have ample opportunity to observe your interactions as a couple.

What is normally reserved for the occasional awkward company Christmas party where you realize that Mr. Tough-Guy-Grumpy-Pants-is-actually-an-adoring-doting-husband-who-without-fail-introduces-his-wife-and-steers-the-conversation-in-a-direction-that-includes-her is now a daily occurrence.

With time, some of the more vocal folks will even fill you in on their observations of you two as a couple. Observations such as:

  • It was weird seeing you two together at the beginning
  • You two don’t come into work together
  • It’s not right that you two travel separately

I have many responses to observations like that:

  • Yeah, it was weird for us too to be in the same office!
  • It’s cheaper for us to drive to work separately than to get divorced since he makes me late to all my morning meetings
  • He wants to take his guys trips and I want to take my girls trips and we prefer different locations — just because we’re married doesn’t mean we can’t do our own things sometimes

Every relationship is different, and different things work for different people. This is how we’ve come to define our relationship.

After three years of working in the same office and workspace as my husband, I was happy to find a new role, move to a different office, and enjoy having my own workspace.

Instead, we’re now living through these COVID-19 times that has us sharing not just our workspaces with each other, but also our home lives with our work lives now that we’re both working from home. Good thing we’ve had the last three years to practice establishing boundaries!

Engineer by day and writer by night. Here’s to putting myself out there.

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