I will never forget those first few years of marriage when people would sweetly ask, “Aww, how long have you two been married?!” We’d answer them–one year, two, three, four–and they would respond all starry-eyed, “Well, you’re still newlyweds!” That is, until we replied: “Oh no. We work together. Full time. From home.” Their eyes would widen and mouths would drop. Then they would say something like, “Yeah, that counts for double!” Or my personal favorite, “I don’t know how you do it! We would kill each other working from home!”
Yet . . . we’re still married.
Truly, friends, it is a miracle that both Mr. and Mrs. Jackson are still breathing and still married these days. For real, y’all . . . it is m-i-r-a-c-u-l-o-u-s as we round the corner on eleven years of working from home together, full-time.
We are the co-owners and photographers/videographers behind RJackson Media and the co-founders of The Sound of Hope, a nonprofit that cares for orphans and vulnerable children around the world. When we’re not working from home together, we are traveling and working in developing countries together. And you can just imagine how stressful those trips can be!
New coronavirus coworker? Here are my tips for working from home with your spouse.
Over the years, we’ve definitely figured out what works when it comes to working with your spouse. We’ve also discovered what does NOT work. So if coronavirus has you suddenly wanting to report your new coworker to HR, check out my tips to survive this work-from-home life!
1. Find your own space.
The first rule of working together is: don’t work together! No, really. Just don’t.
I know you probably have this idyllic scene in your mind of you and your spouse typing away together in your home office, cheers-ing your coffee cups. If that works for you, then great! But the reality is, that’s a whole lot of togetherness in a small space, and you probably both have different ways of doing things.
The last thing you need during a pandemic is to develop a twitch in your eye because of the way he types, pops his gum, or taps his pencil that grates on your last nerve! And the last thing your spouse needs is to have to utter another deep sigh as you interrupt him for the 784th time today (ask me how I know)!
We have a pretty great home office, but I’ve come to realize that we need some separation, and I need more natural light. So most days you’ll find my husband tucked away in the (darkish) office, likely listening to news reports or blaring 1980’s hits while he works. You’ll find me in a quiet, sunny spot near a window or outside.
I realize it may take some time and effort to find a space that works for each of you, especially if you don’t have a home office. But with a little creativity, you can do it!
2. Speak up, give grace, and apologize quickly.
If there is something you KNOW is going to drive you crazy (maybe he keeps moving something that you need for work or interrupting your conference calls), then speak up. Don’t expect each other to be mind readers and just to “know” how you’re used to doing things at work. Be up front with what you need and listen to what he needs. Then when one (or both) of you mess up, apologize quickly and give each other lots of grace. This is a tough dynamic to adjust to at any time. But it’s especially tough during these stressful coronavirus days.
Of course, if you reach the point where the annoyances are just too much, then plan B is to blame them on Cheryl . . .
3. Learn to laugh.
Don’t lose your sense of humor. After more than a decade of working together full time, my husband knows the things that push my buttons. But we also know how to laugh about those things most days! As Elsa says, “Let it go.” Let things go whenever you can, and when you can’t, learn to laugh about it!
When things have been especially tense for us, one of our favorite things to do is sit down and watch YouTube compilations of news anchor fails (my husband used to work as a sports anchor) or those classic “America’s Funniest Home Videos” compilations! Sometimes you just need five minutes on the couch together to watch a ridiculous cat video and laugh until your sides hurt. It will keep you from wanting to smother your new “coworker” with the couch cushion.
4. Make a plan.
When you’re working from home, suddenly things seem a lot more flexible. But before you know it, you can get overwhelmed or accidentally schedule something on top of your spouse’s plans.
Just this year, we started making Sunday nights our planning nights for the week. We’ll sit down together and talk through our schedules, prioritize things (personally and for work), and work through what needs to happen when. We realized it helps us have clearer expectations for the week and talk through any conflicts ahead of time. Just one hour of planning time can help our week run so much smoother!
5. Tag team.
This is really important for those of you who find yourself suddenly working from home with your spouse . . . AND your kids! I know–it’s hard. Crazy hard. We did it for an entire year when our daughter came home via international adoption. Adopted children need to bond with their parents before having outside caregivers. There really is no such thing as “maternity leave” when you run a small nonprofit and business from home.
Both of you working a full 40-hour week just isn’t going to be possible if you’re also doing full-time childcare and homeschool. Go ahead and let that sink in. Re-adjust those expectations, friends! But you can still make this time productive while taking care of your precious little ones if you make a plan to tag team.
Figure out what time of day you are most productive or what times you have to be available for your work, such as scheduled clients or specific conference calls. During your “planning session” (see number 4), discuss what days or times you need the office space for dedicated work times as well as other times you can be flexible. Then coordinate appropriately.
You may find that one of you needs to work in the mornings while the other handles the kiddos, then switch for the afternoon. Or you may find it’s helpful to have certain full days dedicated to work: maybe you get Mondays and Wednesdays and he gets Tuesdays and Thursdays. You might even have to set a new schedule each week during your “planning time” depending on changing needs. Whatever it is, just be sure to also prioritize family time so that you don’t just become ships passing in the night, er . . . day.
If your kids still nap then *BONUS* — there’s a chunk of time when you can both be productive. If not, then you may need to do an hour or two of work once they’re in bed. Whatever you do, just remember to . . .
6. Make time for each other.
Make time for your family and for each other. I know it’s starting to sound like a broken record because everyone is saying this, but these are unprecedented times. No one knows how to handle life in the midst of a pandemic perfectly. We are all carrying a heavy mental and emotional load as we face this difficult season together.
Make sure to give yourself time for self-care, quality time as a family, and time together as a couple. You won’t have the luxury of driving away from work during these days. You will have to set the boundary yourself of when work stops, even if you don’t have everything checked off your “to-do” list.
Our family is finding that afternoon or evening walks in the sunshine (while practicing social distancing, of course) are really good for us each day. Lots of people are joking about the stress of being stuck at home together right now, but the truth is, it’s really a blessing. I know there are many people (including our amazing healthcare workers), who wish they could be home with their spouse these days. So let’s not take it for granted.
Figure out what you can look forward to each day as a couple or as a family and make it a priority. When you hit the boundary you’ve set for yourself, put down your phone and your computer. (I’m preaching to myself here, too!)
7. I need to miss you.
I will never forget this final bit of advice given to me as a newlywed from a fellow “work-full-time-with-your-spouse” friend. She told me when the togetherness just gets to be too much, these are the magic words:
“Honey . . . I need to miss you right now.”
It sounds a lot better than, “OHMYGOSH GO AWAY! YOU ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!” Right?!
Gently, lovingly (laughingly), let each other know when you need some time apart. Maybe you need to take a drive alone or go for a walk. Maybe he or she needs to veg out to a mindless t.v. show or go do a quick workout. It’s okay to admit that you need to miss each other for a minute. It doesn’t mean you don’t love each other.
We’re all in this together.
Remember: we are all in this together. You aren’t the only one having to do deep breathing because your husband is chewing cereal way too loudly while you’re trying to respond to a work e-mail. (I can’t take it, ya’ll . . . it. is. the. worst.)
When all of this has passed (and it will, friends, it will), we will have so many funny stories to share! But for now, may The Force (and Aslan, Katniss, Harry Potter, Gandalf, Superman, Wonder Woman, and any other magical powers needed to survive working from home with your spouse) be with you!