“I just can’t believe him!” I yelled, marching into my mom’s kitchen and slamming my laptop down on the counter. My sister looked up at me in surprise, bewildered by my sudden ascent into their house on a Saturday afternoon.
“He just does. not. get. it” I continued huffily, anger-eating my way through the leftover Halloween candy bowl.
The source of my frustration on that sugar-fueled weekend afternoon was a familiar one and one that I can’t seem to rectify after almost seven years of marriage — and it all originated with the fact that I work from home.
Truth be told, I always knew that someday, “when I grew up,” I would be a writer. I envisioned myself staying home with kids and typing away on a shiny silver laptop while sipping coffee. And in a large part, that’s exactly what my life looks like now, except the kids are usually half-dressed and the coffee is most always lukewarm at best.
But while I may have expected what life would look like in working from home, what I didn’t expect were the many ways that working from home could affect a marriage.
1. Somehow, there’s even more housework.
The thing about working from home is that you’re still at home. Whereas when I would once leave the house for work and the kids would go to a sitter’s, now we are always here, all the time. Which means that we’re all still here, you know, living, which also means that we will be here eating and cooking and making messes.
With less time in the day to carve out for cleaning, it’s incredibly stressful to get the house picked up before my husband gets home. He doesn’t expect that I clean before he walks in the door, but I like to have some semblance of order before our evening begins, which means I’m cramming yet another task into my day and getting cranky in the process. So when he walks into a sparkling house at night and I’ve finally sat down for the first time all day, I wonder if he has any idea of the whirlwind of work that just went in to get it looking that way.
2. You and your spouse will be on different time zones.
By far, the #1 stressor working from home puts on my marriage is the fact that my husband and I operate on two different time zones. When he walks in the door at night, he is on full-out kick-back and relax mode after putting in a full day’s work, while I am on please-take-the-kids-so-I-can-do-money-making-work-after-my-full-day’s-work-already mode. It’s tough on both of us to meet each other’s needs and quite honestly, we haven’t figured it out just yet. There are some days that I sacrifice working to just be with him and the kids and some days that I take a financial hit to hire a babysitter to help me during the day so we can have a semi-normal evening.
3. Your spouse will not understand it.
This one is hard to admit, but it is the truth. My husband loves me and I know he respects my work and appreciates the paycheck I bring home, but he 100% does not understand what it is like to try to fit a full-time job into working at home, especially while staying home with four kids. More often than not, if he’s home while I’m trying to work, he plops down in the chair in the office next to me and starts chatting and it takes every ounce of my restraint not to scream, “WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF I POPPED INTO YOUR CLASSROOM AND STARTING TALKING WHILE YOU WERE TEACHING A CLASS?” And then, inevitably, I explode in frustration. He feels hurt. I feel badly. I apologize. I fall behind with work. I again sit down to work to try to catch up. (The cycle repeats).
Work-at-home mom Jean* gets where I’m coming from. She knows that family, friends, and even neighbors simply cannot grasp that the concept of working isn’t somehow easier simply because you’re at home. In fact, in some ways, it’s much harder because of the zillion and one distractions at home.
“They absolutely will not understand that yes, you are home, but you are also at work,” she advises. “You will want to set the expectation that during work hours, your time should be respected as if you were in a cubical somewhere. Don’t make a habit of dropping everything if they call — this will be a very difficult habit to break. They’ll adjust eventually.”
4. It will be harder to have a social life.
Since I spend almost all of my days at home, I’m always dying to get out of the house for fun, but my husband would prefer to just chill at home with uninterrupted Netflix time. And while it’s not a huge, burning issue in our marriage, I know it fuels that little flame of frustration that is always simmering in my life as a work-at-home wife. Mama needs a break and if I’m at home, it can feel like I don’t have permission to take one.
Jean and her husband actually both work from home and understand how hard it can be to remember that life isn’t solely about work. “We struggle with forcing ourselves to ‘turn off’ from the work day,” she says. “If we aren’t careful, our work can consume our lives. It’s been tough to give ourselves permission to walk away at times.”
5. You won’t know how to relax.
On a related note, because my home is my workplace, I am literally always working — and that’s a hard role to shut off. I maximize every part of my day, from picking up stuff off of the floor with my toes as I walk holding a baby to returning phone calls while I pick my daughter up from school, so when I see my husband just chilling at home, sometimes I get resentful.
The problem isn’t him, of course, it’s me, but in my mind, relaxing at home is simply something that is off-limits. If I’m home and the kids aren’t bleeding out or demanding anything of me, it’s go-time, not relaxation time. It’s been hard for me to allow him the chance to do something so crazy like just enjoy being at home because without that work-home separation, it’s not something I get to do very often. While weekends for most people mean time off, weekends for us mean ramped-up work time for me while my husband is home, so it’s hard that neither of us gets a break.
6. It will make you both crazy.
I probably should have just led with this one, because it’s the simple truth — but I didn’t want to scare any potential work-at-homers out there. Making the leap to working at home, whether it’s just one partner or both, will make you feel like you are losing your mind, flying 800 different directions at once, all while somehow getting fatter and never putting on real clothes. Work-at-home mom Jean pretty much sums it up with the three things you need to know to combat the craziness of a work-at-home marriage: 1) have a separate office or space in your home to work 2) start each day with a game plan and 3) talk about your expectations up front in regards to housework, work hours, and kids.
“It’s easier to know where you stand going in and to make adjustments as you go than it is to wing it,” she says. “That can get scary.”
Or it could lead you to the leftover candy bowl in a hangry state, which, since you work from home and rarely hit the gym, is also kind of scary.
Do you work from home? What’s been the biggest challenge in your marriage as a result?
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
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