Marriage

When your spouse is also your coworker

June 9, 2011: 12:52 PM ET

Sometimes you're married to work; other times you are married at work. The ups and downs of working at the same office as -- or alongside -- your spouse.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor

FORTUNE -- When Tom Corwin is done with his workday, he knocks on the wall. That signals his wife Carol -- who works in the neighboring office at the U.S. Education Department's budget office -- that he's ready to go home.

"We've been married 27 years now, and we've been working together longer than that. I can't imagine not working with her," says Corwin, 59, who met his wife on the job. "We always know what one another is going through professionally."

The couple enjoys talking out work challenges during their commute home, and often will brainstorm a solution to an assignment that seemed pointless at first blush. They contribute to each other's careers, and probably end up giving more time and energy to their employer than they would otherwise, he says.

With June kicking off the start of wedding season, newlyweds who work in the same office will embark on a delicate balancing act between their relationship at work and at home. Long-time married couples sharing an employer say it helps to have separate roles, respect your spouse's contributions at home and work, shift into professional mode when needed and zealously guard your personal time.

"It can be challenging," says Justin Lee, 38, who runs San Diego-based Internprofits.com with his wife Dreama. "You really have to be able to separate work and home. You can't come home and stew about a dispute you had. You have to leave it at work."

The first requirement to working with your spouse is to ensure it doesn't violate any office rules. While some employers have policies against dating a co-worker or hiring a relative of an existing employee, most of the companies with policies simply restrict relatives from working in a direct reporting relationship.

Working at the same level -- or in a different department -- as your spouse is generally fair game. Done right, it can give you deeper respect for your spouse's professional skills, and sharing a workplace can be enjoyable.

Wendy Harris, 52, who is a vice president at Tax Analysts in Falls Church, Va., relies on her wife Rachael's knowledge of the staff at the non-profit tax publishing company when she needs to know who can accomplish a certain task.

"I just ask her who can get this done, and she tells me, which makes me look good," says Harris. Working together "gives us a lot in common and we get to help each other with work problems." More

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