God created the first couple to be "united into one" and placed them in Eden, where they ruled over the animals and took care of the garden. They lived a seamless life, where work and home were intertwined, not separate. By God's design, their home was their office and their co-worker was their spouse. I always imagine them working in the garden side-by-side in wedded bliss. After all, there were no dinners to make, papers to file, or meetings to attend. But what happened after sin entered the world? Did they start to bicker over who was in charge? Did they criticize each other's efforts? Did they compete over who checked more things off the to-do list?
Today we can't tend Eden with our spouses, and we don't have the privilege of totally seamless lives. Our lives usually have lines drawn between work and home. Yet many of us end up working alongside our spouses in some way, whether in the secular workforce or in ministry.
We are often told to beware working with our spouses because the arrangement can be fraught with potential dangers. And there are some pitfalls to avoid, but there can also be great blessings. I know this from personal experience. My husband and I worked in the same military unit for two and a half years and we've served in children's ministry together. Those experiences are the ones that closely bonded us and grew our faith in God the most. So in an effort to more fully understand both the dangers and blessings of working alongside a spouse, I interviewed five other couples who have worked together in various settings, from owning a business to serving as missionaries.
One pitfall some couples encounter is unclear role boundaries. Couples I interviewed who work in secular office settings found that learning to transition between work and home roles is essential. One couple who works in different departments of a corporation tried riding to and from work together in the same car. But this caused friction because they have different ways of transitioning between their roles. One spouse wanted to talk about work (and sometimes side-seat drive!), while the other spouse preferred the drive to be quiet. They realized that riding separately helped make the boundary between their roles as coworkers and spouses clearer. I can relate to their need for space between work and home. While my husband and I were deployed to Iraq, my husband's "office" and our "home" were adjacent rooms in the same building. The physical closeness made it difficult for us to mentally separate our work and our personal lives. We had to create a boundary between work and home by leaving our building to eat together before and after our shifts each day.