It's 6 p.m., my most coveted time at work. As coworkers start ending their day, I take a deep breath and relax in a freshly silent office. Now, without distraction, I add my finishing touches at my own pace. As time passes, I realize I’m a bit hungry. I walk down the street toward a favorite cafe and text friends or read as I enjoy a sandwich, maybe some wine.
Perhaps later tonight, I’ll meet up with him, or grab drinks with him. You know, when it’s convenient and fits into my schedule.
Life changes quickly—especially when you say “I do” and find yourself suddenly sharing 900 square feet of open loft space with him. As much as I am deeply in love with my husband of eight months, it’s still an adjustment. Occasionally, I’ll miss the days of indulgent, guilt-free independence. When I could meet a tight deadline without disrupting his evening or when I could check that email at 10:30 p.m. in bed. Essentially, when his plans only affected me at my choosing.
Of course, we’ve all been warned that everything changes after “I do.” But this balancing work-and-marriage thing is still a relatively new concept for me—and I suspect many other young women. As my 80-year-old grandma once told me, “I just don’t know how you girls function these days. When I was married at 25, the first thing I did was quit my job and enjoyed married life.” Enjoyed married life? That’s all you did? Didn’t you want anything else? She laughed, “No. It was enough.”
Today, as women constitute 47 percent of the workforce, prioritizing marriage before career seems so old-fashioned. Yet, marriage isn’t just another priority. Once you make your vows, it’s the priority. Kind of an overwhelming concept in a world where jobs have turned to careers, and your career is more or less your identity. Still, that little ring on your finger is also a part of your identity. And, as my Grandma’s generation might have emphasized less, marriage is also his priority and identity, too.
So, no matter who the workaholic is in the marriage, these five simple steps will help ensure your marriage comes before work—even if you married your work first.
01. Establish parameters and rules.
When romance is involved, co-existing in the same space can be exhilarating—up to a point. We’re married, yes, but we’re still individuals with individual needs. As a social introvert married to an extremely social extrovert, I definitely enjoy talking to my lively husband, but I also need a little time to decompress before I hear a five-minute monologue about his new bike route to work. At the same time, my husband finds it insulting if I’m on my phone or checking email when I could be talking to him. And for good reason, too! A new study found that one-third of respondents were so addicted to their cell phones they would rather give up sex for a week than give up their phones. Our rule: We’re allowed to be unaccountable until 7 p.m., giving us time to decompress after work, and this allows me to be an active listener during dinner—where no phones are allowed. As for checking work emails, that absolutely must not happen when we’re in bed.
02. If necessary, train others to respect your rules and priorities.
If you’ve been working longer than you’ve been married, you’ve probably developed some habits. For instance, your boss might be used to you responding after hours, or your colleagues might think you’re perpetually flexible on weekends. While there’s real work emergencies, it’s time to learn what’s worth responding to now, and what can wait until work starts. However, depending on the nature of your work, this can be easier said than done. One way you can train others is to lead by example, making it a point to respect their time. Simply stating, “Hey, this doesn’t need to be addressed until we’re in the office, so don’t worry about it until tomorrow,” might be an easy way to initiate the golden rule. If they’re still not getting it, it might be worth being up front: “This is my personal time right now. Is this an emergency?” When you respect your own boundaries, your co-workers typically pick up on that too. Simply put, make sure everyone knows that your spouse comes first. It’s a good habit to get into, especially as studies show that a healthy marriage means you put your spouse even before your own kids.
03. Abstain from the “ball-and-chain” metaphor.
There’s sometimes a dangerous line between “funny” and “condescending.” While this metaphor is usually directed at a woman, there are many implied forms that women use towards men, too. When you’re using your marriage as an excuse to cut out “early,” reducing it to something that you “have to do” or a box you must check out of dreary obligation, you trivialize it—both in the perceptions of others, as well as your own perceptions. It’s easy to forget the power our words have. Psychology suggests that they can shape our attitudes towards marriage, and consequently, our actions towards our spouse.
04. Maintain flexibility and forgive.
If you’re a doctor, it’s inevitable that you’re going to work long weeks as a resident, and then you’re going to be on call during odd hours in the night. If you work in advertising, some weeks you will be pulling grueling all-nighters and others will be light. Communication is certainly key here, but so is real understanding, flexibility, and forgiveness. After all, you both might be new to this “balance” thing—and it’s never going to be perfect. As psychologist Dr. Sam Von Reiche states, “Intimacy means you and your partner know each other intimately well. This includes situations where you’re both stripped of the social personas you show mostly everyone else—and it’s sometimes not a pretty site.” That said, if someone’s current job track makes it impossible to make reliable plans, it might be worth looking into finding a new job or company that fosters a healthier balance. It’s crucial to keep the bigger picture in your head. What’s best for the both of you?
05. Routinely go off the grid with your spouse.
Take advantage of your time off together. Since we live in a constantly wired state, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to mentally leave an office that resides in our pockets. Even if you’re not checking in, some studies show that merely having your cell phone in the room can influence your face-to-face conversation quality. But, saying "see ya" to the digital world doesn’t necessitate going far away to some expensive, remote destination. It could simply mean a weekend staycation, where you go to a park and talk, keeping your phones at home. So get those auto-replies started—and remember why we work. Work is fickle and makes no promises, but the vows you made to your spouse are constant.