The Contrary Countryman

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Spouses working together

Can these marriages survive?

There’s a new rumble in the land. It’s the sound of men and women working at home, 41 million of us, according to At Home Professional magazine. A substantial part of this group is spouses doing the entrepreneurial two-step in dining room, bedroom or basement. Business plans are now implicated with marriage plans. “For better or worse” has special meaning when spouses share a home office. Home businesses are burgeoning, telecommuting is mushrooming and marital stress is, well, stressing. These conditions are related.

Having a modicum of experience in this arena (a little goes a long way) and seeing the need, I feel compelled to help as I can. First let’s look at attributes common to all spousal home co-workers. If you are a successful home-working couple, here are some of the characteristics you possess.

1) During long drives, when conversation wanes then stops, neither spouse considers there might be a problem with the relationship.

2) Neither of you would think of interrupting the other, no matter how brilliant your thought.

3) Experts say you must balance work and play or face burnout. So, you and your darling are both workaholics but only for twelve hours each day; after that much work you are ready for serious play for the remaining twelve hours before work resumes.

4) Both of you are skilled selective listeners. A phone conversation a yard away is never heard. When he is blowing a deal you would never think to write a quick note and wiggle it in front of his face or place it on his desk and then wave your arms and point to the note. You both also have selective vision, which filters out slovenly apparel and hair design or lack thereof.

5) You both love to prepare meals, wash dishes, clean house, take out the recyclables, but you are willing to allow your partner to do so for half the time.

6) You can mentally erect imaginary but soundproof walls, hear a clicking keyboard as a musical instrument, interpret a belching chair as a sign of focus, concentration, effectiveness, a harbinger of tropical vacations.

7) If you have an infant, you both live to change diapers and wipe spit-up. If pets, you look forward to dealing with accidents, regurgitations and hair balls, especially when the phone is ringing, the doorbell is chiming, lunch is burning on the stove and your spouse has been reading in the bathroom for an hour. You relish times like these as they allow you to show your potential.

8) Neither of you cares who gets the newest computer, the largest desk, the window position or fetches the mail or answers the phone.

9) You both instantly recognize who can best make each important decision.

10) You never keep sexy pictures on your computer screen, even when she says she doesn’t mind. Especially when she says she doesn’t mind.

11) When both of you are on the phone, you never speak loudly, even if the script-reading caller is trying for the ninth time to persuade you to change long distance carriers.

12) When both of you have an off day on the same day, you always flip a coin to see who takes the day off. You do this no later than nine ayem and you are both happy with the result.

Spouses working together have unlimited opportunities to play to each other’s strengths. My cousin, Chicago Keith, tells how the husband-and-wife owners of a mail-order marketing company play good cop/bad cop with slow vendors. After the wife, let’s call her Attilia, finishes her version of persuasion and pauses for breath, Timmy picks up on the same line and interrupts to whisper that a gang of men are stealing their car and would Attilia please make them go away, then asks the vendor how is your day going, how are the kids, and would it please be possible to move our order to the top of the pile, and, by the way, those rumors are unfounded, Attilia almost never makes surprise visits.

A new workplace requires a new lexicon. “Home office” no longer means a giant commercial structure; it may in fact denote a cleverly disguised walk-in closet. “Cocooning” is a word and concept coined by Faith Popcorn, describing the life structure of those of us who live nearly complete lives behind closed doors. In today’s vernacular, successful home enterprises are “killer businesses.” Participants perceive potential double entendre.

On days when you need to remember why you are doing this, consider that the ultimate result of working at home may well be a balanced federal budget and world peace. How, you ask? Work at homers/stay at homers drastically reduce oil consumption, which decreases the need for billion-dollar rocket spitters to ensure the oil supply. Surely that result is worth any personal sacrifice.

Decide if your health or your marriage is more important. You can’t have it both ways. If the marriage is most important, do not eat foods containing lots of fiber, like broccoli, except on days when perfect weather allows all doors and windows to be open and street construction drowns out all other sounds. The other option is to place desks front-to-front and aim exhaust at open windows. This of course means facing each other but not seeing each other. It can be done.

Who gets the mail and opens it is directly related to checkbook condition, creative blockage, imminent deadlines. If the mail run changes from maneuvering for your partner to do it to outracing each other it may be time to reconsider the entire venture. Oh, I almost forgot. Never read the other guy’s mail, including e-mail, unless clearly instructed to do so, preferably with a notarized writing. Think of mail as sacred spiritual manna.

Working at home means other household members are able to share more of your day. Children, cats and dogs are delighted that you are available for frequent, meaningful interplay.

Speaking of pets reminds me of Cool Lips. No, she’s a human friend whose real name is Susan. I call her Cool Lips because she blows sweet reeds and has male aversion syndrome. Susan’s stories illustrate the epitome of spouses working together—long-haul trucking. She relates the time she refused to get back into their behind-schedule truck at a Wyoming rest stop until her then-husband apologized. She now forgets what it was he said that so offended her. And the time she threw him out of the sleeper in Colorado. No, not by hand. She reached down to retrieve the cat’s dish from under the seat, drove onto the shoulder and jerked the wheel to avoid taking the eighteen-wheeler over a cliff. Cat: one; marriage: zero.

There is one question that this article is helpless to address: Should your marriage survive? Some wits speculate that working together saves big counseling fees by speeding up the inevitable. I understand that some pre-nuptial business plans include property divisions upon termination of the business or marriage, whichever comes first.

I hope I have not dissuaded you from working at home with your spouse. I understand that nearly half of all such marriages survive. Since that’s not a lot worse than national averages for marriages as a whole, I say go for it. Who knows, you may be one of the lucky ones. Especially if you possess the Right Stuff. Allow me to demonstrate.

“Honeybunch, just in case you’re ready to stretch your legs, when you return, oh, any time you decide, could you pretty please bring me a cup of coffee? No? That’s O.K. sugarplum, my legs are actually feeling a little stiff anyway. Oh, one for you, too? Of course, darling.”

Gene GeRue and his wife, Christina, have worked at home together in the same room for two years, seven months, twenty-nine days, six hours and three minutes as of the time of this submission. Chris does not think this article is funny.

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