After many years of each having our own separate, weird little careers, my comedian husband and I have randomly fallen into working with each other. I say "randomly fallen" because it was not a conscious decision we made -- we never said "You know what honey, we love each other so much that I think the next logical step is linking ourselves creatively. You know, our two careers, which are largely independent and solo endeavors? Yup, let's put that together and see what happens." The good news is that it's a lot of fun and mostly stress-free. But there are caveats.
Kumail and I started a weekly live comedy show together in LA, along with our friend Jonah. I book and run the show, those two host. A few months after we started our live show, the co-host of the video game podcast that Kumail was asked to host had to leave, and Kumail asked if I would become his new co-host. Twice a week, we produce entertainment for people, and you'd be amazed at the amount of stress that can produce in us. From my husband ignoring the light I'm flashing and doing another five minutes onstage, to when we both think the other person should have done the research for today's topic, the potential for conflicts are endless.
I have a background as a therapist, and this has given me some pretty iron-clad boundaries. When Kumail and I are working, he is my co-worker, so we don't get into "funny married people disagreements" on the air, and we don't exploit our relationship for adorableness, either. Live show co-host Jonah recently joked that he was concerned that Kumail and I would gang up on him, but now he realizes it's every man for himself. I was proud of that. I like being professional.
But my boundaries aren't as iron-clad as I thought, because I've noticed a few discrepancies in how I react to co-workers versus my spouse that have caused me to rethink how I deal with both types of people.
1) When I've had disagreements with co-workers in the past, it usually very civil and results in both of us hearing each other out and one person conceding to the other, either out of respect or out of wanting to avoid further conflict. When Kumail and I disagree about work, neither one of us backs down, and we're both flabbergasted the other person would see things any differently. Why should a stranger at work get more respect for a differing viewpoint than my own husband? Because I expect us to think similarly?
2) At work, when a co-worker has a lot on their plate and clearly can't finish a project we've started together, in the past I have not picked up their slack out of principle. In fact, I may have even once been the jerk who has gone to the boss and said "I don't think it's fair I have to pick up so-and-so's slack!" (I know, that's terrible, but I was young and dumb.) However, when I know my husband has a lot of work coming up in the next few weeks, I will schedule extra podcasts before he's swamped, I will edit our webshow on my own, I'll respond to his emails -- I have no problems picking up slack for him, because I understand that my co-worker would do the work if he humanly had the time. It has never occurred to me that a non-spouse coworker would actually be too swamped. I always assume they're taking advantage of me.
3) This is a kicker -- as a podcaster, you sometimes appear on other people's podcasts. When I've been cut off mid-point by someone on a different podcast, I stop the person, say something witty, and reassert myself. Easy peasy, no harm done, it's a podcast, people talk over each other. However, in my own podcast, if Kumail talks over me, I will sometimes feel hurt that he has done such a thing, and rather than re-insert myself into the conversation, I'll stare at him, sad-eyed, and feel lame. Why would I react differently to my husband cutting me off? Because he should know better? Because it could throw us into the familiar relationship dance of one person being the victim and the other person being wrong? No thank you.
He's my co-worker, he's my life partner, and he's a grown-up, just like me, and all these titles deserve a lot of respect. When you find yourself expecting more from a person you share an office with than the person you married, you need to rethink some things.
For both of us, the millions of hats we wear, together and separately, make us constantly aware of how we're regarding each other. We set up boundaries to help keep our titles straight with each other, we try to remember who we're dealing with when conflict arises, and most importantly, we try to stop in the middle of our work together every so often to remind ourselves how lucky we are. We are bringing people entertainment, for god's sake. When one of us sets up a joke on the podcast that the other one spikes perfectly, because we're so in tune, I remember how lucky I am. Being a co-worker has made me a better spouse… and luckily, being a spouse has made me a better co-worker, too.