The War at Home

Negotiating a truce with a spouse over after-hours work requires effective communication and concessions on both sides

Jill Hamburg Coplan

An entrepreneur writes to say that bringing his work home a few nights a week has become a source of tension with his wife. Normally, he works from an office, not his house. But a bit of evening phone work a few hours a week has become "critical" to his business, he says. While he has tried to explain this to his wife -- who is generally supportive -- she refuses to accept that these calls are really necessary.

It's a truism: Working at home isn't always all it's cracked up to be. Sometimes -- and a protesting spouse makes this one of those times -- it's actually smarter to keep your work at the office, even at the cost of more time away from your family.

"Perhaps she'll deal with it better if she never has to see you working," says Katherine R. Hutt, the founder of an Internet communications company in Vienna, Va., who writes about home-office life. If you absolutely must work at home, try to do it when your wife is occupied with something enjoyable, Hutt says. "Schedule your calls for the nights when she has a meeting, a favorite TV show, or an exercise class to attend. Or if she doesn't have any evening activities, how about getting her a weekly appointment for a massage?"

Be creative about paybacks. Work more than she would ideally like if you must, but then take her out for a late dinner those nights your hours get out of hand, Hutt suggests.


  Meanwhile, this is probably a good time to work on your listening skills. It's obvious that your communication so far with your wife on this subject may have been less than perfect.

"You say you've 'explained' the necessity of working -- but does that translate into 'discussed'?" asks Kate Rosenberger Staley, a psychologist in State College, Pa. You may feel you have no choice but to work at night. You two may never see eye to eye, but it's still possible to accept, and make peace with, each other's positions if you talk things over. "One partner may not approve of, or like, what the other one does -- accepting something doesn't mean you like it," Staley says. "But you have to come to an understanding," and honest conversation is the only way to get there.

Then again, maybe your wife is giving you a wake-up call. This might be an opportunity to take stock of your work habits -- something everyone needs to do once in a while. Have you unwittingly begun to let certain clients abuse your availability? Are you too willing to classify matters as "urgent" when they can really wait until tomorrow morning? Honest answers may help boost your productivity and bring peace to the home front.


  "You have a life outside of work," says Michael J. Hurd, a New York City psychologist and the author of Effective Therapy. Clients who don't understand compromise their very humanity. Saying no sometimes might cost you less than you think.

You may find that setting limits and really relaxing after hours actually gives you a more powerful, sharpened focus when work hours roll around. "That," Hutt says, "is what balance is all about."

Jill Hamburg Coplan has covered work, family, business, and finance for the past decade as a writer and editor for newspapers, magazines, and wire services. She left Working Woman magazine, where she was senior editor, when her first child was born and now works solo from a home office in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can e-mail her at Jill Hamburg Coplan

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