Real talk for a second. I think I spend half of my time trying to find the things that Krista “put away” around the house. The clothes I wore that day aren’t clean, so they can’t go back in the drawer. But they’re not dirty either, so there’s no reason to put them in the hamper. Those clothes go on top of my dresser.
My shoes? It makes most sense they sit next to the door. I’m leaving again in an hour, so why should they be stuffed away in the closet. Ridiculous.
And don’t even get me started about how often she thinks the house needs to be vacuumed…
It just doesn’t make any sense.
You married folk know what I am talking about, and most of you have probably taken a side. Some of you may even be so frustrated about Krista’s transgressions that you want to send me an email in solidarity (email@example.com, please). Or if you want to connect, talk about new ideas, and brainstorm a bit, I’m totally the guy you want to email.
But if you’re going to send me an email to disagree with me, then you should probably send that to Krista. You see, I don’t do as well with criticism, and have a tendency to be overly sensitive to it. Krista, on the other hand, is able to process, filter, and then move on.
And if you need something done quickly, that email should also be sent to Krista. The truth is she tackles her to-do list every day with persistence, only to be occasionally sidetracked by a break for wine and pizza.
Figuring Out Our Differences
Working with a spouse can be a huge blessing. There’s freedom and flexibility, and it’s often fun working together. Krista and I have really enjoyed being able to say yes to adventures that we wouldn’t have been able to go on when we were working our 9-5s.
But it can also be challenging. Unlike a typical co-worker, your spouse probably feels completely comfortable challenging your ideas and telling you exactly how they feel. Or sometimes you might not communicate something because you assume your spouse will feel the same way you do.
You won’t believe the number of times I’ve said to myself, “Of course she’ll think this is a great idea. How could she not see this as a great idea!?”… only to find that she didn’t think it was a great idea.
As we transitioned into working together, we quickly figured out that one of the only ways to make this work and still stay married was to understand each other and communicate appropriately.
The Personality Test
Last year we had the opportunity to go through a leadership development program, and one of the first things we did was take the 16Personalities personality test. There are so many to choose from, but we like this one because it incorporates the popular Myers-Brigg model (although another test we enjoyed taking was the StrengthsFinder test).
Krista is an ISTJ. ISTJs are quiet, serious, practical, down-to-earth, responsible and dependable. They’re nicknamed “Inspectors” because they rely on logic and work steadily to complete their tasks. They’re extremely organized, love routine, they need a clean work environment and a clean home (Ralph the Roomba is Krista’s favorite gift of all time). Krista communicates what is on her mind and, mostly, controls her emotions. But she can sometimes unintentionally come across as harsh.
(As a fun side note, she hates that I’m sharing this because her personality type says she’s more likely to be an accountant, a dentist, a surgeon, a librarian or a lawyer—yet she’s a designer. But I think it’s pretty cool.)
As an ENFJ, I tend to be more attuned and sensitive to how others are feeling. Accurately nicknamed “Teachers” (I used to be a high school teacher and still coach high school lacrosse), they are big believers in people, and enjoy guiding and rallying people together. They tend to be tolerant, reliable, and altruistic. But, they can become indecisive when having to make decisions that do not have a clearly desirable outcome.
It’s easy to see based on our personalities why communication occasionally breaks down and we argue. If I have an idea, I often take Krista’s interrogative tendency as an attack on the idea. Most of the time her questions aren’t meant to tear down the idea; rather, it’s just her way of logically processing it and working through its practicality.
Krista is able to organize her day into a to-do list, and tackle each item with little distraction. She rarely has days where she doesn’t complete the items on her list. I am also organized and create a daily to-do list, but have a tendency to follow ideas “down the rabbit hole.” It doesn’t mean I don’t complete what I need to do, it just means I sometimes take a little more time do so.
My tendency to get sidetracked while researching or writing used to be a point of frustration for Krista. But she eventually realized that it was simply how I processed things, and it often led to the creation of some our best ideas.
How We Make It Work
Understanding ourselves and each other has allowed us to implement systems in our day to make sure we work well together. Much of what we have learned has to do with communication, and I think our marriage has also benefited as a result.
Here are three things we implemented into our workdays:
1. We write notes to each other everyday.
We didn’t start doing this as a romantic activity. Writing forces more thoughtfulness than speaking. When one writes, she has to articulate and thus reflect on how she feels. And it also gives the writer an opportunity to say something without any immediate judgment—there are no facial expressions expressing anger, joy, frustration, happiness as a note is being written. It’s a safe place to think, process, and articulate.
This has been a helpful activity for me because it helps me process whatever’s going on. If I’m stressed, writing it down often helps me either organize it or makes me realize that it’s something so silly I shouldn’t worry about it. If I have a new idea, writing it forces me to think through it thoroughly before explaining it to Krista. And it also gives me an outlet to tell Krista how I’m feeling.
It’s been beneficial for Krista because she gets some insight into what I’m thinking and feeling, which are often things I don’t verbalize. Additionally, she has space to warm-up to and process new ideas instead of barraging them in a pile of questions.
Oh, and the first rule of note-writing, is that we don’t talk about the notes.
Each note is a little different, some shorter and others longer, and many of them are lighthearted. But this activity has made the biggest positive impact on our marriage and work-relationship in recent memory.
2. Our days have the same rhythm.
We’re big believers in creating a daily routine, and we try to follow the same routine every day. This doesn’t mean we do everything together in the exact same way, but it does mean that our days have the same rhythm.
We both wake up early. I am up by 5 each morning to get a jump on some work before going to the gym around 6. Krista gets up around 6 and gets ready for the day. By 7:30 we’re both settling down for quiet times and reading, and by 8:30 we’ve started our workday.
Our most productive hours are in the morning so we are usually busy working on projects then. We take walks every few hours where we can discuss what we’re working on and whatever else is happening.
We save meetings until the afternoon because we’re generally a little less focused on projects and tasks by then. I’ll leave to coach lacrosse practice in the late afternoon and Krista will usually get a workout in then.
When I get home, we sit down and eat dinner. And then we unwind from the day either by hanging out, watching a little television, or more likely, reading. We go to bed early, and view that as the start of the next day (I’m a big believer in sleep!).
It’s not so much about the routine itself as it is about the rhythm of the day. Out rhythm allows us to prepare for our day at the same time, get our most important work done at the same time, and relax at the same time.
3. We make all our decisions together.
When working with a spouse it can be easy to assume they’ll be okay with something. Maybe it’s committing to a project or event, or perhaps it’s not checking in about a decision because “they’ll get over it.”
After lots of mess-ups (lots and lots of mess-ups), we made the commitment to one another that we’ll make every decision that involves the two of us together—even if it only indirectly involves one of us. This simple change has led to better dialogue and less arguments.
(Admittedly, I was usually the one at fault here—see above of-course-she’ll-think-this-is-a-good-idea comment.)
I think it’s important to mention that we are still figuring out much of this as we go. It’s not as if we sat down at the outset of working together, took a few personality tests, and then riding on rainbow of love completely understood each other from that moment on. We argue and fight. Sometimes we say things we don’t mean. But we always try to learn from our mistakes and move on.
And while the personality tests can be helpful tools to help you better understand yourself and each other, don’t use it to put yourself or your spouse in a box. The biggest improvements in our working relationship (and marriage), have come through intentionally reflecting on our relationship and communicating with each other.