I finally finished my PhD and found myself at a loose end. My husband Jamie was wrapping up his own project when he made a proposal: why not work on an iPad word game idea together? (His background is in iPhone programming, and mine is in Computational Linguistics.) So in a week we had a working prototype and we thought hey, this could work; we can always quit if it doesn’t.
That first week of working together gradually became months, as we added features and awesomized the game into a polished product ready for release. Our daily lives had melded work, home, and marriage and we came out the other end closer than ever.
Along the way I learned a few things, through trial and error, that made working with a spouse easier:
- Separate criticism of YOU from criticism of THE WORK. Because, come on, he knows better than to criticise you.
- Take breaks. Time apart is even more important when you work together.
- Schedule fun. At one point our bug-tracking system had a ticket that said “Watch the Grand Prix.” I assigned it to Jamie. He completed it. Everybody happy.
- Be flexible. Want to work until 11PM tonight? Okay. Want to take Monday off instead of Saturday? Fine. Want to go to the 2pm Thursday opening of The Hobbit and call it a work outing? Awesome.
- Let the dusting slide. Anyone with a perfectly happy marriage, a thriving home business, and a spotless home must have gotten access to some magical 28-hour day. You’ve got priorities.
Our partnership wasn’t always successful, though. Not only did we have the normal fights about the division of household labor, we also fought about storyboards and implementations. I was wife, cook, boss, secretary, cleaner, and talent. He was husband, dishwasher, boss, tech support, and rogue. We had to actively resist falling into traditional roles.
Keeping an equitable division of WORK work was easy; HOME work was problematic. Protocols had to be renegotiated based on the business of the day. Laundry was folded during planning meetings. Play testing happened over dinner. We didn’t always get everything right.
But through all this, we became a stronger team. I learned new things about my husband, like how to translate his constructive criticism (“I don’t like the colour” really means “I like everything but the colour.”) And I’m sure he learned things about me (probably a dozen strategies for dealing with generalised ranting).
It helped that the thing we were working on was both fun and funny. It helped lighten the mood when we were under a deadline. We found ways to integrate elements of our relationship into the game, whether with subtle plot points, pop culture references, or bizarre in-joke Easter eggs. Above all, we kept at it because we enjoyed it, and because what we were making didn’t really matter, wasn’t going to make us rich, and wasn’t nearly as important to us as our marriage is.
I gained a deeper respect for Jamie as a developer and a designer, elements of him I wouldn’t have seen outside of work, and I love him all the more for seeing his super powers. In the end, working with my husband has given me new insight into the term “labor of love.”
But there were two things that were fundamental to our continued enjoyment of the process, despite the challenges: 1. We’re married because we’re best friends, and 2. This is way easier than a PhD.