Are you working from home, or thinking about working from home? In today’s episode, we want to show you how working from home could be a real positive for your marriage — but there are a few potential downsides that you need to be aware of too.
I’ve been working from home for a few years now, and Verlynda has been for much longer than I so we found this research pretty informative.
So does being in the home more help your marriage, or make things harder? Basically, the research suggests that the effect of working from home on marriage/family life is very subjective, depending on the type of work, the circumstances at home, and the personality and actions of the individual[i]. There are both potential upsides and downsides, and it’s mainly up to the individual couple to make it work.
Work vs. Marriage
We did a full episode on work-family conflict but just to recap that quickly, when you are working from home it can be difficult to have distinct boundaries between work and family. You have the ability to deal with some family and marriage responsibilities and privileges during your workday and you also may choose to address some work matters during family time. Sometimes you may even find yourself functioning in both roles simultaneously[ii].
Further, it is easy for stress to spill over from one domain to the other. This carries a potentially negative impact and you can find yourself in a situation where work and marriage are competing for a limited amount of emotional and practical resources[iii].
Downsides of Working From Home (& What To Do About It)
The Isolation is Real
If you work from home and your spouse does not, it can become very lonely and isolating since you rarely see anyone else during the day. WFH can also result in a smaller social network and less perceived social support since there are less natural opportunities to interact with others. This can potentially lead to over-reliance on your spouse to meet all your social needs.
Individuals interviewed during a study in 2004[iv] compensated for this by being more intentional about developing social networks: for example by joining professional support networks of people in similar positions or being more intentional about connecting with friends and family.
Certain personality traits, such as introversion, autonomy, and high levels of self-motivation are also helpful (but not essential) in dealing with the isolated nature of working from home[v]. There are definitely certain people for whom working on your own comes more naturally, but most people can still make it work.
Where Do You Vent Your Stress?
When working from home it is much easier for work-related stress to impact marital and family relationships, since both roles are happening in the same place, possibly at the same time. It is therefore very important that home workers learn to manage stress and learn the skills needed to handle their work responsibilities effectively. A study in this in 2000[vi] identified self-discipline as being the most important trait for successful home working so that you are pointing your stress in the right direction and adhering to healthy coping and stress-reduction strategies.
The relationship could also go the other way: stress from the marriage (eg due to conflict) will have much more of an impact on work. Creating a stable, healthy marriage therefore also needs to be a priority for home workers.
Caring For Young Children
How do children affect this dynamic? Research in 2008[vii] found that for many mothers with young children, working from home could increase their stress levels. The demands of caring for young children significantly interfered with their ability to work and meant that they had no respite from either role since both were based on the home.
Family structure could alleviate some of this stress in some circumstances. For example, if both spouse work from home then sharing the childcare could become easier. Likewise, if parents or other family members live nearby and are willing to help with childcare then this is not as much of an issue.
Where Is Your Calm Place?
Individuals who work from home often find it hard to relax and switch off from work, since the home environment and workspace are the same. This can make it hard to relax and connect with your spouse when at home.
Here’s an anecdotal example from one study: “one of the women asked her colleagues ‘When you work outside of the home you come home to relax. Where do you go when you want to relax when you work at home?’ Their reply to this was laughter and calls of ‘Nowhere. Nowhere at all’[viii]”
Often when folks drive home they have a mental process of leaving work behind and transitioning into family and home mode. When the difference between work and home is just doorway or a few steps away, it can be hard to get fully into family mode.
Watch Those Working Hours
The blurred boundary between work and home can also lead to working longer hours. 50% of individuals who work from home said that their spouses complained that they work too much and that this negatively affected their relationship[ix].
Many individuals found that having a dedicated workspace such as a home office was essential for getting around these two issues. Some individuals find that moving their home office to an outside shed or attic made it easier to differentiate work time from family time as there is more of a separation. Setting strict boundaries about when to work and when to focus on your spouse/family is also very helpful and perhaps even essential for some.
Balancing Work and Home
If you would like a self-guided exercise that steps you through a careful review of the balance between self-care, family responsibilities and work life you need to get your hands on our downloadable PDF that accompanies today’s topic. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.
Upsides to Working From Home (& How to Make The Most of Them)
The Flexibility is Sweet
Working from home is often practically easier and more comfortable due to less travel time, being in a familiar environment and having peace and quiet. Often WFH allows you to be more flexible in terms of hours worked, allowing you to find a good balance between work role and marriage/family roles.
If something comes up, you can sign off your work for the moment and go deal with it. Or if the kids get home from school and there’s a crisis you need to hear about or a success that you want to celebrate, you can do that and then finish up work later. That’s really cool to be able to do.
Better Relationships with Older Children
I didn’t realize this was a common benefit, but it makes sense. Couples with children over 12 often reported that working from home improved their relationships with their kids[x].
Older children need less constant supervision and care (hopefully!), so parent’s work roles aren’t as badly affected, allowing them to enjoy spending more time at home with the kids without it affecting work. Many couples find that even though working from home occasionally means working more hours, it’s worth it in order to be near the family more.
People who work from home often find that they are better supported than those who work in offices or public places[xi]. This is dependent on the state of the marriage and home life: people with a healthy marriage will find the home a very supportive environment to work from, but poor marital quality may make working from home harder.
Increased Personal Development
Working remotely requires the development of new skills and qualities such as good time management, self-motivation, autonomy and being able to set and work towards goals. There is a spillover benefit of developing these skills since all of them are also good for marriage and family life[xii].
Further, certain types of working from home, such as self-employment and running your own business, allow you to pursue your own personal goals with more freedom than working for a company. This ability to meet your own goals and values is linked to high life satisfaction and high marital satisfaction.
Identity Development Benefits
Finally, working from home helps individuals feel more like part of the family and helps them root their sense of identity in their marriage and their family. Research from 2000[xiii] found that working from home produced changes in the individual’s identity such that they placed less emphasis on career goals and viewed work as less important while increasing a sense of family/marital closeness and viewing family as being more important. That’s definitely going to be good for your marriage!
So I hope this episode illustrates that there are some potential downsides to working from home, and how to limit or avoid them. At the same time, there are plenty of advantages, for your marriage and for your own personal growth. If this is the situation you’re in, or you’re considering working from home, I’d encourage you to really take hold of these benefits and spend some time figuring out how to make it work for your marriage.
[i] Tracey Crosbie and Jeanne Moore, “Work-Life Balance and Working from Home,” Social Policy and Society 3, no. 3 (2004): 223–33.
[ii] Crosbie and Moore.
[iii] Kristin Byron, “A Meta-Analytic Review of Work-Family Conflict and Its Antecedents,” Journal of Vocational Behavior 67, no. 2 (2005): 169–98.
[iv] Crosbie and Moore, “Work-Life Balance and Working from Home.”
[v] Yehuda Baruch, “Teleworking: Benefits and Pitfalls as Perceived by Professionals and Managers,” New Technology, Work and Employment 15, no. 1 (March 1, 2000): 34–49, https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-005X.00063.
[vii] ERIN L. KELLY et al., “Getting There from Here: Research on the Effects of Work-Family Initiatives on Work-Family Conflict and Business Outcomes,” The Academy of Management Annals 2 (August 2008): 305–49, https://doi.org/10.1080/19416520802211610.
[viii] Crosbie and Moore, “Work-Life Balance and Working from Home.”
[ix] Crosbie and Moore.
[x] Crosbie and Moore.
[xi] Baruch, “Teleworking.”