What To Do When Your Husband Becomes Your Boss

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S1: Everybody wants somebody to complain to, and I we said like all they wanted to do was come home and bitch about my boss and there they were on the pillow beside me. And you have nobody to complain to. And let’s face it, like every boss any of us has ever had has annoyed us.

S2: Welcome to how to I’m Amanda Amanda Ripley. Whenever the power balance changes in a relationship. Weird things can happen. Say one partner starts making more money or somebody decides to stay home with the kids and before you know it also suddenly the dynamics can shift. Now imagine that your partner becomes your boss. That’s what happened to this week’s listener, and it’s thrown everything out of whack.

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S3: I married an amazing guy that I met at work. We’ve been married about 15 years. We were Team Bethany Travis, so two sides of a coin. Everything we did, we did together. We worked at three separate places together and it’s been amazing.

S2: Bethany, which is not her real name, is an instructor at a small Midwestern community college for more than a decade. She and her husband, who were calling Travis, have worked alongside each other as equals.

S3: So I would see him for lunch and we’d have a date, and then we’d go back to our separate places and then we would see each other at home. It was like having my best friend at work and I loved it.

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S2: But then something happened. A good thing. By most accounts,

S3: he was promoted and I was so proud and excited for him. In my mind, nothing would really change. For me, nothing would change in our relationship. It would just be. He had this different job in a new building and he’d make more money. And it seemed like a great idea. But I’m starting to realize that this does affect me and this does affect our relationship. And it’s been really strange to transition from a team to going to work. And I’m a subordinate.

S2: That word subordinate is really a killer.

S1: Yeah, it’s

S2: really a killer kills all the guys in just instantly

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S1: rise.

S2: Bethany doesn’t directly report to Travis, but that’s because he’s actually her boss’s boss.

S3: And so now, if I miss a day of work, I have to email him the paperwork. If I’m going to be out of my office, then he’s the one that gets notified that my faculty evaluations go to him. It’s really gotten more interconnected in ways I did not expect, right?

S2: Like, it really makes the power dynamics a little of. It sounds like

S3: one thing that he does really well that I struggle with is he’s very empathetic and kind, and I’m like a spicier person who’s not always as kind as I should be. And so he’ll have a problem or he’ll come up with an idea. And then I’ll say, OK, here are the problems I see. And we actually had a huge fight over that once because he wanted to talk to his wife. But I approached it as his, you know, his employee talking to the boss here, the problems that I have, this isn’t workable.

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S2: And so things change. That sort of made a weird tweak in your personal life. How about outside? How have other colleagues been treating you since this change?

S3: So I expected that things would continue to be very separate and they would just see me as the same colleague they’ve had for 10 years. But that’s not what happened. So now I feel like people are dealing with me with kid gloves. I feel people talk to me differently and they’re more guarded around me because they don’t want whatever they say to get back to the boss, potentially because are answering to him too. We had to do some layoffs because our attendance declined because of COVID, and that was super tense because he was involved in those discussions. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Jane the Virgin, but there’s a scene in that show when she’s dating the guy that owns the hotel, where she’s a waitress and they have to do layoffs and her friends are all like, You’re not going to get laid off.

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S1: It just seems like maybe you’re not in a big rush to find

S3: out if we’re getting fired because obviously you’re not getting fired. And she said, Well, probably not because I work very hard. I’m not taking a day off. I’m always here. I’m dependable.

S1: I’ve taken three sick days in four years and I’ve been twice voted employee, the mom.

S3: And they were like, No, that’s not it. You keep telling yourself that it’s different when you are with the boss,

S2: it erases what you’ve actually

S3: done. Yes, a race is such a good word for it. It’s like everything I’ve worked hard for. It suddenly is in someone else’s shadow.

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S2: On today’s show, we’re bringing in someone who worked with and for her husband while building a multimillion dollar wedding and lifestyle company and managing to keep their marriage intact.

S1: I’m Carley Roney and I am the co-founder of a company called The Knot, which I founded with my husband and we ran for 20 years together.

S3: Carley is that the knot weddings the website? Yeah, OK, that’s OK. I use the not so that’s super exciting to meet you.

S1: Well, Bethany and I are clearly soul sisters because I’m a little spicy too. And I do think that a tremendous amount of restraint is needed to navigate this moment in your relationship and marriage. We struggled for a very long time to learn how to stop talking about work at home,

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S2: whether or not you’re working with your spouse right now. Carley has some smart advice for managing any power imbalance in your relationship and making sure you aren’t erased in the process. We’ll be right back. Carley, I’m curious, what are you thinking as you listen to Bethany story so far?

S1: Oh my God, my heart is pounding, my blood pressure’s rising. I’m getting like PTSD. Bethany I feel you. I hear you. I see you. I too found that this like restructuring of the power from partners to being a subordinate. I think that was such a good word because it really encapsulates the whole thing. And so I hear the anxiety that it’s causing for you and definitely went through it. I mean, got out the other side, so I can assure you that right at the start of this, there is another side, but it’s a journey to get there.

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S2: Carley and her husband, David Lou, dove right into their journey. They started dating and got married six months later, just six months after that. They started a business together. Now, if you’ve ever been married or known someone who has, you’ve probably heard of the wedding website The Knot.

S1: I managed all the content and creative side of things David manage the finance and technology. Our partners managed advertising for different areas of the business. But as the business grew, it became just very clear that we needed a traditional hierarchy structure,

S2: so it was decided that David would take the top spot.

S1: David was going to be a fantastic CEO. He was the right person for the job, so his job became very stressful, very quickly, and I felt like it just destabilised everything and I wanted to support him. But I also, like, didn’t appreciate the additional stress it put on me, and I constantly felt like I was kind of like gaslighting myself, like you should do better. This shouldn’t be a problem for you. But I don’t think it helps.

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S3: Sometimes I feel like an alien, but that really helps.

S1: Well, you’re not crazy. I think that that’s an important thing. I often thought, like, it’s me. I’m the problem. I’m the crazy one. Why can’t I just like settle with this? This is just a normal organizational structure. So first of all, I would say, like, stop gaslighting yourself. It’s really awkward. You are absolutely right. It’s awkward. It’s changed a lot of things in your life and power changes,

S2: but that’s actually our first takeaway. It’s OK to struggle with a new power imbalance in a relationship. It is awkward and disorienting, especially if you really value equality in your relationship. Like Bethany and Carley, and probably most of us, it can also help to remember you aren’t the only person in your relationship navigating this change.

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S1: I know you noted, Bethany, that you felt like people were treating you differently. Your husband probably feels the same, that people are watching him carefully, and that’s something you could actually bond over and say, Wow, look at this situation, that’s happening. How do you see it happening on your side? Here’s how it’s happening on my side and try to sort of make it that neither of you are doing anything wrong. It’s just the awkwardness of the situation.

S3: So I connected to so much of what Carley is mentioned. So, for example, last night I came home and I was like, Oh, I was looking at my spring schedule, and I really wanted to teach this class. And he he said, I can’t. I can’t change that. I have to be so careful. And I had to say, I’m not talking to the dean right now. I just wanted to to let you know how I felt. So we have run into that or he’s had to cut some of my classes for low enrollment and he’ll come home and say, Now, listen, I have to do it. I would do this if it were anybody else. Your section is low, it’s got to get cut. I do think that he is very aware that people are watching him and that he can’t be seen as playing favorites. So he’s struggling to. I guess I hadn’t thought about that. Hmm.

S2: I bet you wanted to wear a t shirt when you’re walking around. That said, my classes got cut, too.

S3: I did.

S1: Yeah. This is where I think it’s important to keep letting things go and not make them personal. Like, really keep the mantra to tell yourself as none of this is personal, it’s just professional. And the the home is really that dangerous area. You have to draw a very clear line and either say, as you as you were indicating, like, I need a husband right now, let me know if you think you can be that. Otherwise they’re going to go find a friend to talk to and to really just realize that that empathetic ear can’t be there a good portion of the time. Hmm.

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S2: So did you Carley did you have like a clear line like we don’t talk about work at home? Is that where you ended up?

S1: It took us about 10 years. Yeah, mostly because we it was so heated. It was so stressful. Every day was filled with intense drama and we looked at each other at one point and looked at our kids who were like deers, caught in headlights as we’re like fighting at the table about something and thought like, Wow, this is just simply not worth it. What are we doing? We turned to ourselves and said, Wait, we keep acting like the business is the most important thing. But I think our relationship has to be the most important thing. I always say that actually, it’s a really good thing that our business is about weddings because divorce really wouldn’t be good for business. Optics are not great. So I was like, This would really be bad for business. We should figure out how to work this out.

S2: Here’s our second takeaway. You and your partner need to explicitly agree to prioritize your relationship over your work. That’s the foundation for everything else. And also make it explicit when you want your spouse to listen as well your spouse and not your co-worker, or when you do want to talk shop. Don’t let these things go unsaid. Bethany What do you think about this? Could you have this conversation with your husband or have you had this conversation?

S3: We haven’t had it. I, you know, Carley you mentioned we thought we were smart enough that we wouldn’t have a problem here, that we’ve already been through a lot of things and we’re well equipped. That’s kind of where we are, and we’re realizing that the situation is bigger than us. So he’ll come home and say, Well, you know, I have I’ve had all these meetings say I’m exhausted and I’ll come home and I’m also exhausted because I’ve had, you know, I have all this grading and I stayed up the night before. And then somebody has to help the kids with their homework and take out the dogs and make dinner and clean up. And so it becomes who is who’s going to crack first and who gets to rest because they’re exhausted.

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S1: Let me guess

S3: like, whose job is more important?

S1: I think this is another area where the gender roles come into play. I know that I experienced a lot of resentment. I’m sorry, David, how resentful I was. If you’re listening, I just I did feel like it was all my responsibility, every single thing at home, in addition to everything I was doing at work and I didn’t feel like I was necessarily seen for all of it. So if you all begin the conversation recognizing that the job is nearly impossible, let’s figure out how to divide it up as best we can so that we can really be able to appreciate each other’s contributions. And let’s recognize that everybody does need a moment where they can relax, and I really found it was important to make sure that I booked time. That I just wasn’t at home, right, that I would make a point. And I think it’s good if everybody does it like everyone has a day that they are out of the house so that nobody can be leering at them, wishing they were helping more.

S3: I’m concerned that it has created distance. The closer we are professionally, the more distant sometimes there is personally, and that’s what I don’t want. You know, before he would assert his opinion very confidently and I’d say, Well, I don’t work for you. You’re not my boss. But now, literally. So I can’t use that line anymore. Maybe I need a new line. But it’s really important to me that we are that we remain equal co-parents and that, you know, there’s some sort of a division between I don’t have to comply at home because the the roles are different, the expectations are different.

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S2: Subordination ends at the door.

S3: Yes, that’s such a good way to say it.

S2: Yeah, it’s funny what you said, Carley about getting tactical and I want to get back to a couple of things you mentioned, but one of them that I used to be embarrassed about, but I’m not anymore is I’m just going to share right here, which is my husband and I created a spreadsheet which we call the chief organizer, and we have to revisit it every few years. Things get out of out of whack. And so when we would feel a lot of friction around who’s doing what, when we would be like, it’s time to organize. We made cocktails and sit down. Sometimes we get a babysitter and actually do this, which is really dreadful, but

S1: is the only way we can get it

S2: done. And sometimes we would find that he was doing more, and sometimes we would find that I was doing more. And it was always like a nice, seemingly objective exercise to get us out of the like round and round, you know, passive aggressive commentary at dinner. And just kind of put it on paper.

S1: I love organizing. We often recommended couples on the night and the nest to do that from the very beginning of their relationship because, believe me, everyone’s keeping a scorecard. The only thing I would add to Amanda’s advice, though, is that you definitely want to have sex first. Now, how does it? Well, it will get you more points for each of your chores. I I my he’s going to love that advice. Yes.

S2: Extra hour of babysitting is worth it.

S1: The only other thing I could add sorry, I just like a flash of advice, is safe to compartmentalize the discussion to say, like, maybe we should have a monthly check in where we can just sort of go back to this and say, how do we think we’re doing? So that it’s seen as like a project that will be ongoing, but that you also aren’t in a constant state of trying to fix it? That’s smart.

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S2: Oh, that’s that’s smart. And it’s sort of funny, right? Because that’s what you would do at work. Yeah, you would have like

S3: a weekly or monthly meeting.

S2: That’s OK. Whether you adopt my beloved organizer or not, though, I totally think you should create a system for you and your partner to be accountable to one another. Split up responsibilities and check in periodically to make sure the workload is balanced. That way, you’ll avoid a lot of resentment. When we come back, we’re going to tackle just about the worst question a boss can get. Are you willing to fire your spouse? Don’t go anywhere. If you rely on how to the best way to support the show is by joining Slate Plus Slate’s membership program, signing up for Slate Plus helps us help all the people you hear on our podcast every week. It’s only $1 for the first month, and members will never hear another ad on our podcast or any other Slate podcast. You’ll also get free and total access to Slate’s website. Plus, you’ll be supporting our important work, so I hope you’ll join if you can. Again, is just $1 for your first month. To sign up now, go to Slate.com Slash How to Plus again, that’s Slate.com slash how to. Plus, thanks. We’re back with Bethany and our expert, Carley Roney. When Carley and her husband, David, decided to go into business together, they had a big secret. They didn’t wear wedding rings and they kept it pretty quiet that they were married

S1: because we were like, We do not want to be seen as a mom and pop. It’s like one of the most risky things to invest in for obvious reasons is a husband and wife team. And I actually remember I had like a newborn, like breastfeeding at the moment, and David was on this conference call with the the future potential investors and I saw his face drop and I heard him start to explain that the two of us were actually married as well. And it gave them a significant pause. Hmm. It was a very complicated thing. They were like, we have to get back to you, basically. And then they proceeded to take us through this grilling process, which included the question is literally ask David, since you are in the role of CEO, would you be willing to fire Carley? Yeah.

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S2: Oh my God.

S1: And I, of course, at this retelling. And like, what did you say? And he said, of course. And I said, Of course you should have. Oh, yeah, because, you know, at that moment, we’re both, you know, trying to we want the business to succeed. And I was like, Good, I’m glad you said that, but you wouldn’t, right?

S2: I mean, Bethany has had that question ever come up with Travis?

S3: No, I I don’t know if it has, as you

S2: know, it has,

S1: I don’t know. Bethany, we’ve brought you here to break the news. Oh, I yeah,

S3: but I mean, it could. It’s not out of the question that that could become an issue. So I just hadn’t thought that far in advance yet. Oh, there’s a lot I haven’t thought of yet before my husband was promoted. I guess I didn’t think about him much in my work. Identity was really personal to me, and I took a lot of pride in it and worked hard on it. But now it feels like part of my identity in this job is a wife, the boss’s wife, and it’s almost like a new role for me that I didn’t see coming. So how do you negotiate people’s expectations of you as a wife and how do you not let that just get inside your head?

S1: That’s a really good question. I had worked so hard to have an equitable relationship to choose a partner who believed in equity. I lived my whole life that way that I thought everything should be equal, that I suddenly had to be in this role. That, yes, reflected on me. There is just something feels almost a little like dirty about having to be the wife to someone

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S3: that really bothers me.

S1: Yes. And I think that that’s because of where we are. We have fought so hard for our independence as women and in our careers, and it just messes it up. For all that you say, you are very. Your career is very important to you. You’ve worked very hard for it. It’s a very separate piece of your identity. I do think it’s important to tell yourself no one can take that away from you. I am my own entity. I do not need to overcompensate to show that to my peers, because that’s always a temptation, right? I’d like to throw the boss under the bus just so everyone knows you’re your own independent thinker. Resist that temptation as I wish I had at all times. There are also ebbs and flows to who’s on top for for lack of a better way to talk about it, that sometimes we do need to have someone feel more important for a period of time because their life depends on it in that moment.

S2: Here’s our next takeaway. Keep reminding yourself that you’ve earned your career on your own, and no one can take that away from you. And when that fails, remember that this arrangement will last forever. Who knows? One day you might be his boss. Until then, don’t let other people get between you.

S3: One thing that’s changed is that sometimes people in the community see me as a conduit now. So when there is an issue, I’ll have someone like a friend come to me and say, Hey, tell Travis this, or make sure he knows this, or he should bring this to the board. And it’s a really strange place to be in that I didn’t expect.

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S2: Right, right, right. It’s kind of like you became first lady.

S1: Yeah, it feels that way.

S2: I don’t know how sudden everything you do is through the lens.

S3: Yes, that’s probably a crap job, too. I mean, it’s just,

S2: oh my god. Yeah, really, really. I always feel bad for the first.

S3: Me too.

S2: So do you ever come back like, what do you say when people say, you got to tell

S3: Travis about this, right? No, I don’t have a comeback. I need a comeback. Carley do you have any ideas?

S1: Oh yeah.

S2: Did this happen to you?

S1: Yes. Oh my gosh. Can you imagine all the lobbying and I mean the constant back channeling everybody does it. It is. I would just say, Oh, I have no sway with David. You know that? Oh, that’s good. You know, it’s like, Oh, and I was like, I think you should come up with the exact same thing, like, Oh, you going to talk to Travis? We have a no work talk at home strategy. That’s good. You should make an appointment with him.

S3: Yeah, that’s a good one. Great.

S2: It is tempting, though, right, to bond with your coworkers to restore that connection at your husband’s expense. I mean, Carley said earlier that there was this temptation to throw the boss under the bus that ever did you ever give in to that temptation? And what was the effect of that?

S1: Well, good thing. I’m telling the story and David is, isn’t, you know? Yeah, yeah, I did. I was. We’re calling him. That’s right. No, I couldn’t help myself.

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S2: Now I have to be a jerk here and ask, Can you tell us the story of throwing under the bus? Or does that not feel right?

S1: Honestly, Amanda there are probably too many to recount. I just, you know, just people exactly as Bethany is talking about it, just engaging in the conversation, like by the water cooler people. Always they could tell. I also, to be honest, I was terrible about. Well, I really think I’m getting all my confessions out today. I was terrible. I would start differing in a very appropriate executive leadership team way and then if I didn’t get the answer I wanted, I would push a little harder. I would. I would take a little bit more time. I would be angry later if I didn’t feel like I was heard, and then I would lobby other people to like, do my talking for me. I mean, like, obviously, I was a functioning executive as well. Like, I wasn’t just crazy, but I look at the times and I’m like, I really all felt very life and death. And that’s sort of what I’m saying to Bethany like, go do a great job at your job. That is the most important thing. The politicking people will keep trying to involve you in. You will be drawn to involve yourself in. But you actually, even though you are in a structure where you report up to him, your job in the work you’re doing is very separate and independent. You can be successful at it without his involvement.

S3: I really like the strategy that Carley mentioned of making a joke about it and just kind of deflecting with humor. Mm-Hmm. I think if I anticipated ahead of time, that’s doable. And I think that once people start to get the idea that you aren’t going to engage, then maybe you have to deal with it less.

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S2: That’s our next takeaway. Preserve your independence in the workplace, people may try to see you as an avenue to your spouse or even a source of gossip. Remember, you don’t owe anyone anything to shut down this line of inquiry before it starts by laughing it off with a quick, rehearsed comeback. I’m curious, Bethany, has there been anything positive yet about this new dynamic and it’s OK to say no?

S3: I don’t know. It’s still pretty new. I yeah, but I will say working for the same mission is really rewarding and fun. It feels like we’re coaching the same team, which I like.

S2: Tell me about that mission.

S3: We are in a community that has high poverty rates and low college admission rates, low educational attainment. So there’s just so much opportunity for people who really are willing to do the work to make a big difference to just change people’s lives. And it feels like we get to do that together first with our family, you know, raising these kids and then we get to go to work and do it for a bigger family. And that part’s really amazing.

S2: That’s nice. And I wonder if that’s important to keep even reminding other people. Yeah. And I was like, Well, it’s it’s weird to have him in this new job, but I also am grateful that, you know, we’re part of something that I really that really matters.

S1: You know, I think it’s so beautiful and powerful, actually, that you guys are both on this ride and investing in something so important together that you met there. It’s a key part of and of your relationship and that that’s also can be part of the goal of keeping it really positive. And I think Bethany some advice on that is make sure that you have an opportunity when everything is very low risk and to talk right before someone says something unfortunate in an argument and before things just get too tense that. You can do it without criticizing each other, and you can just sit and say, Wow, we really should just sit down and talk about it must be really hard for you. I, you know, to put everything on the table and make sure that we’re conscious together because our mission is so important to us. Our family’s so important to us work on this challenge together and think of it as the challenge is the the enemy, not either of you or the job or anything like that. It’s just that the challenge is a unique challenge.

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S3: Yes, everybody is under a tremendous amount of stress, and I do think I hadn’t thought about that, but I’m sure that’s a factor. But if we can just get past it, I think we really will have learned a lot. I just want to thank you both. This has been so helpful.

S1: Thank you, Bethany for letting me use my struggle and trauma to come to some good in the world. I really wish you luck.

S2: Thank you, Bethany, for sharing your story with us and a Carley for all of her wise advice. And by the way, we did get an update from Bethany

S3: Carley with the perfect person to coach me through the new power dynamics in my relationship. Immediately after work, my husband and I took a walk and talk through everything Carley Amanda and I discussed when I acknowledged how hard recent changes must be for him. I could just see him melt with relief, and now we both feel more peace and clarity about our relationship, and we’re optimistic for the road ahead. I went into this experience with a tangled web of concerns, expecting suggestions for how to change my behavior. But what I really needed was to see the situation in a new way. Being on how to is not what I expected, but exactly what I needed.

S2: Thank you so much, Bethany. We are very glad to hear that. Good luck and keep in touch. And as for everyone else, do you have a problem that you need to wrap your arms around? Send us a note at how to at Slate.com or leave us a voicemail at six four six four nine five four zero zero one and we might have you on the show. If you like what you heard today, please give us a rating and a review and tell a friend that helps us help more people. How TOS Executive Producer Is Derek John Rosemary Belson produces the show. Our theme music is by Hannah’s Brown, remixed by Mary Jacob, our technical director. Special thanks to Amber Smith. Charles Duhigg created the show. I’m Amanda Ripley. Thanks for listening.