How to Adjust to Your New Co-Worker: Your Spouse

By: Holly Kooi

We had been prepping ourselves for our move to Vienna, Austria for a little less than a year all the while tending to the daily demands of our full-time jobs in Oklahoma City. My husband worked for a small yet successful P.R. Firm where he took and edited videos of events, sent out press releases, and occasionally tried to convince difficult clients that no, that Comic Sans font and the cartoon goat you made yourself on a Paint program are in fact the opposite of professional. Meanwhile I worked for a wedding chapel as a Wedding Coordinator where I sometimes gave tours to couples wearing pajamas at 3 in the afternoon (it happened more often than you’d think), coordinated more Cowboy themed weddings than I would have ever cared to, and more than once found the best man passed out on the floor of the dressing room during a dress rehearsal thanks to all the pot he had smoked out in the parking lot. We liked our jobs despite the insanity of them every now and again, but our jobs were certainly stressful and frequently kept us apart for days at a time.

Then it was finally time to move. We quit our jobs, sold everything, and held hands as we gleefully walked through the Vienna airport, ready to tackle our new, exciting life head-on at full speed. We get to work together! We’ll get to see each other EVERY DAY! I’m so in love with you right now! Ha. Don’t worry - we’re still very much in love, but this romantic thought of being together all the time, every minute, every second, every day - it didn’t last too long. Within the first real week of work, our working styles clashed and clashed hard. I’m a busy body who needs deadlines, but my husband approaches work like he’s lying in a field of flowers. It’s taken us an entire year to understand this concept alone about each other. Add that to learning German, trying to figure out a new culture, making new friends, and frequent meltdowns in the kitchen (me) and you get an interesting bout of I need you right now because you know what I’m going through but seriously if I see your face one more time I’m going to LOSE IT.

So how do you survive working alongside your spouse in a foreign country? Is it even possible to accomplish? Well I haven’t been at this too long, but I’ve picked up a few lessons along the way that I think could be helpful and preventative against strangling your lifelong partner. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. At least 1 year of marriage

Get at least 1 year of marriage under your belt before you and your spouse move to another country. Learning how to live with another person is hard enough without adding culture shock and co-working to the mix at the same time. I’ve known couples who didn’t do this and came out at the other end alive and well, but weren’t hesitant to admit that their first year of marriage was extremely exhausting.

2. Enjoy the “Honeymoon Stage”

If you’ve lived or studied abroad, you’ve probably encountered what’s called the “Honeymoon Stage”. Basically you approach living in another country the same way a tourist visits a country for the first time: filled with awe, excitement, wonderment, and curiosity. Everything is the best. For my husband and I, this stage lasted about 2 months and we enjoyed every moment of it. We went sightseeing, we fell in love with the language, we were romantic and gushy in every park and cafe in Vienna. This considerable amount of enjoyment being together as if we were on our honeymoon all over again gave us strength to help each other when the Honeymoon Stage ended and the feeling of Wait, we have to ACTUALLY learn this crazy German language and live without chicken wings and chocolate chip cookies? WHAT HAVE WE DONE?! That’s the “Adjustment Stage” - enjoy!

3. Play to your spouse’s strengths

Like I said before, I need deadlines. I need order, dates, numbers, details. That’s how I work. My husband needs a window of time, relaxation, room for creativity. That’s how he works. We’ve allowed ourselves to understand this about each other and try to provide these needs to each other. Though we still haven’t eliminated all arguments and frustrations (if you have you must be a super-couple), we get along much easier and smoother than we did when we first began.

4. Take a day

Before we even moved to Austria we acknowledged the likely need for a day to be apart, not because we knew we’d be sick of each other or because we wanted to get as far away apart from each other as possible for as long as possible, but because we knew it would be healthy for our marriage and individuality. On these days, I like to go to my favorite spot in all of Vienna with a good book in one hand and a coffee in the other, or walk up and down the grounds of a palace, or even stay home just to get some peaceful cleaning done. On my husband’s day to himself, he goes hiking or takes himself on a tour, or rides his bike through the city. Sometimes his day to himself means he stays home to read with our living room windows open and music playing softly in the background. We love these days because we always return to each other refreshed and empowered, and if you can believe it we actually miss each other while we’re apart. (Sorry if that made you gag.)

5. Keep it fun

Even though we’re here to work, we always make room for play. On our longest and hardest day of the week (Tuesday), we always stop by our favorite take-away pizza restaurant on our way home to unwind. We make sure to go on a date at least every other Friday which is especially helpful in forgetting what your spouse did earlier in the work week that made you so frustrated. We ride our bikes together in the park for fresh air and exercise to keep us healthy and revived. We don’t have to do these activities, but who wants to live with an Archie Bunker after work each day? No one but Edith, I hope. So don’t invite disagreements at work to come home with you to hangout in the living room - go out and do something, or stay in and do something! Just have fun and enjoy the accompaniment of your spouse.

These are just a few of the lessons I have learned in the last year of working 24/7 with my sweet husband. We haven’t mastered full-time bliss or eradicated all arguments, but we’re constantly working to improve with these little lessons in mind so that we can accomplish the work we’ve been sent here to do successfully as well as happily. Working together abroad presents a lot of challenges and takes some getting used to, but truthfully I’m glad to be working alongside by best friend.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingHolly Kooi is an American expat living in Austria. Blog description: A collection of grievances, memories, occasional musings, and everyday happenings from my relocated life in Vienna, Austria.
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Contest Comments » There are 10 comments

Tamika wrote 8 years ago:

Would have to agree with my husband here! I also want to say that the ability to communicate and compromise are really key to making it work. I also think that exploring together helps. Good Luck Holly! You did a great job!

Mendy wrote 8 years ago:

I'm sorry, Holly. He takes after his dad.

Mica wrote 8 years ago:

I loved this blog! My husband and I don't work together, but there's some pretty solid marriage advice nonetheless.

Bartosz Rybinski wrote 8 years ago:

I enjoyed reading about this aspect of your life and work with Vienna. Though I never worked with my wife on daily basis, for the first three years of our time abroad my office was in the same building as our apartment or I worked out of home. Several tips you mentioned definitely applied to our situation. And I can't stress enough the need to have a strong marriage - everyone's different but having enough time together under your belt prior to moving to withstand the culture shock and stress are critical!

Zuzana Zyhlarz wrote 8 years ago:

I loved and experienced every bit of this story when I moved to Vienna.the only difference is/was that my husband IS Austrian so there was only me who had a chance to experience a culture shock:)!!!! I loved how Holly described every aspect of living and working with your husband in a foreign country. It was tough on the beginning but I do not regret any of it now!!!! Thank you Holly for sharing this!

Erica Stewart wrote 8 years ago:

Loved this post! My husband and I don't work together but this post offers sound advice that would be helpful for any married couple. Thank you Holly for sharing these helpful lessons. It's so encouraging to read about strong marriages working to keep their marriage healthy.

Laura Besley wrote 8 years ago:

Holly, I really enjoyed your post. It made me laugh so much! I've actually only ever lived abroad with my husband - we're both English, but met in Germany and then moved to Hong Kong together. We experienced the "culture shock" moving to Hong Kong as Germany had become so familiar by that point. We've also nearly always worked at the same company (both teachers) but luckily don't see each other too often! ;)

Hayley Bigham wrote 8 years ago:

Holly, Loved your post and loved to hear more about your life in Vienna, and not just the wonderful, fun parts, but also the learning and growing parts. I feel that even couples who don't work together 24/7 like you and Will could take those little tips into consideration to strengthen their marriages as well.

Will wrote 8 years ago:

As the aforementioned husband, I can confirm that working with Holly is the best part of my job doesn't at all get old...most of the time. :-) Ich liebe dich!

Gary wrote 8 years ago:

Good advice! I'll be sure to remember communication and gushing honeymoons and time apart for when/if I marry. "Communication is the problem and the answer" ~Amy Grant, "The Things We Do For Love"

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