I work for a large company that is very short-staffed right now. About 6 months ago the team my spouse had been working on was in desperate need of another employee. My project was ending and my spouse's manager was given my name as a potential employee but held off on bringing me onto the team for some time due to concerns about having me work with my spouse. Finally, he gave in and brought me onto the team because he didn't think he would get anyone else.

We had no idea how it would go, but didn't think we had a say in the matter and so we went ahead with what we were asked to do. It has caused major issues affecting our home life. Every time we are assigned to work on tasks together we find ourselves frustrated with each other, even though we are normally great at working with other coworkers. Even on days when we are not working directly with each other we feel burnt out by spending so much time in the same vicinity and by the end of the day don't want to be around each other.

Within probably 6 weeks I wrote an email to my manager telling him that working together in that way was negatively affecting us and expressing my wish to be moved to a different team. I was pulled into a meeting with him and with another manager. I realize now that they didn't want to lose me and pretended that there was no way for me to leave the team while asking me how they could improve the situation. Their thoughts are centered on how to finish the project in a timely manner and they were and still are not able to see the fact that it's quite possible that the best thing for me is to not be on that team anymore.

Now I find myself 6 months in and the only expert on a specific part of the project. They cannot afford to lose me even more. They have promised me that they would only need me for "a few more months" for too long and are now openly admitting that they want me to stay on the team through the next possibly 6 months. Meanwhile my stress at home caused by working with my spouse has never been worse. I dread having to work with him and it looks like we will only be working together even more in the future.

On top of that, the last time I brought up wanting to move to a different team my manager hinted that I would make life miserable for my spouse, making the rest of the team have to work holidays and weekends. This makes me genuinely nervous to leave. At this point, my marriage is more important to me than my job but I feel like I need to take action to protect both.

Is being forced to stay on the team with my spouse a valid HR concern? How do I gracefully yet firmly express that I need out of the situation, even if it means going over my manager's head? I want to do this in a way that maintains both of our reputations, but that is seeming difficult when I may feel forced to divulge how serious the challenges to our home life have become.

Edit: We are both engineers, each with roughly 5 years of experience.

  • 68
    You said mgmt is primarily centered in their project. I don't think they care about your marriage's survival b/c your marriage is not their business. The "hint" you mentioned looks like emotional manipulation by mgmt to me. Is this something you can talk about with your spouse? I'm no marriage expert, but my common sense is tingling and I get the impression that the friction you're describing could be the visible symptoms of some deeper causes and frequent interactions have simply exposed them to both of you. Is marriage counseling something that has been considered?
    – code_dredd
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 5:20
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    Sounds like you should both immediately look for another employer. This one obviously is not shy to burn you out for his goals.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 10:27
  • 81
    It's much easier (and less stressful) to find a new job than to find a new spouse. Never let your job jeopardize your marriage.
    – grfrazee
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 14:28
  • 2
    Your employer is highly unethical and exploits your feelings to achieve what he/she wants. He lied about a few more months. Promises are ~bullshit~ a somewhat efficient tool that keeps you doing what your employee wants. I recommend you and your spouse asking yourselves whether your careers are more important than the family. Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 16:20
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    @adb This question showed up related to a question I was reading. It's been 18 months. What did you do and how did it turn out? You could post it as an answer. Hopefully the correct one.
    – Sinc
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 21:42

7 Answers 7


Let us reconsider what you wrote:

  1. You raised a valid concern. While I have worked with my spouse on two occasions, the employer always asked me if we were okay with it. It is the sensible thing to do. Interpersonal problems are as much a threat to any company as technical problems.

  2. They lied to you. It will only be a few more weeks.

  3. When that did no longer work, they blackmailed you. You will make life miserable for your spouse.

This is not OK, regardless of your problems with your spouse.

You have to realize that working for someone is not a one-way street, it's a give and take. People treating you like that don't care a bit if they ruin your life as long as they can squeeze a bit of profit out of you. The trade off of your time for their money does not seem like a good deal for you.

Seek an employer who has an appropriate level of respect for their employees. Your spouse should do the same (but at a different venue). If you want to save your professional reputation, don't ground your resignation on this and resist any offer to stay, no matter how lucrative.

Edit: As Pointed out in the Discussion, I can not say for sure why the management acts the way it does. May just be incompetence. Bottom line is, whatever the reason, the effects for you are just the same. Maybe better to avoid accusations and hard feelings. The company-culture seems just not a good fit.

  • 17
    I'm wary of the beginning of this answer: it feels to me like a case of negative attribution bias. The employer may be blackmailing the OP, but it sounds to me like the employer is in a bind as well, and they're simply stating that the OP is not replaceable right now. In short, ascribing bad motives to the employer is a bar that I don't think has been cleared in this case. That said, the conclusions are still correct: it is a two way street, and the employer is unable to meet OP's needs.
    – bvoyelr
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 12:30
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    @bvoyelr: I would concur with you if the employer would have been honest, but they employed classic delay-tactics instead of solving the problem. And trust me, it is possible to replace somebody in 6 month time - it is just a matter of money and that is obviously more precius to them than human beings
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 12:45
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 11:24
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    2. Lying implies intent which is not proven by the statements made. Lying is stating something that you know is not true. As you've probably experienced, sometimes management estimates incorrectly. Estimating two weeks when it takes two months is not lying, you're probably just really bad at estimating. 3. That's not blackmail... it's not even coercion. At worst it's guilting them into doing what they asked or it may have been an attempt at a warning... consider the consequences if you do this. You are attributing intent which is not clear.
    – JeffC
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 16:42
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    The words I'd use are "mislead" and "pressure", but your words also work. Bottom line is, management is aware of the harm their actions caused, they do have the ability to do something about it, yet nothing has happened for 4.5 months.
    – Peter
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 8:48

At this point, my marriage is more important to me than my job...

Drawing that line makes it a lot easier to look at this from an economic or cost-benefit perspective:

If both of you were happy with your jobs and home lives before this situation arose, the compensation you were getting in return was a fair exchange for the work you were doing. Work was doing what it should: making your non-work life good by letting you do things like keep a roof over your head, go to the movies and buy your spouse a nice birthday gift.

Your new situation is doing the opposite: you've been forced into a situation at work that has the side effect of destroying some of the value of your non-work life. While putting a dollar figure on it is difficult, the bottom line is that where you were coming out even or ahead, you're not receiving any additional compensation for the value of what's being destroyed. This makes the value of working there a net negative. You're taking a loss on this while your employer is getting a lot of benefit and, to add insult to injury, they're blackmailing you by threatening to make your spouse miserable (destroying even more value) if you try to get work elsewhere in the company.

The blackmail has already poisoned the well; going over your management's heads will poison it further unless they're forcibly ejected from the company (unlikely). There is no positive end to this story for you or your spouse if this is allowed to continue.

...but I feel like I need to take action to protect both.

You really don't. It's plain that the two are incompatible and you haven't shown any benefit in forcing them to coexist. You have said which you value more, and that means you know what deserves to get the short end of the stick: your job. Having been in the same same relationship for 27 years, 23 of it married, I can tell you that the costs of the short-term stress and uncertainty of finding a new job pale in comparison to the cost of destroying a good relationship and establishing a new one or living without one at all.

At this point, you owe that company nothing.

I rarely recommend spiteful behavior in a professional setting, but I think you'd both be justified in quietly finding new jobs, resigning at the same time with the least allowable notice. If you've got contractual obligations, honor them to the letter, but if your employment is at-will, remember that it means at the will of either party. If you'd done something to the company as egregious as what they're doing to you, they'd have you out the door in an instant without batting an eyelash.

Working together as a couple to get this hurdle behind you will go a long way toward undoing some of the damage done, and I wish you both the best of luck.

  • 40
    Finding jobs and putting in notice at the same time is the right way to go about things, mainly because of the retaliation against OP's spouse that the company has effectively promised. If OP leaves, but OP's spouse doesn't, the company may decide - once it has the opportunity - to fire OP's spouse without warning. At a minimum, OP's spouse should be prepared to leave shortly after OP does.
    – Dr. Funk
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 16:10
  • Have you informed your spouse that the company threatened to punish them your ALLEGED insubordination?
    – WGroleau
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 14:56

You need to go back to your manager and explain that you can no longer work alongside your spouse. You understand that it's not the company's fault, although you would appreciate their help, because you feel moving teams (or your spouse moving teams) would help resolve this.

However, your relationship with your spouse is far more important than (I assume this is true)

  • your job, and
  • the way your colleagues feel

And if the company is unable to accommodate you in a very timely manner, you won't be able to stay.

Ensure you realise that you may need to leave, so obviously talk to your spouse about this as well, update your resume etc. Also do your best to not come across in a threatening manner. It's not your company's fault, and while you appreciate anything they can do to help, ultimately your home-life is far more important.

Please just follow through with doing what you must to improve your home-life. You might like your job and your colleagues, but you need to be happy at home too!

  • 2
    +1. "You can move me, and then still have me to call on with questions and stuff, or I can just leave. Those are the remaining options."
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 14:13

It’s 6 years after the fact and I thought I’d give an update about how this all went down.

Several people pointed out that they felt that my husband and I had marital issues already and that working together was just exposing them. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. We have the normal occasional irritations that happen in any relationship but are overall a very happy couple. The struggles from working together VERY MUCH were the cause of our troubles.

Something I didn’t convey well in the original post is that the manager in question is extremely toxic. That was the source of many of our issues. He was extremely manipulative and did not care about anyone but himself. It was his first time being in a management role and he had a HUGE ego about this. He was an extreme micromanager, was extremely unpleasant to work or even talk with because of his inflated ego and abrasive personality, and he was even very sexist in the workplace. Worse than being treated badly, however, was watching my spouse be mistreated and he felt the same way about watching the manager mistreat me. BECAUSE we were so tense from this situation we did have more irritations with each other than usual, which was bad for our marriage. Of course, we did learn important lessons about how to handle stress and be kind to each other when under pressure, but ultimately the amount of stress being placed on our backs was not right.

As the project went on he demanded that my husband and I work massive amounts of overtime for months on end to the point where every day we would wake up, go to work, come home and immediately fall asleep only to rinse and repeat. He did not care that with both of us at the office all day every day there was no one to take care of our home, cook meals, do laundry, etc.

He lied to me and told me that I was not allowed to transfer to another job within the company. I finally found another role in a different department and applied anyway. It is the best thing I could have done as I found great management, more enjoyable work, and my relationship with my husband went right back to normal. My husband soon found a job with another company that he is much happier in.

In retrospect I wish I had brought these concerns to HR or even just another manager in the department before leaving. I didn’t have enough experience with bad managers to know how to handle this but looking back what was happening was so inappropriate that it required intervention so that it couldn’t happen to future employees.

Ultimately, if I were faced with this issue again I would leave the department or company immediately. It isn’t worth the strain on a marriage and ultimately the company cares more about their product than the happiness of their employees. I could work with my husband with the right manager but I just don’t ever want to risk this scenario again.


You really are between a rock and a hard place. You've already tried to remedy this within the company, but they are unwilling or unable to work with you.

Your next best option is to find work with another company.

This is going to be difficult because you don't want to work for a competitor, but the reality is that if you approach them again they either have to move you and cause difficulty for this team, or move your spouse and upset their position.

In any case, consider counseling.

The real issue is that you and your spouse are taking work issues home, and given that there's an imbalance of power at work, that may be affecting how you interact with each other when issues come up at home. Further it's likely that one or both of you can't leave work at work, and continue it at home.

There's a possibility that a counselor can provide you both with tools, perspective, and space to discuss things that would resolve the situation. Discussions regarding boundaries, how to set them, how to enforce them, and how to abide by them will probably be the biggest topic.

Even if they can't resolve it to your complete satisfaction, and you end up having to change your working relationship anyway, these tools and techniques, as well as the mutual understanding you'll gain, will benefit you both the rest of your life.

So whether you do change jobs or teams, consider counseling.

  • 1
    Also, keep in mind that the company and team will be fine. Stop accepting excuses from management. If you do go to them with an ultimatum, go together and make sure you both accept that the outcome could be bad, and that you'll both be fine with the outcome. If you force the issue, and they choose to keep you on the team and assign your spouse another role, it could end very, very badly for your relationship. Make sure you protect each other first and understand each other's needs and desires.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 13:39

YES, it is a valid HR concern, your manager is abusing his employees and I am pretty sure if he did mean that as a threat then that is most likely (depending on your country) breaking the law.

Can you find a new job within the company or do you need permission to change departments?

Would different room but the same project suit everyone involved?

I will point out the obvious that you have a large amount of negotiating power as you are two employees one being an expert in part of the project. If they are concerned about losing one employee then two will make them take this seriously.

I would even let your co-workers know, Not out of spite, but the threat extended to them and they have a right to know both the threat was made and the character of who they are working for.

  • 3
    Without a country tag it's hard to say whether this is breaking the law.
    – Erik
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 10:44
  • I don't think discussing it with co-workers is a good idea. That may give the company more to use against you. ("This person is stirring up our employees against us")
    – WGroleau
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 15:00
  • @WGroleau I think it would be hard to argue that quoting an employer is stirring up trouble without admitting their on wrong doing.
    – PStag
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 15:09

I'd say it will be great if you can find out a person to replace you on the team (from within the company or from outside) and then approach your manager again as you have solutions to both problems; assuming that you can be gainfully deployed elsewhere in the company.

I'm sure you and your spouse understand this is a phase of life, though it is getting a bit long; both have to be responsible about the different roles being played. But doesn't seem like you should risk your career for it.

If you will be more specific on how you both interact (i.e. field of work, seniority level, extent of overlap of responsibilities), I'm sure more suggestions can be provided by the community.

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