Working with your spouse is never easy. It takes clear communication, compromise and a solid romantic foundation, especially for colleagues who start courting when they’re married to other people. That’s what happened to Debbie when she started working for her now-husband Rob’s catering company nearly 30 years ago — after working with her ex-husband at a carpet company.
Numerous surveys cite the workplace as one of the most common places for people to engage in infidelity, with as many as 85 percent of affairs starting there. There’s evidence, too, that people in the service industry may be even more prone to cheating. And more than two decades ago — long before dating apps — work was one of the few places for unhappily married people like Debbie and Rob to cross paths. In other words, their story isn’t entirely surprising. But between the drama of the affair and leaving their spouses, what is astonishing is how they ever got anything done, let alone ran a successful business.
Here’s how they made it work.
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We met many years before getting together, when I was a waitress and worked in restaurants on and off, and he owned a catering company. Then I switched jobs and started answering the phones for a carpet company, but the old man at the company grabbed my crotch and I punched him in the face. So I needed a new job. My ex-husband worked there too, installing carpets, and when I told him what happened, he laughed. So I took care of it myself.
I went back to the catering company, and this time Rob and I were around each other a lot more. We always got along and had a good time, but something had shifted. By that time, I didn’t like my husband and his days were numbered.
My ex and I went to Rob’s wedding with his first wife. When he came back from his honeymoon, I said to him, joking around, “You’re the most miserable-looking newlywed I’ve ever seen in my life.” He told me that he was miserable and should have never gotten married. In restaurants, there’re two gears: hurry up and wait. In this instance, we were just waiting, so I asked him why he got married in the first place if he didn’t want to. He said things had progressed too far. They’d already made plans and put money down, and he couldn’t back out.
I’d had my tubes tied and could have all the baby-free sex I wanted, but my ex-husband wasn’t putting out. I was practically begging for it. We went on this overnight trip to Chicago, and I bought this come-fuck-me outfit. When I walked out of the bathroom wearing it, he told me I was blocking the television. He didn’t touch me for six months, except for pity sex once. He was obviously getting it somewhere else, but I honestly didn’t care. I was done.
Everyone at work knew I hated my husband. By that point, it was a joke, and not a great one either. Like, Knock knock? Who’s there? I hate my husband. We worked different schedules most of our relationship so we never saw each other, but when he switched to my schedule, it was too much to handle, because I had to see him. So I switched mine so I didn’t have to spend time with him.
I’m not an unhappy person, but I was unhappy for 10 years and was going to get a divorce until I got pregnant with my second kid. I felt like I was trapped. I was just a waitress and didn’t think I could support myself. Then that old guy grabbed me. In hindsight, if I would’ve known how much better off I’d end up being not relying on anyone, I would’ve done it sooner.
I’d go out to bars with people I worked with, or at places I worked at so I didn’t have to drink alone. But then one night, no one was around and I asked Rob if he wanted to grab a beer. That’s when the flirtation started. It was about three months after I came back to work for him, more or less. It was also when the business started picking up so I began working more.
Rob started waiting around for me after work to finish, and I started looking forward to hanging out. Then, one night outside of the local pub, he kissed me. The next day at work while I was putting supplies away in the attic, he stuck his head up and said, “Hey, if I overstepped my bounds, I’m sorry.” I was like, “Oh, you definitely didn’t.”
It went on from there. At one point, we were out in a group and a woman we worked with asked, “What does your husband think about you being out late with coworkers all the time?” I told her, “I don’t care. If he doesn’t like it, he can leave.” But he never left, so I did what I wanted.
Rob left his wife within six months, but it took me a little longer because I had kids. Most people at work either didn’t know or didn’t say anything at first. I think his business partner sensed it. Six months after the come-fuck-me outfit, my ex-husband asked if I was still horny. I told him no, and he asked if I was having an affair. I said yes, and he asked if I wanted a divorce. I said yes again. I moved in with my brother who had just separated from his wife, two doors down from my mom. It was great. I didn’t have to worry about a babysitter. My kids were older, too, so I didn’t feel as shitty about leaving their dad. Everything fell into place.
Rob and I kept working together at the catering company and dated for another three years before we moved in together and got married. Working together wasn’t a big deal. It was a small business with only five or six people and nothing really changed. One of the women who worked there was my best friend and she knew everything. When people caught on, they were all supportive, except for one kid, who got mad that Rob never took any other employees out to dinner. He thought I got special treatment.
I should mention that Rob is seven years younger than me. One time, some of the younger kids were wondering what the chain of command was. And Rob was like, ‘It doesn’t matter, everyone here knows what their job is and they just do it.’ Overall, Rob and I never really fought about work, because I’d been there so long before we got together. It set the tone.
The biggest difference between Rob and my first husband was that when I stood up for myself, Rob responded. He lets me be in charge. One time he was mad and not talking to me. It was a small, stupid fight about how to spend money, but he gave me the silent treatment. When he’d fight with his ex-wife, they wouldn’t talk for weeks, but that doesn’t work with me, so I exploded. He had to tell me what was on his mind so I could fix it. But once we worked through that, we never fought like that again.
I’m in my 60s now and basically retired, but I still help with the catering business, which is successful. We don’t have to work together to see each other now, but there’s no way we would’ve ever gotten together if I didn’t work for him. I always knew I was going to leave my first husband, but I never thought I’d fall in love again. I was just trying to make enough money to leave. I obviously ended up with way more than that.