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For better or worse…working with your spouse.

Posted by Eric Goodenough on December 14, 2010

My husband and I have been working together for about 12 years, in fact we were working together before we were married. Our first job together was in retail, Eric had a job at this little bookstore and we were so in love that we wanted to spend every waking minute together, literally.  We had a great time and worked so well together that shortly after we were married, 6 months after in fact, we opened our first business together.

We’ve had some highs (celebrating anniversaries)  and some lows (all out shouting/grudge match behind the counter at our coffee shop, whoops.)  But 12 years later we are still working side by side, still married, and still loving being together (most of the time).

I’m not going to lie and say its all been blissfully wonderful, that doesn’t really exist.  But if you are considering taking the plunge, here are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you jump into working with your spouse.

Working with your spouse – how to not kill each other

  • Are you friends? Creating a business together requires lots of long hours, you had better make sure that you can stand hanging out with that person for extended amounts of time.
  • Are you going into business together because its convenient? We had trouble with that one recently.  I quit my job as a recruiter to come back to work with Eric in his web design business, its taken me some time to figure out why I want to be here other than, “It’s convenient”.
  • Can you be co-workers and less man and wife? We struggle with this one too.  It is not ok to argue and get mad at each other like you do about household stuff, like who’s turn it is to take out the trash (Eric).  Treat your spouse the same way you would any other employee, with respect and listen to what they have to say.  And when you disagree, be professional. Take time to listen and come to an agreement, just like any other job, make sure you leave the personal stuff at home.
  • What are each of you good at? Clearly define your roles. When we first started working together we did just the opposite, soon we were stepping on each others toes, mismanaging things and creating distrust with our employees.  Once we realized that we each have different strengths, it was easy for each of us to gravitate toward one part of the business.  Now we have clear roles, we check in with each other daily so that we are both aware of what is happening in the business at all times, but we let each other work independently without hovering.
  • Can you manage yourself? Here I’m going to expand on the point above.  Don’t manage each other.  We have found that we really thrive when we each have our own things that we are in charge of.  Don’t interfere with your spouse’s responsibilities unless they ask for help.  Keeping things separate helps define the roles and prevents people from meddling or getting in the way.

Still interested?  Let’s talk workplace romance

We aren’t really “date night” people.  It always feels too forced, but it is important to make time for romance and fun.  It’s very easy for us to get caught up in the business and spend all day and all night working, but that doesn’t really do anything for our relationship.   Since we work from home, we make sure that we get out of the house  regularly to spend time together as a couple, sometimes it’s great just to go out for a nice lunch.  This makes our bond as husband and wife stronger and makes us appreciate each other more.  No matter if you like date night or have some other system, make it happen!

Bottom Line:

Working with your spouse can be incredibly rewarding.   I have a partner that knows exactly what my struggles are and can share the burden of owning a business, share the heartbreak, share the financial stress and share the joy and accomplishments.  But its not for everyone.  Make sure you have a REAL partner, someone who can actively participate, someone that feeds your creativity,  and someone that you believe in and that believes in you.