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3 tips for running a productive (and emotionally healthy) business with a romantic partner

No one said starting a business with your partner would be easy. But it's one of the best decisions we ever made.

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I began freelancing as a copywriter in spring 2016.

Like many one-person business owners, I had to learn everything all at once: How to find clients, track business expenses, and navigate the distractions of working full-time from home.

Around that same time, I also started dating Sarabeth. Months into our relationship, I told her about the secret dream I had to one day run a business with my life partner.

Let’s just say, she didn’t immediately warm up to that dream…

“That’s a terrible idea!” 

So I dropped the subject.

By the time Sarabeth and I got engaged, finding freelance work had become a little easier. In fact, I started to feel overwhelmed by one of the projects I’d signed up for: writing a large instruction manual for a software company.

I asked Sarabeth if she’d help with some simple editing. And it turned out, she loved the work so much that, when we got married a few months later, Sarabeth resigned from her day job to join me in freelance copywriting.

And we’ve been partners — in life and business — ever since. 

How to share the emotional and professional labor of co-entrepreneurship

#1. Equity in emotional labor

Choosing to fully share the entrepreneurial journey with your romantic partner means finding equity in emotional labor around the house. 

The divide between “traditional” household roles — woman does housework, man works a 9-5 — have been dissolving steadily for decades. But when you start working together full-time in a shared business, those roles probably won’t exist at all. 

Emotional and household labor requires at least as much teamwork and equity as you both put into running the business. Here’s what this might look like.

  • Find equal share in household responsibilities. In our case, I do dishes most nights while Sarabeth tidies up.
  • Communicate the distribution of (business and household) responsibilities to avoid nagging or invisible, unmet expectations.
  • If something is your responsibility, you’re also the point-person in that task. In other words, you get to own the task fully as the key decision maker. But more on that later…

#2. Communication to the max

For most people, the big fear of launching a business with their partner comes down to a fear of conflict.

And it’s true that running a business with your romantic partner will inevitably lead to more instances of conflict than when you’re both working in different places for 8 hours of the day. It just comes down to the simple math of it.

Even if the proportion of conflicts never changes, the fact that you’re around each other 24/7 simply means there’s more opportunity for miscommunication or catching one another on a bad morning. 

But there’s another side which is equally valid and doesn’t get enough airtime. Increased time together through entrepreneurship also leads to more shared victories — and those unforgettable shared memories that only come from overcoming big challenges. 

For most people, the big fear of launching a business with their partner comes down to a fear of conflict.

The foundation to having an emotionally healthy relationship with your partner is communication. You’ll want to equip yourselves with interpersonal communication exorcises like active listening

Active listening has been one of the most important skills we’ve used since getting married. It helps us communicate clearly with one another and resolve conflicts, even when one or both of us feels angry or hurt — or hangry. 

#3. Dynamic leadership

Leadership in business is healthy for any organization. 

But how do you define leadership when you’re working full-time from home with your partner in a shared business?

You implement what we call dynamic leadership. This is where each partner has specific responsibilities in which they are the strategist and point person. 

In our business, for example, Sarabeth has a much stronger understanding of good design. When it comes to making design decisions about our website, social media graphics, or giving recommendations to a client — Sarabeth is alway lead. 

I share my ideas for design all the time. But Sarabeth owns that side of our work. She has final say on any design-related content that we publish under our business.

In a similar way, I’ve been the decision maker regarding our finances. 

And no, this doesn’t mean I’m sitting around telling Sarabeth when she can and can’t buy something. It means I do our financial planning: deciding how much money we invest each month, as well as spearheading recurring financial tasks like paying bills or setting aside money for taxes. 

Conclusion

Running a business together is one of the most fulfilling experiences Sarabeth and I have ever had. 

Though it comes with some challenges, the opportunity to build a shared life and business together makes most of those challenges feel miniscule compared to the big wins we get to share together.

This journey won’t always be easy. But if you both put in the emotional and professional labor to make it work, co-entrepreneurship can be one of the most exciting professional decisions you both ever make.

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