Working with your significant other can be both elating and incredibly infuriating—sometimes even in the same day!
For example, when you’re together all the time, how do you separate business from private life? And how can you keep the romance alive when you “talk shop” all the time?
Here’s the good news: equipped with the right knowledge and the right tools, making “money with your honey” can actually be a sweet deal!
I’ve been in business with my husband for 20 years, and I also regularly coach women entrepreneurs on male/female ownership dynamics in the workplace.
Combining both experiences, I have discovered six ways to help spouses balance love with business—so you can be happy, healthy and wealthy together!
#1: Pick a lane—and stick to it
In a traditional work environment, you would never tell a co-worker how to do their job!
Well, that same logic should apply to working with a spouse.
When my husband and I started our first business 20 years ago, we would get into so many conflicts, questioning each other’s perspectives and interfering with each other’s decision-making.
But it’s important—not only to your business but also your relationship—to respect each other’s expertise. You can achieve this by:
· Identifying what you’re good at, and figuring out the types of tasks that make your heart sing
· Dividing tasks according to your strengths
· Clearly defining your roles
· Staying out of each other’s way—that is, letting each other do their job
Kevin and Julia Hartz, spouses and the founders of Eventbrite, apply a similar approach (they refer to it as “divide and conquer”).
Eventually, my husband and I decided that he would take on payroll and invoicing, and I would oversee marketing and sales. And once we started sticking to our “lanes,” it made working together so much easier.
#2: Understand how each partner communicates best
If you’re like me and my husband, you and your spouse have different communication styles.
I learned this the hard way. I would often barge into my husband’s office to tell him about whatever problem I was having, interrupting him in the middle of his work. And if that wasn’t bad enough—all I wanted was for him to listen, but he would often give advice that I didn’t want!
In a nutshell, our communication styles were not meshing. And it was negatively affecting our relationship, both professionally and personally.
Keep in mind: research finds that the way you communicate with your romantic partner has a stronger impact on your relationship than commitment levels, personality traits, or stressful life events. Moreover, negative communication patterns—like showing anger or contempt—are linked to an increased likelihood of splitting up.
That couldn’t happen to our marriage and business—so we sought out some help and coaching.
We did some assessments to figure out how we best communicate (I highly recommend Lumina Learning and the Kolbe Index). And what we found was this: I’m very spontaneous and extroverted and sometimes just need to be heard, while my husband is more introverted and prefers planning over being impulsive.
Once we understood each other’s communication style, it helped us realize that each of us was just being… well, us. No one person was wrong in how they communicated or processed information.
So now, I give my husband notice before entering his office—and he has become a better listener for when I just need a sympathetic ear.
#3: Spend time away from one another
Do you sometimes get tired of your spouse?
If so, don’t worry. You’re not a bad person. This is completely normal when you work with a loved one, because you’re together so much of the time.
You’ve probably heard the term “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Well, it’s true! Spending time away from one another is critical to a healthy relationship, not to mention your own personal growth and happiness.
Personally, I need my girlfriend time! Sometimes I get my fix simply by moderating a group of like-minded businesswomen who can understand and relate to the unique challenges we face. Because we don’t have the husbands there, this allows us to freely discuss certain issues and provide support to one another.
But it’s also critical to get out of the house sometimes—and to have and nurture your own interests. For example, my husband is much happier now that he’s joined a couple sports leagues on his own (without me!).
#4: Celebrate the positive
I’m not going to lie: there will be dark times in any business.
However, research shows that the more you can find that silver lining in the negative, the more resilient you will be—and the faster you will both rebound from setbacks.
This applies to business as well as home life. In fact, in the past few years, “positive psychology” researchers have discovered that thriving couples focus on the positives in life much more than those who split and those who unhappily stay together.
The key is to do it as a couple (it only works if you’re both looking for the positive!), but it’s also very good to do this as a family.
Even when our daughter was small, my husband and I would sit with her around the dinner table and each take a turn to focus on “five positive things.” It could be something we were happy or grateful for, or that happened within a certain timeframe.
In tougher times, a positive thing might have been “we made payroll this week.” In amazing times, it was “I landed the biggest contract!” This process made us realize that often most of the positives came from nature, or something nice someone said. And this helped us not take the business quite as seriously, which ironically can be a good thing.
Regardless, focusing on the positive is not only good for you as a couple, but it also helps family members understand and feel good about the business you’re running.
(And yes, if you’re wondering, we still do this with our adult daughter when she returns home from university to visit.)
#5: Create “No-Business Zones”
When you run your own business, you don’t often have the luxury of a mental break!
And it’s particularly hard if your partner keeps bringing the conversation back to business—even after business hours.
It’s so important to make the effort to limit business discussions to the “office” or according to a specific timeframe.
I also know a woman entrepreneur who runs her business from her home—as does her husband, who runs a separate business. They each have their own offices in their home, purposely located at opposite ends of the house. When they meet for lunch in the kitchen, they talk business; but their bedroom and living space is absolutely a No-Business Zone—no phones, no talking about work. The only place they can talk business is in the kitchen!
#6: Make time for romance
Between kids, careers and outside commitments, it can be difficult to stay connected to your partner.
That said, you can’t always look at your partner in business terms: you also have to remember they are your romantic partner.
Keep in mind, “romance” means different things to different people. Some people are content with a basic “date night,” like going out to dinner. But beware: that type of date can easily turn into business conversation.
For me and my husband, we’re better at making time for romance when we’re doing an activity that neither of us have done before. In fact, research shows that if couples share new, exciting experiences together that are outside your element, this can help reignite passion.
And that makes sense, because when you do something new together, it makes the experience extra-special and increases interaction.
You and your spouse could do anything: kayaking, visiting a new museum together, or touring a city you’ve never visited. It really doesn’t matter: the goal is to unhook from the business grind, and experience something fresh together!
Risk and reward
It’s true, working with your spouse has its challenges. But the payoff can be a deeper sense of purpose, not to mention financial freedom and building something for yourselves and your family. Having someone who shares all your dreams and is willing to work towards them together with you.
I wish you a most rewarding business experience for you and your spouse—financially as well as romantically, with a healthy balance of love and business!