3 Tricks for Running a Business With Your Spouse Without Divorcing or Going Broke
A romantic couple that is always completing projects together by creatively dividing and conquering what needs to be done may have what it takes to translate a romantic partnership into a business partnership.
Fundamentally, if two people don’t already bring out the best in one another when organizing a dinner party or coordinating a family vacation, then they may not really be suited for adding a business partnership into the mix of a romantic relationship.
Some couples cannot imagine ever working together, while others can’t imagine a better way to live life. In the US, family businesses where couples are both involved in the business date back to the early farmsteads of the pioneers. Today, some research has estimated that there are approximately 4 million "copreneur" or couple entrepreneur businesses.
My spouse and I have been involved in copreneur businesses for the entirety of our lives together, which is now more than 20 years. A few ways we have our great romantic relationship work in business are:
1. Differentiated roles.
Know and love your roles. It doesn’t really work if the roles overlap too much. At home it is simple for us -- he does the laundry and the dishes, I cook most of the meals and pay the bills. Romantic partners who have only a little overlap in what they like to do make better business partners. This is important because it handles issues of ego.
My spouse can't imagine spending his day speaking to partners, investors and employees, and I can't imagine spending my entire day staring at code, but we agree about business and software development, so we trust we are each moving the needle in ways that are good. He doesn’t worry about me promising features on the product we can't deliver, and I never worry about him prioritizing the product roadmap in ways that inconsistent with the business and customer needs.
2. Appreciating the best in one another.
It’s important to praise each other for the individual contribution each partner makes. Romantic relationships flourish when people recognize they have different yet complementary skills. Partnerships thrive when we remind each other what we are good at and thank the other for the contribution.
At home this sometimes looks like a simple “thank you” or hug for cleaning up in the kitchen or it can be a more profound acknowledgement. I regularly let my spouse know that his influence softens me and makes me more accessible to people in all areas of my life, including business. He reminds me to be kind when I might otherwise be fixated with efficiency.
Taking a moment to appreciate each other and celebrate the victories goes a long way to re-energizing each other and moving the business forward.
3. Trust and straight communication.
Trust is key to both romantic relationships and business partnerships. Though many people will say they trust their spouse, it isn’t that simple.
Do you trust them to love you? Do you trust them to put you and the family first? Do you trust them to balance the checkbook? Do you trust them to cook a meal you want to eat? Do you trust them to listen to you and do things that are in your best interest, even if it isn’t something they enjoy doing?
There are many levels of trust but to be both romantic and business partners there must be a fundamental trust to always communicate, even when it is really hard. If you know that your partner will tell the unvarnished truth (as they understand it) and will stay in a conversation that may be difficult until a mutually acceptable resolution is reached, then you likely have what it takes.
Mary Camacho has been leading tech companies since the 1990s. A former recipient of the Colorado Business Ethics Award (DTT), she has a master's degree from the University of Chicago. Her specialty is creating and building web products. A former product development manager for large scale CDN services, she has also launched four business-to-business/software-as-a-service products in the market.