The Science Behind Working With Your Spouse
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
When I got married I tried working with my wife. It didn't go over so well. My wife had a very hard time separating work from family, while I found it very easy. We started to fight often. After three months of working together, we decided jointly that it wasn't workign for us.
We haven't fought like that since. Years later and with children in the mix we've learned a lot about each other. I've learned that the key to working with your spouse at work isn't that different from learning to work with your spouse in a marriage.
One of the most popular benefits of starting your own business is having the flexibility to spend more time with your family. You're the boss and can set your own hours. But some entrepreneurs want to spend even more time together -- and start their own co-owned business venture.
According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 43 percent of small businesses are family businesses with 53 percent of managers in these businesses are identifying a spouse as the family member who is sharing day-to-day management. With even more people opting to tread the path of the entrepreneur, we could see more and more couple-owned businesses.
“We assume that [husband and wife-run companies] are a wonderful thing because there are a number of high-profile couples who are still around to talk about their businesses and their marriages and how they make it worked,” says Wharton management professor Laura Huang. “But in general, it may not be a good idea to go into business with your spouse.”
Yes. Working with your spouse comes with a lot of pros. One pro is sharing the same goals and values and being able to celebrate success together. While you're celebrating -- the spouse actually knows what you are celebrating and why it's important. The spouse-partners seem to have a deep trust and understanding of each other, personally, as well.
There’s also the other side -- the cons. This includes handling the pressures of the working situation in a different way. Think about how you might bring work stress home then try not to discuss the elephant in the room. The personal and professional pressures then, sometimes become intermixed.
But, what does science actually say about working with your spouse.
A five-year study of around 5,000 couples conducted by Brittany Solomon and Joshua Jackson of Washington University in St. Louis found that a spouse’s personality affects your career.
Their research uncovered that conscientious people foster success wherever they are, and in whatever space they live in. Conscientiousness is characterized by a tendency to be organized and dependable. It also creates conditions that foster success in all other areas of their lives.
Because of their innate attention to detail, conscientous people notice and support their spouse by helping them complete day-to-day household tasks. The conscientious person encourages habits like reliability, and helps others to reduces their overall stress. They are more likely to be promoting a healthy work-life balance.
While that’s a start and provides a little insight, it doesn’t focus on couples working with each other in a joint business venture.
Research from the Danish Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) [I know, the acronym doesn't match in English] looked into this phenomena. The Institute collected a sample of 1,069 Danish couples who had established a joint enterprise between 2001 and 2010.
The research found that starting a business together provided significant income gains for the couple. Nicole Torres in the Harvard Business Review, commented on this research. Torres “suggests that starting a business together is typically a sound investment of both spouses’ human capital. It has the added benefit of reducing income inequality in the household.”
This same study “also found that couples that open businesses together are no more or less happy than other couples." Data was measured by usage of antidepressants or anxiety/insomnia medications.
Torres continues, "they’re no more or less likely than their counterparts to separate, divorce, or have children.”
On the flipside, a research paper came from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). It's conclusions were “that gender inequality in the distribution of control was more likely to occur within spousal teams.” According the papers' authors, “women have reduced chances to be in charge if they co-found new businesses with their husbands.”
Their theory comes from noting the expectations involving gender-typical work. "For example, men are expected to be the “breadwinner” while women are the “homemaker.”
Kathy Marshack, a clinical psychologist who studies entrepreneurial couples, added that co-entrepreneurial wives believe that it’s just their job to make their husbands “look good.”
“I found that the wives were not as independent as women who were in a career separate from their husbands,” Marshack said. “On a test of sex role orientation, [women in separate careers] tended to score high on desirable feminine traits. Whereas dual career wives scored high on desirable feminine traits and high on desirable masculine traits.
"The latter is what we tend to see with women who function as more independent professionals in the work world. They also have more egalitarian marriages than the copreneurial wives.”
Trisha Harp, founder of the Harp Family Institute (HFI), focused on the effect that entrepreneurship has on relationships and vice versa. “Our research shows that 87 percent of respondents have experienced cash flow problems at some point in time with their company," Harp told Entrepreneur. When entrepreneurs experience these cash flow problems, their sex lives decrease."
"Since money and sex are two of the main causes for divorce, this is a little concerning," says Harp.
Interesting, when the test subjects were asked: “Knowing what you know now about being the spouse of an entrepreneur, would you still marry your entrepreneur?” Eightyeight percent surprisingly said, "yes."
Harp believes this is because “in spite of the roller-coaster ride that defines entrepreneurship, spouses have reported a great feeling that they are "on this journey together." There is a strong desire to stick it out. HFI data also shows that when couples create a shared vision for their future, their satisfaction in all areas of life increases.”
Harp's research also discovered that:
- Creating shared business and family goals lead directly to greater happiness.
- Positive outcomes actually result from sharing both the good the bad regarding the business.
- Entrepreneurs need to be on the same team.
- Showing gratitude and being loving, fun, intelligent and honest are important.
Despite what the science says, there is no easy answer on whether or not you should work with your spouse. Between the research and from my personal experience, it can actually be a good thing. Besides the financial perks, it guarantees that you spend time with your spouse, who you can trust the most in the world. In my opinion, it’s a win-win.
That doesn’t mean that it’s a walk-in-the-park. To ensure that you can survive working together, here’s some of my favorite tips:
- Communication and listening are absolutely essential.
- Divide and conquer responsibilities based on your strengths.
- Don’t talk about work 24/7. We have a rule that all work talk stops before 8pm.
- Don’t bring personal issues into work. Have those discussions during off-hours.
- Have separate workspaces so that you’re not literally with each other 24/7. If you work from home, consider leaving the house twice a week and work at your local coffee shop. Shared entrepreneurial office spaces work very well, also.
- Make time for your relationship, like going on a two-week long vacation.
- Always be supportive - even during those bad times.
- Understand what you’re getting into. Entrepreneurship is hard and isn’t for everyone. Make sure that you understand the time and financial risks involved. Discuss how it’s going to impact your relationship and lifestyle. Determine and respect roles and responsibilities. Make sure that you’re both on the same page when it comes to all financial decisions and business goals.
Here's to figuring this out!