When Life, Love and Labor Collide
For 16 years, I ran a small business owned only by me, myself and I. And then in 2013, I did something I never thought I’d do: I invited my husband to come work with me.
I never thought it’d be so hard. Now, I love my other half -- I really do. We’ve been married for 29 years, we have a teenage daughter, and he’s always had my back (like, for instance, when I opened my own business at 29). But as much as I love him, it took me a while to learn how to love working with him.
Turns out, it’s not so easy to talk serious business during the day with the same guy I snuggle up to at night. But it’s possible, evidenced by the more than 3 million businesses that, like us, are jointly run by couples.
Challenges aside, once we found our groove as a “couple-preneur,” it turned out to be one of the best business and personal decisions we’ve ever made. After a clunky first year together -- and a few hurt feelings along the way -- here’s what I’ve learned about working with my spouse.
Laugh about it already.
If you want to run a business with your spouse, you have to (and I repeat: you have to) maintain a sense of humor, even when you don’t want to. When we disagree about unfunny things like budgets or strategies, we find ways to laugh about them. It releases a pressure valve and helps us find common ground and appreciate each other’s contributions, even when it gets crazy.
Just stop it with all the meetings.
He’s the first and last person I see every day -- which means I don’t need (or want, for that matter) to see him during every waking minute of the workday. So when we can control it, we don’t attend the same meetings. It’s mostly so that we can efficiently manage our time, but also because I want to be a normal wife who asks, “How was your day?” and actually mean it.
Quit being bossy.
We’re both leaders, my husband and I. So naturally, we both want to be in charge -- but our days would all go south if we spent them bossing each other around. Instead, we try to stay in our own swim lane and do what’ll bring the most value to the business. We each have our own strengths: He’s a growth and strategy wizard, and I love thinking about vision and goal achievement. So when we let the other person do their thing, it’s better (and more lucrative) for everyone.
Set up a work-free zone at home.
Let’s be realistic: We’re never going to completely separate work and home, and we shouldn’t have to. But for us to not kill each other, we have a work-free zone at least some of the time. Sometimes, we commit to not talking about work after 7 p.m., or we might debrief about something real quickly and then schedule a regroup to continue the conversation the next day during business hours.
Know they’re in your corner.
Rejection is tough in small business, and from miffed clients to employee turnover, the marketplace can be brutal. I take comfort in knowing he’s there for me, especially when things get hard. He’s my ally and my biggest supporter -- and even when we get on each other’s nerves, I know he truly has my best interests at heart. When you get into the grind of daily work, it can be easy to take that for granted, but don’t. Just trust (and appreciate) that your life partner’s got your back when few others do.
Though we still have our moments -- and we still have to level-set when we slip into bad habits -- I’m happy to say that things are good. Really good. Our business has grown, and our marriage has too.
And while I never thought that we’d add new phrases like strategic vision or business development to the vernacular of things we fight (and cheer) about, I wouldn’t have it any other way -- because whether we’re enjoying the good days or slogging through the tough ones, we have a shared purpose in life, love and labor.
At the beginning, middle and end of every day, I do what I love with the man I love. And if I have to skip a meeting or bite my lip (when I want to be bossy) to keep it that way, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.