How to Keep the Marriage Strong When You Work Together

There are certain lessons to learn to make both business and your relationship equally successful.

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By Lisa Evans • Jun 21, 2014

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When food writer Molly Wizenberg's husband, Brandon Pettit, first brought up the idea of starting his own restaurant, she was more than a little skeptical. "He was going to be a professor of music," she laughs.

Although her musician husband had worked in restaurants for years to make extra cash, the idea of actually owning a restaurant scared Wizenberg. "It just seemed so far-fetched," she says. Before she knew it, Delancey, a Seattle pizza restaurant, was opening and Wizenberg was not only married to its owner, she was an integral part of the business.

"When the idea first came about, it wasn't really my project. My husband was going to be doing it with a friend of ours," she says. When the business partner pulled out of the project, Wizenberg stepped in. Her reputation as a food writer caught the attention of local press, who began writing about the restaurant before it even opened, attributing the restaurant to the reluctant spouse. Whether she wanted the restaurant or not, it was happening and Wizenberg was a co-owner.

Married since 2007 and co-owners of Delancey since 2009, Wizenberg and Pettit know a thing or two about the challenges of being married to a business. Marriage and business are so intertwined, Wizenberg says the same challenges that exist in one area are often reflected in the other. In her recent book Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage, Wizenberg highlights the challenges of being married to your business. Here, she shares some of her key lessons learned:

Opposites work. "[Working together at] the restaurant highlighted the parts of our personality that both work really well together and [the one's that] don't work well together and forces us to work through those things," says Wizenberg. While Wizenberg is more detail-oriented, Pettit sees the bigger picture. "He's much better at reading the vibe of the dining room," she says. These differences, Wizenberg says, have not only made for a stronger partnership, but a better-run restaurant.

Related: My Spouse, My Business Partner

Separate tasks. Wizenberg and Pettit discovered the key to their success as a married couple and business partners is to split work based on the tasks they both enjoy. While during the early days of Delancey, both worked in the kitchen – Pettit made the pizzas and Wizenberg made the appetizers and desserts -- Wizenberg says she quickly realized the kitchen wasn't her forte.

"I'm really not cut out for being a restaurant cook," she says. "You have to be somebody who really thrives on adrenaline and who gets a rush from working under pressure and that's not at all my temperament." After four months of working in the kitchen, Wizenberg redefined her role in the business, delegating salads and desserts to other kitchen staff and taking on a more managerial role, handling the back-office part of the business.

"It's been really important for us as business owners and as a married couple that we are each doing the work that we enjoy doing and that we're good at in the business," says Wizenberg. If there's something neither of them is good at? They delegate it to someone else.

Related: Running a Home Business? With a Spouse? How to Cope.

Separating work and home life isn't always best. Early into their business venture, Wizenberg was advised to build a wall between the home and the business. "I found this very difficult to do," she admits. And perhaps, not necessary. Wizenberg took some time off from the business – ironically when she was writing Delancey. "In many ways, that year was particularly hard for us because I didn't know what was going on in the business. It was very hard for me to relate to Brandon, to understand his stresses and his goals at that time," she says. "Ultimately, I really feel like the business runs the best and our marriage runs the best when we're both involved and invested in the restaurant."

Make room for couple time. Wizenberg and Pettit close the restaurant on Monday night and have a date night. Even though they typically end up talking about the restaurant, simply being in another environment changes the conversation. "It's amazing how less stressful it is to talk about the business when we get some distance from it. Even if it means we're sitting in someone else's restaurant talking about our restaurant, we feel more connected than if we were sitting together working at [Delancey]," says Wizenberg.

A successful business requires commitment from both partners. Although Wizenberg was a reluctant restaurateur, she realized for the business to be successful, she was going to have to put aside her fears and reluctance and fully commit to the restaurant. "I don't think this would have been good for our marriage if I hadn't been able to come around and see the good in the business and let myself see that there was good in it for me, too," she says. [When you're married to your business partner] "your life is entwined with this other person in so many different ways. If you're holding onto resentment or anger, it's going to bleed into everything" – including the business' bottom line.

Related: Couple Entrepreneurs Rekindle Romance by Starting Up

Lisa Evans

Lisa Evans is a health and lifestyle freelance journalist from Toronto.

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