Four Tips on How to Work with Your Spouse and Not Murder Each Other

Blog | Other Observations

Working with your spouse may sound like a match made in heaven. For one thing, you get to spend a lot more time together during the work week. And, you’re not only building a family together, but you’re building a business together.

Sounds great, right? What’s not to love?

Well, as you can imagine, you could spend all your time talking about work and not about your relationship. Or, work conflicts could easily turn into marital conflicts.

It takes an intentional effort to have a healthy business relationship and a healthy marriage. It doesn’t just happen because you love each other.

So I wanted to share with you four tips on how to strike that healthy balance between your work life and your home life. These are tips that my wife and I have road tested and live out every day.

Tip #1 – Set boundaries on your time

Owning your own business is a 24/7 endeavour. So is being married. To survive and thrive in both, you’re going to have to put some healthy boundaries on your time.

My wife and I work together. As of today, we also live together–thank goodness!  In fact, we have a thriving personal and professional relationship.

But let’s face it–some days the shit hits the fan.

It could be something that we’re dealing with in our marriage, or a challenge that has come up at work. How do we keep those worlds separate enough that they don’t bleed into each other, causing strife in both worlds?

We’ve had to create boundaries on when we talk about and don’t talk about work. It’s been a dynamic process for us, so what works for one couple might not work for another.

My wife and didn’t always work together. She owns her business and I own mine. However, over time it became clear that I could contribute in her Health and Wellness training company, so I jumped on in.

We had a very clean business relationship at first, and I was involved at and arm’s length. But over time, things evolved. As the business grew, and it grew fast, the boundaries got blurred and before you knew it, we were talking about business around the clock. Even our 6-year-old son would tell us to put a cork in it over dinner.

So based on those experiences, we’ve had to agree that there are rules and we have the right to review and adjust these rules as we go. We’ve also agreed that sometimes we may need to break these rules, but we will always ask the other person for permission before opening up the door to further discussion.

So here are our working rules for keeping work and family life separate:

  • We limit our business discussion between 9-5 weekdays. We do set aside some time on Sundays to discuss the week ahead.
  • We do not talk about business at breakfast or dinner. We do schedule lunch with each other and talk about business then.
  • We schedule time to talk established topics, rather than have numerous one-off conversations throughout the day
  • By having these boundaries and rules, it helps us keep our business lives mostly at the office and our personal lives at home.

But what if we have some conflict or issue at home and have to go into the office the next morning? You can imagine the tension that can arise and spill over at work. This could easily turn into resentment and start to sour your business relationship, too.

So how do you keep your home life from seeping into your work life?

Strong communication. If you haven’t learned how to effectively communicate with your spouse before you go into business together, it will definitely be magnified in how you do business together.

You want to make sure that you do handle personal conflicts outside of the workplace, not only because it’s good business, but because it’s good for your relationship.

Although it can be challenging, my wife and I know if there is a personal issue that’s come up at home, we will address it soon while maintaining our professionalism in the office. Every couple has to figure out their own plan for conflict resolution to keep both their personal and business relationships healthy.

Tip #2- Set boundaries on your responsibilities

The main reason why my wife and I can work together is that we have very different skill sets, attitudes, and work styles. We complement each other as business partners.

So if we had a ton of overlap, it wouldn’t make sense to work together. It’d be redundant and we’d be stepping on each other’s toes instead of working together as a cohesive team.

We both bring unique gifts to the table and we need to remember that to be effective, we must remember who is responsible for what.

My wife, Suzanne, is a visionary who understands our audience of potential customers. She knows how they feel, what they want, and how to connect with them. Suzanne is masterful at creating and communicating solutions for the challenges that keep our clients up at night.

Meanwhile, I’m a strategist and team builder. I help to make Suzanne’s vision a reality by picking the best ways to execute her visions and building teams of people to handle the day to day.

But sometimes, it can get messy. Especially when we don’t stay in our lanes and recognize the beauty that each person brings to the relationship. When this happens, we have to assess the situation and recognize our parts and who needs to take the lead and who needs to step back.

We have to remember that we both want to win, but that sometimes we have different ideas on how to do things. Defining and understanding our roles is critical to our success as business partners.

Here’s another real-life example. My wife LOVES details. She obsesses about them, because she likes everything to be perfect. It’s a great quality. But when you are responsible for driving the vision of a company, you have to trust other people to do this.

There was a time when I had to take over the leadership of the business, because Suzanne was too busy taking care of the details. For about 6 months, I become the CEO and she was the COO.

One day, we realized this did not make sense. We agreed to switch roles again and it was my job to manage the details until I replaced our operations manager. We needed someone who could lead ops, without Suzanne’s input.

I do not enjoy detailed operations work, but it was what was necessary to free up Suzanne. Four months later, we not only had a killer ops manager, but we had outlined the entire company’s operating manual into a Business Blueprint and our operation has never run better. Best of all, Suzanne has created two new programs for our students and is focused on what she is best at.

Tip #3 – Agree to put your relationship first

When there is conflict–and there will be conflict–it’s important to remember that the relationship comes first.

This isn’t something that you should hang over your spouse in the heat of the moment. I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work. It’s something that I have to remind myself when I find myself losing sight of what’s most important.

After all, who wants to work with their spouse when they are no longer your spouse? Is it really worth arguing over how much you are going to pay for that new software if it’s going to scar your relationship with the person you love? It really helps to keep perspective of the big picture: the health and wellbeing of your relationship.

Here’s another real-life example: two years ago, we were on a family vacation in Florida, and this was during a time when my wife still had to micromanage our operations manager. Things went to hell in a handbasket while we were gone, and the operations manager simply couldn’t handle the challenge.

Worse yet, the problems were losing tens of thousands of dollars in sales every day. So, my wife had to jump into action on our vacation. And when she jumps in, I jump in. In this case, we both jumped back into business and right out of our vacation.

I was pissed that we hadn’t made a staffing change a long time ago, and we were both upset that we were losing money. But we quickly realized that our vacation and our family time was more important than a short-term sales problem.

So we agreed to spend 2 hours on the problem each morning for 2 days and fix what we could, then move on with our vacation. We were able to put a “finger in the dike” and stop the bleeding. Most importantly, we didn’t let it ruin our vacation. We eventually came to a better long-term solution when we returned from vacation.

Often, when you work with your spouse, you can be laying on the beach in a romantic getaway – like our time in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica – without any technology or a care in the world, when suddenly, you have some brilliant business insights. It can be hard to let this moment pass and stay focused on your partner, when your busy business mind wants to call a conference call and pull the team together for an emergency planning meeting.

I may not be able to totally turn off my brain, but I can shut my mouth. So instead of dragging Suzanne into things, I make a habit of writing down my ideas in my journal (which I take everywhere I go). I can share these great ideas with Suzanne once we are back at work.

Tip #4 – Set the terms for disagreements

At times, you may totally disagree and come to an impasse. It may be over an important or even critical issue. So you need to determine ahead of time how you will approach these situations.

If you have clear boundaries on duties, this may be as simple as giving ultimate power to the spouse who controls that part of the business.

But sometimes, you may have to be more creative to arrive at a fair decision that you and your spouse can both agree on. Here are two ideas that you can try:

  • Draw straws for it.  Politicians are voted into office this way, so you can put it to chance too.
  • Bring in a third party. This may be a trusted employee, consultant, or an advisory board.

Regardless of what conflicts comes up or how things go, remember it’s easier to build a business than a successful marriage. So keep your priorities in check and you’ll find most disagreements can be managed with the help of these simple tips.

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