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Should You Work with Your Spouse?

We are business partners and coauthors. We share the stage during speeches and the microphone during interviews. We are also married. We spend most of our days at each other’s side or sitting across from each other at our partner desk. People often ask us how we work so well together. This question is usually followed by the statement, “I could never work with my spouse.”

While the idea of working with your life partner may sound romantic, we understand that many couples would find it difficult to work together. We would never presume to claim that we have the one and only formula for a successful partnership. However, we have found that the five traits listed below are what make our time together more joy than job.

1. Compatible strengths, goals and the “ambition factor”

Polly’s strengths are human resources and people management―Doug’s are strategy, operations and finance. Taken together, we almost make a complete executive. While we are being humorous, it is true that we bring very different skills to our clients and are much stronger as a pair than we could ever be separately.

Beyond compatible strengths, we have similar goals and are willing to work hard for them. Remembering what we are working for when the day stretches into the 15th and 16th hour keeps us moving forward. We write down our goals and review them regularly. Our mission statement is written on the bottom of the whiteboard in our office so that it is visible at all times.

The willingness to work hard and sacrifice to achieve goals is what we call the “ambition factor.” Having similar levels of drive and work ethic is critical. Without it, partners can become resentful when one feels that he or she is giving more than the other. While effort can and will vary in the short-term for a variety of reasons, over the long-term, we strongly believe that partners must have similar levels of ambition to work well together.

2. Respect for and trust in each other

We have tremendous respect for each other. Each respects the other’s skills, knowledge and work ethic; but perhaps more importantly we respect each other as human beings.

Because of our respect for each other, we trust that the other is working in the best interest of the firm and our family. We trust each other’s judgment. This means we are willing to give our partner the benefit of the doubt, even if we don’t completely understand the actions at the time. We assume positive intent.

3. Humor

We have a good time. We laugh at ourselves. We laugh at each other’s jokes (even if Polly has heard Doug’s tired old joke a dozen times). We try not to take ourselves too seriously. Humor makes good times better and bad times bearable.

4. Consideration and not to ticking each other off about little things

Each of us is considerate of the other. As spouses, we know each other well―including each other’s hot buttons. Hot buttons are those things that trigger irritation. Doug likes working in a quiet environment. Polly enjoys a little noise. However, in consideration of her partner, she leaves the room if she needs to take a phone call when Doug is concentrating on detailed work. It’s a little thing, but little things count when you are with each other 24/7.

Consideration also means doing things for each other. Doug often brings Polly a soda or a much-needed cup of coffee in the afternoon. Polly listens to Doug’s articles and e-mails for content, structure and tone. He reciprocates. Consideration also means doing things you don’t enjoy. Polly does the filing. Doug pays the bills. To be great business partners you must be sensitive and considerate.

5. Honest communication and conflict management

Being sensitive and considerate does not mean avoiding difficult discussions. Conflict will occur even in the best relationship. It’s a normal human condition. Avoiding conflict allows issues to fester. Left long enough, these unaddressed issues can poison a relationship. It’s much better to get disagreements out in the open and clear the air before this happens.

However, when we discuss tough issues we work hard to be polite, considerate and respectful. Above all else, we’re honest. We use “I” statements rather than “you” statements so that we tell the other how we feel or what upsets us without blaming or accusing. Because we know we love and are loved by the other, we can discuss shortcomings, hurt feelings, irritations, needs, wishes, etc. without demoralizing and hurting our partner.

Before deciding to work with your spouse, look at your relationship. Does yours already excel in the traits listed above? Working together can be the best time you have ever had, but you need to be ready before committing to 24/7.

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