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Working with Your Spouse

Q. I’ve just started a small business with my spouse. I’m looking forward to spending time with him, but, being with your spouse 24/7 can put a real strain on a relationship. You two are married and have worked together for years. Do you have any advice for how to make that arrangement work?

A. We are business partners and coauthors. We share the stage during speeches and the microphone during interviews. We co-owners of multiple businesses. We are also married. We are together most of the time. While the idea of working with your life partner may sound romantic, it can also be challenging. We would never presume that we have the one and only formula for a successful partnership. However, we have found that the five traits listed below make our time together more joy than job.

  • Compatible strengths, goals and the “ambition factor” – Polly’s strengths are human resources and people management―Doug’s are strategy, quantitative analysis and finance. We joke that, taken together, we almost make a complete executive. Having different strengths makes us more compatible. Goals alignment is critical. You can’t be a team with different goals. Ours are written. The willingness to work hard and sacrifice is what we call the “ambition factor.” It’s essential to have similar levels of ambition. Without it, partners can become resentful. The partner with more ambition may feel that the other isn’t carrying his or her weight, while the less ambitious partner may find it difficult to support the long hours of his or her mate.

  • Respect for and trust in each other – We have tremendous respect for each other’s skills, knowledge and work ethic; but perhaps more importantly we respect each other as human beings. Because of this, we trust that the other is working in the best interest of our business endeavors and our family. We are willing to give our partner the benefit of the doubt, even if we don’t completely understand the other’s actions. We assume positive intent.

  • Humor – We have a good time. We laugh often. We try not to take ourselves too seriously. Humor makes good times better and bad times bearable.

  • Consideration – Each of us is considerate of the other. We know each other’s hot buttons. Consideration means not doing those things that trigger irritation. It also means doing little things that the other appreciates. Doug often brings Polly 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 and does the taxes.

  • Honest communication and conflict management – Being considerate does not mean avoiding difficult discussions. Conflict occurs. It’s normal. 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. Of course, when we discuss tough issues we’re honest, but also polite, considerate and respectful. 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.

Working with your spouse can be rewarding, but being together 24/7 can be challenging. We’ve found that the five tips above can ease the stress.

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