When HomieLoverFriend and I started working on our comedy show earlier this year, I didn't realize how much I was about to learn about working with my spouse. We all work in relationships every day - but actually working in a business-sense with your significant other brings out new dynamics that need specific time and attention. My latest piece for Chatelaine (Canada's leading women's magazine) covers this very topic - including tips from a real-life business couple and two of Toronto's top couples' therapists. Take a read!
The husband/wife team behind Wedge15.com
There are few risks in life as precarious as going into business with your significant other, but more and more couples are taking the plunge. Couples like Lynda and Stewart Resnick (of Fiji Water), design power-couple Robert and Cortney Novogratz, and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith (of Overbrook Entertainment) took on the challenge of mixing business and pleasure – and were largely successful. Think you and your spouse could go from bedmates to business proposals? Here are some things to consider:
Define your skill sets
Are you organized, great with numbers and a master public speaker? Is your partner a tech whiz with an artist’s eye? Knowing what skills you both possess is a crucial step when getting started. As you decide what direction your business is going in, having an idea of what each person is good at will allow you to maximize skill sets and avoid stepping on each other’s toes.
Gloria Roheim McRae and Ricardo McRae of Toronto-based social media company Wedge 15 have a unique strategy: “We take turns with our client projects,” says Ricardo. “Depending on which style our client prefers, Gloria and I will decide who is taking the lead and who is stepping back.”
“We have very different styles that work well together,” continues Gloria. “I’m the early bird who gets the worm, and Ricardo is the second mouse who gets the cheese.”
Keep work out of the bedroom
Nothing kills the mood like your other half crunching projection reports or revamping your company website when you’re ready for a little lovin’. Work has a way of creeping in on family and relationship time, and when you work with your partner, the chances of blurring those lines increase. Creating boundaries is imperative to the success of not only your business, but your relationship as well.
So how do Gloria and Ricardo carve out time for romance? ”We get our agendas out and discuss when we’re going on a date each week. It seems a little unromantic, but it’s great. Nothing in life just shows up — you have to be intentional,” explains Ricardo.
Gloria describes the priority pyramid that they utilize. ”We used to first plan business, and then the last thing on the list was us. We thought that was supposed to be right, and we didn’t feel it as much because we loved what we did and we spent the whole day together. But after a few months, we started to feel the impact.” The couple now reverses that pyramid by etching out personal time, then necessities like groceries and then business — finding that they’re not only more productive at work, but happier with each other.
Corinne Carter and Melissa Kroonenberg are clinical relationship therapists and owners of Whitby, Ontario’s New Roots Therapy, and they echo similar sentiments. “Sometimes couples tell us that it’s not romantic if they have to schedule time to be together – they’re under the impression that romance only happens out of spontaneity, which is just not true! Remember when you first started dating? You were probably planning everything – when to see each other, what to wear, what to talk about — and it was romantic, wasn’t it? Spontaneity is great when it happens…but when you’re busy running a business and possibly attending to other responsibilities, such as parenting, spontaneous moments can be few and far between.”
Learn to swiftly handle disagreements
Have you ever butt heads with someone at work, and promptly vented to your partner upon arriving home? If you answered yes, you can see why that becomes a bit more complicated when your romantic partner is also your business partner.
“You have to talk about (disagreements) — debrief, debrief, debrief,” says Gloria. The couple also reiterates that when there’s so much “at stake”, in both business and relationship, it makes them fight harder for their work and for each other. Likewise, this mindset informs the way they manage conflict.
“We put a time limit on our fights — and you have to know how to fight. We take no longer than 30 minutes to deal with any arguments. We deal with it, then we move on and get back to work,” says Ricardo.
Trust is also a major component when it comes to decision-making. Gloria and Ricardo trust each other to make the best decisions — if they fall through, it’s used as a teachable moment, not as an “I told you so” moment. “We’re in this together,” they reiterate.
Corinne and Melissa remind couples that conflict is not inherently bad, and should not necessarily be avoided: “Conflict is most constructive when the focus is on learning and growing from the experience so that the same issues/concerns don’t continue to repeat themselves. Constructive or productive conflict is not about placing blame, attacking someone’s character/personality, or ‘winning’ the argument.”
Three tips for mixing business with pleasure from New Roots Therapy:
1. Create a shared-vision for your business and your relationship. Discuss your hopes and fears and come up with a plan, together, of how you want to make your vision a reality. By creating a shared-vision, couples can be more confident that they’re moving forward in a mutually-agreed upon direction, thus minimizing conflicts/issues and enhancing a sense of togetherness.
2. Make time to be a couple outside of the business relationship. Have fun together! Try new things! Commit to having quality couple time in the same way you would commit to other appointments. In addition to this, it’s also very important to nurture your sense of individuality and make time for activities away from your partner doing things that you enjoy and that fulfill you.
3. Come up with a plan for handling conflict in advance of a disagreement. For example, decide to address work-related issues during work hours and personal issues when you’re “off the clock”. Come up with a plan for returning to issues at a later time if it’s not appropriate to discuss them immediately (if a personal issue arises while at work, for example). Develop strategies for transitioning from work life to home life, such as rituals for reconnecting as a couple at the end of the work day, to help mediate conflict/tensions and more clearly define your different roles.
Do you have experience working with you significant other? What worked for you, and what didn't? Are you considering doing business with your lover? What are you most concerned about? Would you ever even agree to mixing business with pleasure?