“Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success.” – Henry Ford
Living, working, and playing together. For some couples, this might sound like a dream come true. Increased intimacy, having a built-in support system, and a boost in productivity are just a few components of this lover-colleague dynamic. What could be more fulfilling than spending your waking hours together every day? For other partnerships, however, this may seem totally unfathomable. A desire for personal space, the need to escape work, or feelings of inferiority may prevent these couples from embarking on joint business ventures. The sheer thought of spending more time together is maddening and stressful. It’s important to emphasize that either arrangement is perfectly okay and normal. But, for the sake of this blog, we’ll focus on couples who mix their love with their livelihoods.
Over about the past decade, we’ve witnessed a rising trend of couples starting and/or operating businesses together. In fact, about one-third of all small businesses are run by couples. So, how do they do it? How do they successfully navigate the balance between the personal and the professional – and stay together?
As serial entrepreneurs, Kris (my husband), and I are often asked these very questions. Although we own and operate separate businesses – a counseling and coaching practice for me and business leadership companies for Kris – there’s a significant amount of overlap in our everyday lives. Through the 21 years we’ve been together, we’ve discovered several approaches to maintaining a work-life balance that works for us.
Whether you and your partner currently collaborate or if you’re thinking about joining forces, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. From my own experience as a wife, entrepreneur, and sounding board to Kris, I’ve learned the value of communicating frequently, openly, and respectfully. For example, through our heart-to-heart talks and annual reviews, we converse about our individual passions and goals, as well as our collective ones. This helps bring clarity to both of our needs, as well as guides us in supporting each another in reaching our goals. Additionally, I listen to Kris’s thoughts and ideas, give him support, and ask permission to push back by gently challenging him. More often than not, he appreciates my honesty and devotion to his ideas, and he trusts my feedback. Bonus: Intentionally communicating with your sweetie strengthens your connection to one another.
- Use your strengths (and theirs). We all have something to contribute, whether in the context of a couple, team, or large corporation. Some people are gifted at solving complex math equations, while others have a natural tendency for developing professional relationships. Embracing this diversity in talent means that more of your bases will be covered due to your complementary personalities and skillsets. To give you an idea, Kris typically has the big ideas for our couple’s retreats, while I listen and offer my input. From there, we talk through our visions for the retreats. My experience as a counselor combined with Kris’s knowledge of the business world make our couples retreats a well-rounded experience for participants. Further, he supports me by listening to both my good days and the more challenging ones – a definite strength of his. By promoting and utilizing each other’s fortes, you’re reinforcing your belief in your partner’s dreams.
- Go with the flow. In my line of work, ‘boundaries’ is a beloved and regularly-used word. As a therapist, I typically encourage clients to set up and maintain boundaries…but when it comes to the living-working relationship, it’s vital to be transparent. This really comes into play regarding technology. With convenient and new technology right at our fingertips, we’ve experienced a blurring of boundaries over the last few years. We’re now able to respond to emails on a plane, approve payroll while on vacation, or hold a virtual counseling session in our home office. I used to refer to Kris’s phone as his “mistress,” as she always accompanied us on our date nights. Now, when we’re spending quality time together, his phone stays in the car. Because we both strive for transparency in our relationship, we’re aware of issues with which the other might be dealing. The upside of this for business-blending couples is that we understand how pressures at work evolve to feeling stressed at home. We can empathize with the interruption and we can help our partners solve it if needed. The crucial thing to remember is if an issue arises during an unsuitable time, handle it as quickly as possible and return to what you were doing. As entrepreneurs, we value having flexibility with our time, and technology just so happens to facilitate this.
While our businesses are undoubtedly important to Kris and me, our relationship is our top priority. In our lifetime, deals may fall short and companies may come and go. But nothing is as imperative as being a supportive and loving partner to your soulmate – even if you’re not in business together.
TAKE-AWAY: Try to be the objective sounding board for your partner’s business ideas or challenges. Learn about their communication style. Listen to their wildest, craziest dreams with unwavering encouragement. Give them your undivided attention when they’re struggling to resolve an issue. Strive to give them the kind of support you’d like to receive. In the next few weeks, I encourage you to be mindful of these concepts when interacting with your partner.