Table Of Contents
1. Common Pitfalls of Working TogetherLet’s start with the downsides you might expect when you work with a spouse or a partner.
You Feel Like You’re Always at WorkIf you work together, it’s easy to bring your work into your personal life. Couples who work together at someone else’s company tend not to have this problem as much as copreneurs (couple entrepreneurs) who start a business together, according to research by Kathy J. Marshack, a Ph.D in Psychology. Marshack found no difference in terms of career satisfaction or marital satisfaction between dual-career couples and copreneurs. She did find, unsurprisingly, that work invades home life to a much greater extent with copreneurs.
So Much TogethernessYou’ll see this on both the pros and cons list of spouses who work together:
- Pro: You spend a lot of time together.
- Con: You spend A LOT of time together.
Increased Career InstabilityWhen you and your partner or spouse work in the same industry, industry downturns hit both income-earners. If you work for the same company, the rumors of potential layoffs threaten you both. Couples who are in business for themselves face even more stress and can become very vulnerable financially, notes Jeff Reid, director of entrepreneurial studies at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Many entrepreneurs rely on their spouse’s income and health insurance, but copreneurs often don’t have that extra security.
Work Arguments Never EndCompagno has a realistic outlook. “In any relationship, there’s always something that you’re going to argue about, something that comes up over and over again,” she says. “So when you work together, that naturally becomes what you argue about.” The difference, Compagno notes, is to make sure you’re not arguing about your relationship, but that you’re trying productively to solve problems at work.
2. Keys to Success for Couples Working TogetherSo, how do some couples make their working relationship a success?
Clear BoundariesSet boundaries to ensure that your work doesn’t engulf your life and your family responsibilities don’t undermine your work. According to Marshack’s research, this tends to be more difficult for the working wife than the working husband. Women tend to carry their self-concepts as wives, mothers, or daughters into all aspects of their lives. This shouldn’t be a big surprise that men don’t do this to the same extent, given the tendency of the male brain to compartmentalize. Having rituals to establish boundaries can be helpful: shutting off a computer, leaving a room or building, closing the office door, turning off phone notifications. As a couple, consider setting norms and limits. Decide where and when you’ll talk about work. Set work-free zones, where you don’t let it enter your conversations. Physically limiting work’s hold on you is generally healthier, whether you work with your spouse or not. But it’s even more key when you’re protecting your relationship.
Planned Time AwayPlan regular time away from each other to develop outside of your shared work and relationship and avoid resentment. For introverts, this may mean time alone. For extroverts, this may mean ensuring you have your own social outlet, separate from your spouse. Either way, when your personal lives and your working lives are tightly interwoven, you need to schedule time away from each other for the health of your relationship.
“Plan regular time from each other to develop outside of your shared work and relationship and avoid resentment.”
Separated ResponsibilitiesFor copreneurs, define and tend to your own separate responsibilities to reduce miscommunication and conflict. The clearer your roles and responsibilities are, the less tension there will be interpersonally. This applies not only to co-worker couples, but to any co-workers. Divide up responsibilities clearly, negotiate as needed, and revise roles where it makes sense. It will save you considerable stress, instead of wondering who is picking up which pieces. Gibb Dyer, a professor at Brigham Young University and recognized authority on entrepreneurship and family businesses, said the most effective copreneur couples do a couple of things:
✓ Each spouse brings a distinct expertise to the business. ✓ They meet periodically with an advisory board for objective input and progress reviews.“Often when you mix family relationships and businesses together,” Dyer explains, “there can be conflicts and issues. It’s difficult unless you get a third party to help you.” Dyer also emphasized the importance of communicating well, citing John Gottman’s research on building your emotional bank account for your marriage. It’s important to ensure you have a deep reservoir of goodwill as stressful times inevitably appear.