She Said, He Said: Working through work, marriage and working together … it can be done
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff:
When my husband and I met, I was early in the process of starting my own small business. Recently, it had grown to a point where I needed more help, and we decided it would be a good time for him to leave his job and work with me. Our business skill sets and strengths complement each other well. But working together has been much harder than we ever anticipated. My husband is really smart, but it feels like he forgets that I’m the one that built the business from the ground up. We’ve both become more stubborn and critical of one another, and the tension has started to spill into our marriage. Can partners be in business together and keep a healthy relationship?
Lori and Jeff: The short answer is yes. But successfully crossing into the land of coworking requires learning new navigation skills. It’s not safe to assume that how you maneuver together in your marriage will translate in this new territory.
Lori: Bringing your significant other into your business can be the most challenging dynamic and yet the best decision you’ve made. Now, let me be clear that working with a spouse is not the right arrangement for everyone. If your partner doesn’t have talent or knowledge that applies to your work, don’t put pressure on them or the relationship by trying to squeeze them into it. When partners do complement each other in what they bring to the boardroom, the real work is in checking egos at the door. Being an entrepreneur is synonymous with feeling exposed. When you factor in the trials and errors of creating a business along with the blood, sweat and tears you’ve invested, it’s natural to feel raw and protective. And from this place, even the kindest constructive criticism can feel biting. Your task is to own your awesomeness and to recognize that being fallible or accepting help doesn’t change the fact that you’re a kick-ass girlboss.
Jeff: I’m curious what kind of agreement you and your husband created when he joined your business. Was there a stipulation that you would retain the final word on decisions and planning for the business? How did you denote roles and responsibilities? Are you equal partners or are you technically his boss? All of these dynamics need to be addressed (if they haven’t been), even if it means you start over in determining who does what.
It’s also important for you to consider what it may have meant for your husband to leave his job. Often we get a significant amount of security, value and even identity from our careers and professions. Leaving his position may have created more of a challenge for him than he either understands or is willing to share with you. There may also be a loss of a sense of individuality for your husband as he transitioned from a separate, autonomous role at his old job to more of a “helper” role with you. This move may have been hard to swallow, causing resentment, fear and regret.
Lori and Jeff: We’ve chosen the marriage-business journey ourselves, and have learned a few key lessons along the way. First, marriage creates such an intimate bond that we care deeply about what our spouses think about us. Words of praise and encouragement can help a spouse soar while criticism and disapproval can send them hurtling to the ground. Second, creating separation between work life and love life is essential. Mark the beginning and end of work with a word or act to create a conscious transition between the two. It will help remind you that you’re working together as a team for the greatest good of the business, and at the end of the day to mentally shut the office door and focus on tending to your marriage.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
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“If I was moving through the herd, the others would begin walking away, some of them at a jog, taking their calves with them, but the big brown ungulate would face me sideways, reluctant to move, not wanting to give any ground,” writes Tony Vagneur.