When I first approached my wife, Laura, with a business idea, she said that she'd never work with me. After some discussion and persuasion, she agreed to help get the company started and we soon launched our startup from our guest bedroom.
Fast forward a few years and our business really started to take off. Being the thoughtful husband that I am, I told her that she should not work and just play tennis, hike and have fun.
I was certain that she would take me up on it. And frankly, if she said the same to me, I would've taken her up on it. Instead, she said that she couldn't and wouldn't stop working.
Why? She said I would eventually resent her for playing while I was working so hard. I told her she was ridiculous. We agreed to disagree.
Years later I finally understood what she meant. Working with your spouse teaches you a lot of things but when it works, it's magical.
In relationships, many onlookers will always try to determine "who wears the pants." What I've learned is, in business, there are no "pants." Here are the top three things I've learned from running a business with my wife for the last 17 years:
Beware of Shifts In Power Dynamics
Reflecting back, I know that if I was doing all the heavy lifting and hard work while watching her play, it would have changed the power dynamics of our relationship significantly and indeed caused resentment.
Try to keep workloads equal and focus on each other's strengths and weaknesses. Determining what you and your spouse excel at can be difficult, but it's crucial. We'd assumed this would come naturally since we already knew each other so well, but were surprised to find it was harder than we'd expected.
Use personality tests and reflect back on the results often to pinpoint your roles within the company and then hire to fill in the gaps. This will reduce resentment, stress and keep your company operating smoothly.
Respect Alone Time and Boundaries
This is the hardest and most important factor to successfully working with your spouse. Especially when you're first starting, there are so many exciting things to talk about. But you need to know when to "turn it off" and talk about anything other than work.
After a few years, Laura and I realized we were just spending entirely too much time together. So, we agreed that once we were home, we can no longer talk about any work whatsoever. Seeing as we live in an apartment above our headquarters, this isn't always easy to do.
By respecting each other's alone time, you can maintain our own sense of self, allowing you to keep a clear head and value the time you spend together even more.
Prevent Life Spilling Over Into Work
My favorite part of running a business with my wife is obvious: I get to spend a lot of time with my wife! Knowing you have a business partner who is as invested as you are (and not going anywhere) brings incredible stability, which can be extremely powerful for employees, vendors, and the business itself.
There are pitfalls, too. Too many inside jokes in front of employees have the potential to be awkward, but carrying over a fight from the previous night in front of your staff is much worse. Just as you need to separate work from home, you need to prevent personal issues spilling over into the workplace.
While you're both at work, keep interactions in front of others as professional as possible and instead think of your relationship as an asset strictly for business-related purposes.
At times, your business will put a strain on your marriage, there's just no way around that. But, by setting new ground rules and expectations - between the two of you and how your team and business partners understand your relationship - you can prevent many common issues.
Working with your spouse takes a lot of work to get it right, but doing something you both love and having a trusted business partner is priceless