Advice often tells you to keep work and romance separate, but there’s a way to make it work.
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It’s a common line of thinking to keep your work and personal lives separate. And yet, because a business partnership can be similar to a marriage, it makes sense that many spouses and romantic partners do work together on a company. Recently, a friend of mine told me they were curious about this dynamic. My wife and I have somewhat similar careers and both work from home, so in many ways, we work side by side daily.
Of course, a professional relationship between romantic partners comes down to the dynamic between two people. What works for some couples may not work for others, and no two couples are the same. However, the following tips will be helpful if you’re considering starting a business with your partner, or if you’ve just started working together.
1. Don’t expect that both of you will give 50 percent all the time
While cofounders typically split responsibilities and workloads down the middle initially, time shows that it’s never fully even. The same is true of marriage or any relationship — at different times, one person is going to be giving more than the other.
The same is true in building a business. While it can be hard to separate this from the relationship, recognize that one of you will always care more or give more than the other, even if that changes at times. Maybe initially, the one of you who came up with the idea is more excited and is therefore giving more time. But then eventually, different responsibilities come up that shift the effort share. Managing expectations here is critical.
2. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements
How you communicate matters, too. I was recently catching up with Anthony and Mary Hood, spouses and cofounders of women’s jewelry company Hollywood Sensation. They’ve been married for 10 years and cofounders for eight. They shared that their best advice is to use “I” statements during conversations, especially during the hard ones.
“Using ‘I’ statements can help convey the way you’re feeling and promote a productive, positive conversation, instead of hurting your partner’s feelings or ego,” they advised. “Rather than saying something like, ‘You never pick up the slack in the business,’ try saying, ‘I’m feeling overwhelmed in the business.’” These communication strategies should also be used outside the working relationship
3. Understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses
One advantage of starting a business with your spouse or partner is how well you know each. You might not be as aware of a cofounder’s strengths and weaknesses as you are of your partner’s. But being in a relationship is very different than being business partners, and you should be prepared for new strengths and weaknesses to emerge. It should be an ongoing conversation. Talk candidly about each of your strengths and weaknesses in an open and compassionate way, so that you can strategize accordingly.
4. Take time for yourself.
Finally, make sure you have time just for you. Whether it’s a solo trip to the gym or a night out with friends, give yourselves some time apart. Everyone — even the world’s most enviable couples — needs space from each other. This space will help not only the business but also the relationship.