The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Working With Your Spouse

Like many aspects of marriage, working with your spouse can be romanticized.

I hear so commonly from work-at-home moms that their goal is to “bring their husband home” (a concept with which I have a bone to pick, but that’s a post for another day). It sounds wonderful, noble, cozy and idyllic. It can be those things, for sure, but many couples are surprised at how downright hard it can be to do this work thing, day in and day out, together.

For those of you who have been working together with your spouse, whether on the same business or side-by-side on your own businesses, you have likely long since given up those romantic notions. Perhaps you have conceded (as we have) that being an entrepreneurial couple is full of great blessing, great challenge, and occasionally, great heartache.

For the record, Ryan and I feel privileged to do the work that we do, together, from home, as a family, as a team. If we didn’t, you can bet we wouldn’t be running a site called “EntreFamily”.

But one thing we won’t do on this site is tip toe around the harder aspects of our life at home as entrepreneurs.

I want to open up a conversation about this unique business partnership called marriage. In the future, we’ll write more about how we’ve learned to navigate these lesser-known waters, how we attempt to communicate our needs and coordinate our work schedules, how we handle conflict and disagreements, and still continue to wake up the next day smiling at the work we call ours (and usually, at each other, too).

Here is a list that I compiled, with some input from Ryan, on the good, the bad, and the ugly of working with your spouse.

The Good

  • Having more time together. This is an obvious win over spending 8-10 hours apart each day, right?
  • Collaborating with each other can be quite exciting, as well as build intimacy in your relationship.
  • Developing a greater respect and admiration for one another as you see their work skills and talents being put to use. I’m often in awe of Ryan’s ability to zero in on a goal, aim high, and achieve bigger things than I could have imagined, as well as his ability to really streamline and systematize processes that help our businesses to run more smoothly. At the same time, he is my biggest cheerleader when it comes to my writing, speaking and business ideas, as well as believing in my dreams and aspirations far more than I believe in myself.
  • Feelings of achievement and success that you experience together, as a team, only build your marriage up.
  • It’s easy to coordinate things like holidays and time off. We don’t have to get permission from anyone but ourselves.
  • It’s not much of a stretch to understand the other person’s work or job – we’re already in the know of it (as opposed to the days when he worked in management at a large software company in the big city and I wasn’t privy to much of what went on in his day to day work). We understand one another’s struggles so much better because we’re in it together and it’s easy to both celebrate and commiserate together.
  • Most of the time, it’s just more fun when you’re working with your best friend.
  • Married couples typically have a lot of opposite traits (because we attract each other, right?). This often means that in business, you fill in gaps or weaknesses that the other person has with your strengths, and vice versa. This is definitely true of Ryan and I. When we collaborate jointly on a project, the way we compliment each other really shines through.
  • The privilege of partnering on projects — there is something so special about really laboring and building something as a team.
  • Working out your own schedules based on what works for your family. No one to dictate to you what it should look like. There’s a great freedom in that.

The Bad (or the very challenging)

  • Getting annoyed with each other as inevitable weaknesses appear (missed deadlines, disorganization, delayed email responses, dealing with a situation the way you wouldn’t have, etc.). Did you think this made you weird or meant you were doing something wrong? Nope, it’s just the way it goes.
  • Not having breaks from one another. Especially if you share an office or workspace, you’re both just always, well, there.
  • It’s easy to let work carry on over into everything you do. We often have to force ourselves not to talk about work when we go on dates or during holidays, and even then, we usually do anyways. This isn’t always bad, but sometimes it would be nice to have more separation.
  • Battling for work time. It’s not usually a true battle, but there will be times when one spouse feels their work load necessitates extra work time or their particular tasks are more time-sensitive or important, and couldn’t you both just adjust your schedules to give them more time? You can often work around this, especially if you communicate about it honestly and kindly, asking for what you need rather than expecting it. But when you both start feeling the crunch at the same time, in those super busy seasons, it can require a lot of cooperation, grace and clarity to ensure both parties get what they need and that you find a work schedule that works for both of you.
  • You’re likely to have different standards for how you do your work, how clean you keep your office or desk, whether you like to listen to music while you work, how you handle finances, how fast you reply to emails, how good you are about shutting off at the end of the work day. Of course, you’ll experience this in most workplaces and jobs as well. It’s just part and parcel of working with other human beings, and can usually be overcome by talking calmly about the issues, coming to solutions that include compromise, and choosing not to focus on your differences. That said, it doesn’t make it easy.

The Ugly (or the really, super, crazy harder-than-you-thought-it-would-be)

  • When things in your business get tough (financially, legally, etc.) this can put a lot of stress on your relationship. Rather than simply getting to support the other person as they go through something hard at work, you’re both stuck in the same hard thing, and it can be easy to begin to play the blame game.
  • Mistakes can be a tough pill to swallow. When a co-worker at a job makes a big mistake, you’re a bit more removed and you don’t have to treat the relationship quite as carefully (though hopefully you still treat it with respect as you would any relationship). When it’s your spouse, you have to commit not to let it come between you, to forgive fully and freely, to not harbor bitterness or distrust in the future.  I’m grateful that we’ve managed to navigate this well so far, but I do think it’s something every couple should be aware of, that mistakes can and will happen in how you run your business.
  • Resentment can build between spouses when one is experiencing greater success or acknowledgement in their work and the other feels overlooked or even like a failure. Or it could be that one is threatened by how much money the other is making (if you work on different businesses/projects). Just as we struggle with comparing ourselves to other entrepreneurs, other bloggers, other fill-in-the-blanks, we’ll struggle with comparing ourselves to our spouse at times.
  • It can be really frustrating to work from home some days. The distractions can drive us nearly batty.
  • One thing we’ve experienced a lot of lately is how hard it is to share work time. When it’s our turn to put our work on hold for a day or two so the other person can get things done, it can make us feel frustrated and anxious. We feel like we’re not always getting what we need, and sometimes this goes even deeper and messes with how we live out the roles in our family/relationship (husbands don’t always want to be home with kids or do domestic stuff, for example – some do but many don’t; some wives find it hard that it’s often their work that gets put on the back burner, etc, etc.)
  • Both spouses need to have their own passions and feel satisfied and fulfilled by what they are doing. End of story. (And this, this is a non-negotiable, which we’ll expand on in later posts, because we feel so passionately that this is a huge issue that pops up in husband-wife entrepreneurial teams.)

In the end, for all of the hard, we’d still choose to do the work that we do. But we wanted to open up a dialogue on this issue and make room for further posts that will help us to build stronger work and personal relationships.

Lastly, please don’t see us as an example. I hope you can read between the lines that the reason we know these things well enough to write out a full post of them, with a longer list of challenging and ugly facets than of the good ones… well, that should tell you that we’re not immune to these struggles. We’re real. We fight. We disagree. We battle resentment. We have long, heated discussions. You’re not alone.

(And we also cheer together and high five each other, celebrate our wins, enjoy each others company, have exciting planning sessions, and you get the picture. It’s a package deal, this lifestyle of ours.)

And on that note, what would you add to this list? What have been both the good and bad things that you’ve experienced in working together with your spouse?

Photo from Seth Radar

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