Last Updated on March 7, 2023 by Bert-Jan Schilthuis-Ihrig
“Why don’t you come work with me? We’ll have so much fun working together! We’ll be able to travel the world, take time off when we see fit, and live our dreams!” Working with your spouse might seem like a quick and easy answer to everything, but the romance of it all can be deceiving…
Your significant other might not necessarily be the better half you think they are.
Obviously, you want to share the dream life you and your partner have envisioned over the past years. There is an important question you should ask the one who is joining though.
Do you truly believe that my business could be the vehicle to bring you there?
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‘”Of course, I believe in your business! Would I be joining otherwise?‘ I know this sounds like stating the obvious but bear with me here.
Trusting in the potential success of the business really boils down to trusting in the potential success of the business the way it is being run at the moment.
Just believing that your spouse’s business *could* work, if only we change [insert condition here] will not be enough to avoid future frustrations. After all, until this point, it has been their business, and the way they run it is the result of a conscious decision.
Working with your spouse has the potential of being a lot of fun but it can also pose some serious challenges to your relationship, and as a result your business. Let’s prepare you for the 5 common pitfalls that come with bringing on your better half.
1. Set Your Expectations Accordingly
Getting new employees up to speed is usually a very time-consuming task. A quick Google search yielded two important things to consider:
- the length of the ideal onboarding process is about three months
- it can take up to eight months for a new hire to become fully productive
That’s certainly longer than you expected, isn’t it? Especially when you take into account that this applies to companies with well-defined job descriptions.
Sadly, your online business is no exception to this, since for your partner, joining your small business probably means changing industries. Just imagine how long the onboarding process could take in your own business!
In addition, it is common for an existing employee or manager to set some time apart to teach a new hire the ropes. Working with your spouse will have an effect on your own productivity as you have to show them what to do.
Luckily, this loss of productivity can be minimized. A good way could be to make your spouse brainstorm a list of ways in which they can contribute from day one. Kayla made me do this and it led to me coming on with a long list of stuff to work on.
Becoming a fully functioning, productive member of an existing business is just not something you can do on a whim. Changing jobs, and especially changing industries, always comes with a steep learning curve and having realistic expectations of the onboarding process will prevent a lot of problems down the road.
2. “Okay” Is Unacceptable When Working With Your Spouse
One crucial thing to keep in mind is that the way you see your partner as a coworker will affect the way you feel about them as a spouse. Anything that lowers your opinion of them at work will carry over into your marriage or relationship.
Normally, colleagues come in all shapes and sizes. Most of the times I really enjoyed the people I have had to work with over the years and collaborators can be a very important part of your life. Some of my longest friendships first started out in the office.
But, it would be naive to claim that we like all the people that we surround ourselves with at work. Frankly, some people are just downright awful and make your office a nightmare that you have to go back to every Monday.
However, there is also another, more dangerous, class of colleague. While the risk of your partner turning into a coworker that you actively hate or dislike is small, the risk of them turning into someone that you ‘can tolerate’ is very real. This is unacceptable. Remember you’re trying to build your dream life here!
This is just one of those hard-to-swallow pills of entrepreneurship.
Working as a couple has many benefits but it’s not void of risks, either. The way you think of your spouse as a co-worker can ultimately become the way you think of them in your marriage. Tread carefully.
3. Communication Is Everything When Working With Your Spouse
With every new hire comes a host of unforeseen changes to your workday, especially when it’s your partner. Small things that you would normally overlook suddenly become important and it goes without saying that communication is everything.
It’s not all about the heavy stuff though. Talking about the dream life that you are trying to build together can be fun. What will life be like a year from now when you are running your business together? Do you see yourselves living in the same home? In a van? On a sailboat? Even better, where will you be a year from now? Will you have moved to another country? What are you looking forward to the most?
Something my parenter and I love to do is to celebrate every accomplishment and every tiny bit of success. We often talk about what we enjoyed during a workday or what we love about working together.
Explicitly define the things that are going well and celebrate every little bit of it.
Naturally, annoyances need to be discussed as well and they can be surprising in nature. For example, it can be annoying that your partner is processing everything out loud, or worse, wants to make you a part of their work by discussing every word they write down (yup, this is me).
Something as small as chatting while working can quickly become a major annoyance to one party and needs to be nipped in the bud.
And those annoynces won’t stay at your keyboards, remember? Any problem that you have while working together with your partner will not disappear as soon as you stop working. Do you really believe that your partner can be this annoying person during work hours and then miraculously change back into the person you love as soon as you clock out? Any annoyance, no matter how small, needs to be addressed immediately.
4. Define Your Roles And Accept Each Other As Equals
This all comes down to accepting the joiner as an equal partner as soon as possible, whis is not as easy as it sounds though…
Firstly, you might have completely different styles of working. One of you might like to start early in the morning whereas the other prefers to start at noon, and both are OK.
After all, one of the major benefits of being self-employed is the freedom to set your own hours and to create an environment in which your performance is at its peak. Bringing on your spouse should not change any of that and it is a freedom that both parties should have.
Do not try to force your routine onto your partner. Tell them what works for you, and let them choose the routine that suits them best.
Accepting each other may sound obvious, but you may find yourself surprised by this process. Remember, once you’re working with your spouse and they get any responsibility, they will … well… do things. *lightning strikes outside the window*
They will make decisions… real decisions that you would not necessarily have made. Even if you don’t love it, or straight-up dislike it, you can’t run behind them with an eraser. Undoing most or all of your spouse’s work can be seriously discouraging and is not a healthy or productive way forward.
It is therefore important to both clearly define each other’s roles, and truly accept each other’s roles within the business.
Finding the balance between mentoring your partner and yet on the other accepting your partner as an equal in your business might be the most difficult thing to do for couples that work together.
Working with your partner requires complete openness and a safe environment where these things can be talked about without ego and defensiveness.
After all, this is all about making sure that every potential landmine is disarmed before it grows big enough to cause any damage.
Just remember that working together will come with its own learning curve.
5. Remember To Take Time Off
Finally, I would like to point out one of the things that we struggle with from time to time. When starting out, it is easy to let work be the one thing that completely dominates your life. Your business becomes the only thing you work on during the day and the main topic of conversation in the evening.
While there is obviously nothing wrong with this, it is important to realise that working together is not the same as spending quality time together. Before you know it, your business is taking up all of your best energy and time. Wouldn’t we all rather spend time on family?
In our case this is really not what we wanted. We are actively trying to build a life in which work is obviously important on the one hand, yet on the other hand never takes up more time than we give it.
Working long hours is fine but in our view they should always be the result of a conscious choice rather than habit or necessity. While there are moments when you just have to, we really try not to make it the norm.
Final Thoughts On Working With Your Spouse
Warning: Not everyone should be business partners with their spouse. This article isn’t trying to convince you that this is the right path for you, rather it will offer both some guiding principles and tips that are worth considering when bringing on your partner.
So, does the idea of working with your spouse excite or scare you? If you’re sane, it’s probably a little bit of both.
Being business partners with your spouse is a fantastic way to consolidate your dreams, both financial and otherwise, into a single project to champion. It’s the dream, but proceed with caution and don’t forget to enjoy the journey.