6 Ways To Make Working With Your Spouse ... Work

Working in a business setting with your spouse can be a tricky situation. Use these tips to avoid disaster.


On-the-job clashes took the romance out of our relationship until talk of divorce scared us into separating business from pleasure. Years ago, my husband, Lee and I decided to open our own hair-styling salon. This would allow us more time together and permit me some space to write in my spare time.

"It won't work," warned naysayers. We laughed and reassured them, "No way, Jose`. Don't rain on our parade!"

Yet, we'd only begun to set up the salon when we began to tussle over details, like where to hang mirrors and pricey versus non-pricey furniture for the waiting area. Then, the biggie-who's the boss? Lee's bossiness didn't set well with the new partner, me! And he didn't know how to handle this new businesswoman wife who stood up to him. And Lordy, listening to his same old jokes all day. Needless to say, by the time we got home, we were barely civil to each other.

Despite that, our salon flourished. But, as business partners, we no longer felt like husband and wife. One day things got so heated that one of us blurted, "Let's just go see a lawyer."

The truth? Neither of us wanted a divorce. Just raising the issue inspired us to make changes that would save our marriage and business. Here are six marriage-saving steps when in business with your spouse that I'd like to share with you:

1. Set Your Roles: Define your roles within the business, ones that you both agree that you can live with. In our case, we decided to not have an actual "boss." Rather, we began to negotiate the "how" and "why" of the issues, coming to a solution we both approved. Compromise was an ongoing exercise.

2. Time Apart: Once we realized what was happening, we agreed upon taking separate days off and when free, each taking time out for a trip to the supermarket or an hour at our local golf course driving range. That way, we weren't constantly joined at the hip, thus reducing the probability for annoyance. It freed me from the feeling of being watched and it gave Lee the experience of trusting me to make wise decisions. He recognized the tiny strain of controller in himself and backed off. As a result, we began to look forward to and value our times together more.

3. Compartmentalize: This was crucial in our marital/business relationship. When we left work, we started leaving it all behind. When we got home, we basked in our haven. We stopped talking shop at home. At work, we gave it our all. We were a team, reassuring one another during rough spots that we would "work it out."

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4. Mutual Respect: Immediately, we became business associates, requiring utmost respect for one another's opinions and procedures. When necessary, we switched roles from that of "husband and wife" to that of "business partners," and vice-versa. During business negotiations, this freed us from preconceived stereotypical spousal reactions.

5. Schedule Romantic Dates: During these dates, our policy was "no business talk." We went all out, dressing up, babysitters and even getaway weekends without the children. Other times, we did unique things with the children, like going to Dollywood at Christmas time, making sure family time special.

6. Schedule Regular Business Meetings: These were necessary to redefine our roles that we'd previously set, and clear the air of gripes that would build up during working hours. It also gave us the opportunity to give each other positive feedback and encouragement.

Emily Sue Harvey's writing to make a difference. Her upbeat stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies including "Chicken Soup for the Soul," "Chocolate for Women," "From Eulogy to Joy," "A Father's Embrace," "True Story," "Compassionate Friends Magazine," and "Woman's World." Emily Sue served as president of Southeastern Writers Association in 2008-2009. Her first novel, "Song of Renewal," published by Story Plant, will be released in the spring of 2009. For more information visit www.renewalstories.com.

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