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Working With Your Spouse... A Recipe for Disaster?

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COUPLE ARGUING
Alamy

You meet the love of your life and decide they're 'The One'. The reality of life then takes over and for the next 30 or 40 working years you rarely see each other.

Long hours, commuting and the demands of the modern working life mean that you actually spend very little time with each other.

Retirement eventually comes along and you are thrown together 24/7. It's no surprise that many people have marriage problems after retirement. Britain is seeing a rise in "silver separations" with a divorce rate increase of 4% for over 60's over two years, whereas the overall divorce rate has fallen by 11%.

So it seems that an ideal solution would be to work with your spouse.

Of course the reality is not so idyllic. Running a business is difficult and, let's face it, marriage is difficult. Put the two together and it's not hard to see how for some the scenario might seem virtually masochistic.

Working together definitely needs handling with care.

My husband and I have worked in business together for the last eight years. I gave up a successful and "safe" teaching career to work with him and it was a leap into unknown territory.

Thankfully we are still together and have found a way which makes this work. Here are my tips; a lot of them are obvious, but not so easy to put into practice...

1. Define your roles
Before you start in business establish what skills each of you bring to the table. Over time this will become evident organically, but even before you begin decide who does what.
Delegate roles and stick to them. Most importantly, decide who controls finances.

2. Trust
It goes without saying that trust is important in a marriage. Sometimes it's easier to trust in your partner's fidelity than it is to trust your partner's competence within the business. If you can't do this and your marriage is all about power struggles it is probably best not to go into business together.

3. Set your boundaries and communicate clearly
It's natural to have conversations at all hours of the day and night that are about work. Those who say, "Don't take work home,"...nonsense. Even the "Date Night" rule where you promise not to talk about work or children...impossible.

One of the bonuses of working together is the extra time you have to work through ideas. Far more can be achieved and if you both enjoy it, then you shouldn't feel worried about blurring the lines.

But you need to agree that talk about work is only when you both want to.

You soon get to know when the mood is right for business discussions and when it's not. I learnt very quickly never to mention anything when the football is on...

4. Do not take personal stuff to work
Never discuss personal issues with staff or confide in people who work for you about things going on in your relationship.

Sounds obvious? Well it is, but it's also easy to get wrong if you have staff who have become like friends over the years.

Conversely, don't sit on your husband's knee with your arm draped round him at the office meeting.

5. Respect
Following on from "personal stuff", being respectful to each other is imperative. It's all too easy for the boundaries of respect to wear away when you work together. You need to treat your spouse as you would any other business partner or work colleague and steer clear of personal insults.

In reality working together with staff observing actually can have a positive effect on how you learn to deal with conflict.

6. Space
Working together can become suffocating. Becoming overly dependent on each other is also a risk. In any marriage it's healthy to have space to pursue your own interests. When you work together, setting time to be apart is perhaps even more of a necessity.

7. Never discuss business when you've been drinking!
Alcohol has the magical effect of making each person think they have the best ideas in the world and they are categorically in the right.

If you want your business and marriage to survive, don't talk about it while you're drinking! Respect, tolerance and boundaries can disappear when the wine comes out.

Finally, and most important of all,

8. Always remember the business is a separate entity.
If it goes wrong you've still got each other. If your marriage ends, the business doesn't have to end with it.

Perhaps that's stating the obvious, but it could be the hardest thing of all.

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