Thinking about starting, or do you already have a business with your romantic partner? It’s reported that 43% of small businesses in America are considered “family businesses,” with 53% of those being run by spouses.
I’ve been running my boutique transformation agency, Be Courageous, with my wife, Jenna, for six years. While it may be a terrible idea for some, it’s been a ticket to deeper connection and professional freedom for us.
One love, one business, one life
When you start a company, especially with a life partner, we’ve noticed that work is no longer “a job.” Owning a family business is more of a lifestyle than work.
We don’t instill a hard line between work and home because what we’re working for in our business is also what we’re working for in life. Our mission in life – to help others become their most courageous and calm selves – matches what we do for a living. Hopefully, the business you’re starting or have started with your partner also feels more like a personal purpose. That feeling helps carry you through days when it feels impossible to get everything done.
Related: The Do’s and Don’ts of Involving Family in Your Business
To protect your marriage and business, have this conversation
Ask the questions below to help your business and marriage run more smoothly. Be honest – this is not a time to say what you think the other person wants to hear.
- How do we envision our business and home life blending (or not blending?)
- How do we envision keeping life balanced between work and romance? Work will inevitably take over some days, so if one of you needs more personal connection time, how should that person address it to the other?
- What will our dynamic be like during the workday? I love connecting personally with my wife during the work day to ensure life is not just all work. But other people could have different modes or boundaries while working. There isn’t a right or wrong here as long as expectations are set and agreed on.
- Is it okay for us (in general) to talk about work at the dinner table or on dates? Work will 100% come up in conversation. Being alone on date night away from the business and kids is often a rare occasion to get your partner’s focused attention. Jenna and I allocate a fixed amount of time in these scenarios. As soon as we draw the line at the end of the work conversation, Jenna leans over, grabs my hand and says, “Hi!” as my wife and not my work partner. I love this moment.
Then, schedule a regular touch base with your partner (Jenna and I meet weekly). This may sound like overkill, but I assure you it is not. Life moves quickly with a family and a business, and you don’t want a year to go by without having checked in with your most important person. If your relationship, either as a business partner or a romantic partner, suffers, it will also affect the other aspects of your life.
With four kids and a business, we can’t afford any time or energy wasted letting issues linger or grow. We ask where we each may need support. We share observations and update our ways of working as necessary. I suggest meeting on Fridays to celebrate the end of the week together!
Related: What to Know to Run a Successful Family Business
Six tips for running a successful business and relationship
1. Create a shared calendar, and schedule everything. Days fly by instantly, and seeing what you each have on your plates is helpful. When we feel we’re overdoing it with work, kids or any other facet of life, we add time to the calendar for romance or connection.
Relationship tip: When you ask for more connection with your partner, address it in a style of “I miss you” versus “You aren’t making time for me in our romantic life,” which puts your partner on a defensive edge.
2. Clarify what hat you’re wearing. The different roles we play are like “hats” we wear. So if you’re making dinner together, ask your partner if it’s okay to put on your “work hats” before sharing your latest business ideas. Respect that the other person may not be in the same mode. If your partner isn’t up for changing hats, see tip #1 regarding scheduling. Launching into a work idea when your partner has a candlelit evening of romance in mind is like showing up to a black tie event in a Halloween costume. Read the room, and ask.
Relationship tip: One trick Jenna and I use is saying, “Game on!” as a signal we’re going into work mode. It’s simple, but just saying those words aloud helps us shift from romantic to business partners.
3. Check in about each other’s day. While we know more about each other’s day than the average couple with jobs at different companies, sometimes we don’t know how each other’s day was.
4. Mainatain professionalism. We never take our clients for granted and ensure our personal life never seeps in. We show up with confidence, clarity, focus and professionalism.
5. Check any arguments at the work door. Remember, your partner is a colleague and excellent at what they do, so create an atmosphere that allows them to shine.
6. Build at least one connection “anchor” into your day. We always know we’ll have “us” time when we wake up and at night before sleeping. Knowing you have that to look forward to regularly will help keep your relationship thriving.
The biggest challenge of running a company with your spouse
My biggest challenge running a company with my spouse is not taking constructive criticism personally. Any COO and CEO do performance reviews with their team. But when you’re staring across the desk at the one person you want to impress most, and they’re telling you, “Please get your expense reports to me on time,” it’s hard not to take it personally. It helps when wearing your professional hat to not mix in anything you might feel is wrong in the relationship. For example, never say, “You’re always late turning in expense reports, which isn’t surprising since you never plan a date for us.”
Related: How To Receive Constructive Feedback Effectively
The gifts of running a business together
The gifts of running a business together are plenty. I love trusting our business in the hands of the same person whom I trust mine and our kids’ lives. I love admiring my partner while seeing her shine at work.
Jenna and I can often circumvent issues that “just colleagues” may have by lack of understanding. We are extraordinarily closer than most couples we know because our work isn’t a separate entity from each other.
Should you start a business with your romantic partner?
Only start a business with your romantic partner if you really dig them, not just as your love interest but as a human being. Think about if you’ll clash or collaborate. If you don’t respect your partner fully, do not, I repeat, do not go into business with them. But if you do, I highly recommend it as an extraordinary experience!
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