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The secrets that make power couples work
Every year, millions of couples take on the challenge of starting a business together. For some, it is the best decision they ever made. Not only do they get to spend more time together, they get to pursue their passion side-by-side with their best friend. Unfortunately, not every couple has this experience. Working together can be stressful, and that stress can translate into trouble for the relationship or for the business – or both. It’s challenging to balance these competing demands even under the best of circumstances.
So what is the difference between the couples that make it and the couples that break up? Why do some succeed while others do not?
The stresses with starting a business are inevitable – the financial risk, the long periods of uncertainty, the seemingly endless list of tasks to accomplish. It’s all par for the course when you’re building a business from the ground up. That’s why you must have structure and strategy, not only with your business, but with your partner. By implementing your own working system, which includes rules, rituals and shared working habits, you and your partner can create a healthy work relationship, and ultimately, a happy personal relationship.
To help you better understand how to navigate this process, here are six tips to strengthen your business and your romance:
Build a stress management plan
Your ability to manage the stress that comes with starting your own business is even more important when your life partner is your business partner.
Stress is an inevitable part of starting and running a business, just as it is inevitable in relationships. It can be even more challenging if you aren’t used to dealing with your partner professionally. This is why you and your spouse need to develop a stress management plan that includes approaches that elicit a relaxation response (deep abdominal breathing, visualization, yoga), ways of reframing and discussing irrational thoughts (a detailed communication plan) or a designated timeout period so that if a situation becomes too intense, you both take a 15-minute walk on your own then come back to resume communication.
Some couples who work together find it useful to set up daily meetings where they address pressing issues and review the highs and lows of the previous day. Consider holding these meetings first thing in the morning, when your mind is fresh and ready to tackle new problems. If needed, hold a brief recap meeting in the evening before the end of the work day to address any issues that have come up during the day. If possible, hold these meetings in your office space. That way, if there is a disagreement, you can both literally and metaphorically leave the difference of opinion behind when you go home for the night and return to your shared space as a couple.
Let the bedroom be a bedroom
The bedroom should be seen as a sanctuary. This room is your personal space to share with your partner, the place where you both relax, unwind, bond and rest. When you do anything other than that in the bedroom – work on your laptop, send emails from your smartphone, bring work talk into pillow talk – you condition your brain to think that the bedroom is meant for those things. According to a Harvard sleep study, you begin to disassociate the bedroom with the idea of peace and passion.
Engaging in work activities like conference calls or emails in your bedroom can interfere with your ability to recharge. These types of activities are stress-stimulating and cause the body to release cortisol, which is associated with increased alertness. This means it will be difficult to fall asleep, and even more difficult to fall into a deep sleep. Lack of sleep means you won’t be your best the next day.
When you work together, it’s easy to make the bedroom a surrogate office. Just remember, as harmless as this may seem, it actually can wreak havoc on the intimacy of your relationship. If you’re struggling to set down a nagging task, write yourself a quick note and then set the issue aside. It can wait until morning.
Keep it professional
When you work alongside your spouse, it’s easy to fall into the trap of treating your “colleague” with less than professional standards. But just because you are comfortable with your partner doesn’t mean civility should take a back seat.
Keep in mind that you are starting a business, so use your business etiquette. This includes:
- Saying “please” and “thank you”
- Not pointing at your partner with your index finger
- Not interrupting or over-talking each other
- Being mindful of your language
- Not taking personal calls during work sessions
- Giving your undivided attention when your partner is speaking
Keeping your relationship professional does not need to mean being cold and distant. It simply means being mindful. Listening to your partner is key. If you listen attentively, you will demonstrate that you value their contribution to the business and to the relationship. By treating your spouse with respect, you will create a happier, healthier work environment, and ultimately, a happier and healthier home.
For most couples starting a business together, it means transforming your home into your office. Your kitchen becomes your break room, your dining room table becomes your conference room, and everywhere in between becomes brainstorm central. After a while, it may start to feel like you’re living at the office, because, well…you sort of are.
To avoid the groundhog’s day scenario that working at home can create, select a day every week that you and your partner relocate to somewhere outside your home to work. Not only will that help break the monotony, but it will also help you be more productive. As your business continues to grow, you may even consider renting a co-working facility. These facilities can provide you with basic business services and can provide you with a feeling of camaraderie outside of your partner. After all, just like you and your partner, everyone in the workspace is there to launch their business, and they are likely encountering some of the same obstacles and enjoying some of the same triumphs that you are. You might even find you’re not the only couple working together!
By changing your environment, even just for one day, you can help stimulate creativity and inspiration. You are exposing yourself to new surroundings, new people and new energy. This means that you will find a new perspective, make new connections and receive new inputs – all of which can help foster the birth of new ideas.
Going off-site also creates a new tradition for you and your partner that you can look forward to each week. It becomes “your thing” together, where, for instance, you take turns choosing the off-site location. And this sense of camaraderie and teamwork will ultimately enhance and empower your bond, making you better life partners as well as business partners.
Pay each other compliments
Every day, make it a point to recognize each other’s strengths. If your partner puts a significant amount of effort into a task or does something well, do not let it go unnoticed. Even if the day has been stressful and unproductive, instead of dwelling on the negatives, redirect the focus to what did go well. There may be days where this means telling your partner something as simple as: “I’m so impressed by how resilient your are.” Just be sure to be sincere. Paying a compliment that seems contrived can actually work against you.
This advice should also be applied to your relationship in social settings. Compliments shouldn’t start and stop when you are alone with your partner. In fact, it is just as important to tout each other’s strengths when you are in public. This lets your partner know that you not only recognize their attributes, but are proud of them, which gives them a sense of pride in themselves and the relationship.
Compliments show appreciation, which allow your partner to feel valued. And when you feel valued, you feel more committed to your work, and ultimately, your relationship.
Get inspired by the pros
Perhaps the most famous entrepreneurial couple is Bill and Melinda Gates. While Bill Gates is inexorably linked with Microsoft, he and his wife Melinda are now also linked with philanthropy. Together, the successful couple run The Gates Foundation. She attributes their success in working well with each other to “sharing the same values.” For entrepreneurial couples looking to steal their secret, it could be as easy as remembering to place importance on your personal partnership. However, it might also be fruitful to reflect on your shared vision for your business. Do you have shared values? Take a look at your mission statement. Does it still reflect your shared goals for the business? And if you don’t have a mission statement, dream one up.
Other couples working together highlight the importance of flexibility. Julia and Kevin Hartz, co-founders of event and ticketing website Eventbrite, don’t lose sleep about rigidly dividing their focus. They prioritize both the business and their family, and yes, sometimes the lines get blurry. For them, their business is their family, and vice versa. The important thing is to value and nurture both. Devan and Morgan Kline, founders of Burn Boot Camp, find that integrating business and family has actually taken away some of the pressure. Whatever approach you choose, these entrepreneurial couples demonstrate that the most important thing is to respect one another.
There is no way around it: Starting a business with your spouse can be difficult. But it can also provide great rewards, and not just financially speaking.
Going into business with your spouse can give you and your partner opportunities you may not get otherwise. You have the chance to come together over a shared belief, work under the same mission and strive toward the same goal. It’s not just time you will be sharing, it’s passion. And through this passion, you become closer and more connected. Essentially, you are enhancing your commitment to each other by your commitment to your business.
So take the time to develop structure and strategies, not just with your business, but with your business partner, and learn how to make working with your spouse work to your advantage. It may just be the best thing to ever happen to your professional and personal life.