When people hear that I work with my husband, I usually hear, “Oh, I could never work with my wife/husband. We would kill each other.”
There are definite challenges when working with your spouse. It’s only been six months since Andy began working at Standard Beagle full-time. You think you know someone you live with — but start working with them, and you learn a whole different side to a person. I spent the first few months trying to figure out how we can mesh our work styles, which are VERY different. We still run into challenges, but here’s what I’ve learned about working with the person you’re married to.
1. Clearly define roles
Andy and I have different strengths. He is a developer and is brilliant when it comes to code. My strengths are design and project management. And when it comes to the actual running of the company we have strengths there as well. I am in charge of the admin tasks and customer service. I communicate with the team of professionals who help us manage the business; I run payroll, send out invoices and take care of the HR. Andy supports me, but he doesn’t jump in and step on my toes. He knows I will talk with him about big picture items, like hiring a new employee. Likewise, Andy knows that he can’t just purchase a bunch of new equipment and software without talking to me first.
We had to clearly define who was in charge of what. Not doing so makes things murky for everyone. Employees need to know who to go to when they have an issue with their insurance or paycheck. Plus, it helps avoid hurt feelings later if each spouse knows what their responsibilities are.
2. Agree on how to address each other at work
Andy and I are still working on this. We tend to joke and tease a lot, but in front of other people it can seem disrespectful. We had to agree that at work we will speak to each other frankly, but be careful with jokes that could undermine the other.
This can be so hard — here’s someone you feel totally comfortable with. But words carry weight. And they can hurt. And if you’re working around other people, they may misinterpret your joke for condescension.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Andy and I still joke and tease, but we try to keep it in check.
3. Respect boundaries
This was a hard lesson for me. Andy is my best friend, and I want to talk to him every time something happens because I want to share it. I did this for years — I would call him at work just to tell him something that happened, not even realizing that I was interrupting his work.
Now that we work together, I’ve learned that Andy doesn’t work well when he’s frequently interrupted. In fact, his work suffers. While I thrive on constant changes and multi-tasking. Andy does not. I’ve learned very slowly that I cannot interrupt him like I used to or his work will be impacted.
Every time I get the urge to tell him something, I take a deep breath and ask myself whether it can wait or if I have to tell him now. If he has his headphones on, that means he’s deep in concentration, and that’s his signal that he doesn’t want to be interrupted. If it can wait, I write it down. If I have to tell him right away, I try messaging him first, then tapping him gently on the shoulder.
Another boundary some couples may have to navigate are physical boundaries. It goes without saying that your staff does not want to see their bosses smooching when work needs to be done. Andy and I will grab a quick hug when we’re alone, and we’re pretty good about keeping the office professional.
4. Save heated arguments for home
I have a fiery temper, but arguing in front of your employees is a no-no. That includes snapping at each other in anger, giving each other nasty looks and acting pissy.
I’ve made mistakes here, too. Andy and I have had our share of arguments. I mean come on! We’re humans who are married. Fights are going to happen.
Andy and I actually sat down and had a heart-to-heart talk about how our arguments could never come to the office again. It was not good for anyone. It all comes back to respecting boundaries. You and your spouse have to have boundaries at work, just like you would with any other person.
That said — sometimes it’s hard to save heated discussions for home. In that case, my lifesaver has been instant messager. Andy and I can be frank with each other without putting the team in the awkward position of being in the middle of it. They know we’re typing furiously, but they don’t know about what.
5. Don’t pretend you don’t fight
Likewise, there’s no need to pretend you don’t fight. No one’s buying it. Your employees can pick up on your mood, so you might as well admit that you and your spouse had a disagreement and are still working through it. Own up to it! Everyone knows you’re married. Leaders are strong when they admit their faults and can move forward with grace and dignity.
Always keeping improving yourself
Even if you do all of these things, there will always be learning experiences that test your leadership ability and marriage. I’m still trying to figure this whole thing out. But there’s a reason Andy and I have been married for 14 years — we work at it. We made a conscious decision to get and stay married. Marriage is hard, so why would working together be easy?
So take heart! Spouses who work together don’t always end in divorce. At least, not right away.