How to Run a Business with your Spouse without Strangling Each Other

"Working with my husband can sometimes be challenging...especially when we don't know how to turn work mode off. We've agreed to some safe zones in the house where business talk is forbidden: yoga mat, shower, and absolutely no business in bed."  -Kelly

 Director: Zac Parks

My husband Jefe and I have successfully run a creative studio together for nearly 8 years, but it would be a gross understatement to say it has always been smooth sailing.   The first full time editor we hired was witness to the two-headed monster that my husband and I can become.  During a 1-month production tour across the country, and after an excruciatingly long stint of bickering back and forth, she inserted from the backseat,  “You two should really consider installing safe zones in your life where you can’t talk about work.”  That basic concept became a game-changer in our relationship.

What we didn’t realize on that fateful road trip was that our work-life-creative balance had turned into an amorphous blob.  You can’t fix something if you can’t identify the source of the problem and where things are breaking down.

From nearly eight years of living, loving and creating together, I’ve realized that any couple crazy enough to run a business together is really engaging in different types of relationships...

The four relationships of any co-working creative couple:

1. The Romantic Relationship

This one is quite straightforward.  The intimate and energetic bond that holds our love together and our collective hopes & dreams of a  shared lifetime together.  

2. The Business Relationship  

The energy that is created by trying to generate wealth and security in the effort of building a marketable entity together.

3. The Relationship with the Creative Work

The energy required to create original things in this world. Where practicality is shed in order to receive visionary downloads from the universe, be interpreted, and churned into real initiatives.  

4.  The Relationship with Yourself

You're a very necessary part of the equation.  As my friend Nathan Christ says, without your health and wellbeing, you can’t do your life’s work.  It's important to have some autonomy; know what your own hopes and dreams are and not just adopt your partner's.

It’s important to start with the simple recognition that each of these relationships exists. Start with awareness.  They all require time, energy, respect, and nurturing so that they stay in balance.

Know what you want and who you are in each relationship.

Begin to cultivate an understanding of what you want from each relationship, and what role you need to play in order to achieve that result. Knowing who you want to be in each of these areas will make it easier to truly show up every day in a dynamic and balanced way.

For example, in my romantic relationship I know I want to be a nurturer; here it’s important that I’m gentle, caring, spontaneous, and supportive.  On the other hand, in my business it’s essential that I’m decisive, strategic, and that I show up as a strong negotiator.  And finally in my relationship with my art, I’m driven to take risks, explore, and throw caution to the wind on my relentless quest to choose creation over perfection.

Untangle the knot.

Learn how to differentiate between each relationship.  When all the ways of relating to your partner get tangled up, and one is thrown out of balance, all of them fall into disarray.  Just like untying a pesky knot, knowing how to distinguish between the threads of each relationships is key to keeping your house in order.   When you know which strand is falling out of alignment, you will know where to focus your energy to bring the whole back into harmony.

Working with your partner to build a company and a life together can be a very fulfilling experience.

When you run a business with your significant other, the thought of separating work from personal life is honestly pretty laughable.   As a couple that’s been in the thick of it for nearly a decade, here are some strategies that have worked wonders for us.

Tips for keeping your work-love-life in balance:

  • Install safe zones in your life where business is not to be discussed.
    We lovingly refer to this as the “no business in bed” rule. Our list of safe zones includes:  The bed,  the shower,  the kitchen, and out on excursions. Yes, my husband once asked me if I had sent an invoice while we were in the shower! We also recently established the concept of the “creative hat.” The idea is simple; whenever someone is wearing their designated creative cap, they are not to be distracted or bothered.

  • Have romantic dates AND business dates.
    We pre-plan “business dates” to visioneer the future of our company.  It’s a designated business date that provides direction and keeps creativity alive in the company.  It’s usually something fun like a day hike to a river, staying at a bed & breakfast,  or going to the park.  (Who wants to have a meeting under fluorescent lights when you can have it in the sunshine?)  We can’t deny that we get most our clarity and inspiration while being outdoors.

    It’s super imperative to have regular dates exploring new adventures together where business isn’t discussed.  Be mindful not to turn an actual date into a business meeting if it wasn’t previously planned as that.   It’s a slippery slope, so be sure to know in advance whether something is a business date or a romantic date; and put them both on the calendar.

  • Practice self control.  
    Sharing a bed with your business partner gives you round-the-clock access to one another, making it too easy to share business ideas and concerns the moment they pop into your head. This can be a real problem.  

    But wait, communication is a good thing, right?

    So long as it's in moderation. Remember, there is a time and a place for everything.  Catch yourself when you want to talk about business in an inappropriate moment.  If  you bring up a task on your partners to-do list while they’re unable to take action (say, backing into a parallel parking spot), chances are it’s not going to get done and it’s going to create friction.

    Save the thought for a designated work time. If you’re afraid of forgetting it, jot it down to bring up when the time is appropriate.

    Inappropriate moments for business convo (and yes, I’m guilty of all of these):

  • doing yoga
  • chopping onions
  • showering
  • in bed
  • when food is burning 
  • during sex
  • using the blender
  • 1 minute before showtime 
  • during a movie
  • on a romantic date
  • running out the door
  • merging onto the highway
  • while swimming laps
  • while giving birth (I'm not yet guilty of this one.) 
  • Develop structure.
    My husband was afraid that if we created rigid structure in our company, it would negatively affect the spontaneity of our romantic relationship.  In fact, it did the exact opposite.  The more we created structured meetings and work hours, the more we were gifted with more spontaneity in our “off” hours.  When we didn’t have the structure, work would creep into every aspect of our lives, dulling otherwise magical moments.   When you create structure, you also create space.  Now we’re able to be more present with each other in both our work life and romantic life.
  • Respect your Partner's Roles and Responsibilities. 
    The most rocky time of our relationship was when we didn't appreciate what the other person was doing in the company.  I remember my husband asking me "What do you even do all day?" and being seen as a "glorified secretary".   And on the contrary, I was sabotaging our business growth because I thought he was too future focused as a visionary and not realistic enough to run a successful business.

    Our biggest breakthrough came when the Charfen Institute showed us all the necessary roles in a business which included both Maintaining & Growth.  After analyzing our daily tasks we learned that I was entirely holding up the maintenance end, while Jefe was doing all the tasks in the growth section, with NO overlap!   This realization was a game changer.   While bookkeeping (maintaining) is not nearly as sexy as networking or concept pitching (growth),  we no longer belittled the other persons activities.  We understood that both our designated job responsibilities were imperative to have a thriving company.    Appreciating your partner's efforts is CRUCIAL in sustaining a loving, intimate relationship. Bottom Line: Respect your partner's role.  

Be forewarned:

This is hard hard hard.  But it is so worth it.  I don't want to give the wrong impression. Relationships are messy things and it's almost impossible to fit everything into neat little boxes. The boundaries will always be blurred. Try as we might, we still break our rules all the time.   

But that’s okay!  It’s through constant reminders and persistent effort that helps us navigate the complexity of keeping our relationships in balance.   When we mess up;  we playfully call ourselves out, laugh it off, and move on.

What are some places you want to create as a “no business zone”?  
Do you have any tips or tricks that work in your creative partnership?