Working with your Spouse: An Honest Look

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While it’s pretty common for a married couple to work together in a family business, it’s a bit less common for a husband and wife to work for the same company. Both present challenges, of course, but in either case, it’s wise to do a bit of soul searching before embarking on this journey.

Working with your spouse can be a purely delightful experience or a virtual nightmare that will never end. We are all familiar with high-profile partner marriages such as Bill and Melinda Gates or Bill and Hillary Clinton. But do we really know if they get along swimmingly?

Most experts agree that if a couple generally gets along and has strong communication skills, their chances of survival are pretty good. Their ability to recognize their strengths and delegate tasks accordingly leads to smoother sailing in day-to-day work situations. On the other hand, couples who regularly and senselessly compete for dominance in everyday situations will probably struggle. Moreover, the “business” will suffer too. No one wants to work around a negative environment for long.

If the workplace has a code of conduct that prohibits fraternization, a couple may be forced to abide by uncomfortable rules. A frank conversation and disclosure with the human resources department is absolutely necessary before accepting a job at the same workplace. If no policies are in place, a couple would need to set their own standards of intimacy and live up to them. Just because two co-workers are married doesn’t automatically grant them the right to make other co-workers uncomfortable as they hold hands or kiss over the water fountain!

Couples could also be blindsided by some companies who decide to enact workplace policies against employee marriages after they’ve worked there for several years. Worse yet, if one spouse received a pink slip, what then? All of the family’s eggs are in one basket. Best to be prepared for such a scenario.

If children are at home, who will give up their workday to take care of them or take them to the doctor? Who leaves early to drive them to after school activities? In other words, who is more important at work?

Couples need to be brutally honest with each other about working together. If you love your partner, that is one thing. But if you truly prefer to work away from your spouse, it’s best to get that out in the open. If you both genuinely are thrilled with the prospect of working together, it could be a wonderful addition to your marriage. Marriage counselors are useful for couples considering the plunge.

Some couples have found that seeing their spouse every day in a work environment has dulled their marriage and turned it into a business relationship, first and foremost. Passion has waned and dinner conversation is strongly centered on work issues. This rut is difficult to dig out of and even worse when one spouse is a subordinate to the other.

Twenty-four hours with the same person, no matter who it is, can bring about a feeling of entrapment, not to mention frustration. It’s human nature when something bad happens to take it out on the ones we love and are closest to, i.e., the next cubicle! Some tips to avoid this feeling include scheduling lunches with other co-workers, carpooling with someone else and chatting over the coffee machine with another person. And when the work day is complete, make a pact to turn off any work-related conversation. Turning work off will go a long way toward turning a stiff and corporate relationship into a relaxed, loving environment of home life.

One piece of advice for couples considering working together is to conduct a trial run. Taking on an opportunity, volunteer or otherwise, will force a couple to work together. That way, spouses can determine if their skill sets will mesh for success. Strong relationships with common core values and complementary characteristics are able to make a smooth transition from a home environment to a business setting.

For those couples who are just starting out, entrepreneurial style, the challenges can be even more daunting. Sometimes what begins as a dream come true quickly plunges into an abyss. Couples risk their financial lives on each other, only to see their business fail if proper preparation and understanding are ignored. Recovery doesn’t have to be dismal, as long as couples enter their roles with all eyes open and with solid contingency plans. Not having a plan could be the death of a marriage as well as a business.

In the end, trust and respect are the keys to a mutually satisfying workplace relationship with a spouse. It works for thousands of couples, who are usually willing and able to share their advice, if asked. ■

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