Working With Your Spouse: How Do You Do It?

Working with your spouse

For the past 9 months, my husband Robin and I have been working together in business. We’ve created a separate brand called AmbitionAlly, because we’re allies in business and life. We’re also both pretty driven ambitious Type A’s, who like to relax and take it easy sometimes, too.

We’ve been hard at work creating software solutions for business owners like you. The first of which is our brand new plugin called PopupAlly, it’s the polite popup, and you can read all about it here.

But this episode isn’t about our software projects, it’s about how we’ve managed to work together without wanting to get a divorce!

I’m often asked about how we’re able to work together, and how we keep our happy marriage while we’re working on business projects.

Working With Your Spouse

First, I need to say that almost everyone I spoke to about working with my husband told me it was a bad idea. And since we haven’t been working together for that long, I can’t say my opinion won’t change, but here’s what I’ve learned along the way that made it work for us.

1. Having separate rooms to work out of makes a big difference.

When you both work from home, it’s important to have doors so you can take phone calls without disturbing each other.

You’ll also learn very quickly who likes to listen to music, and you’ll notice that you have different patterns of focus. Sometimes I’ll need a break when he’s in the middle of something, or vice versa.

It’s important to respect your spouse’s work rhythms and to explain yours too.

One of the big reasons why we moved out of our small Brooklyn apartment into a bigger home in Dallas is that we have more space. Now we each have a real office with a door, and we can really dive deep into our work without distractions.

It’s also helped us take time away from work better, because our computer stay in our offices while we have meals together.

how to work with your spouse

2. There are two modes of communication: work and play.

Sometimes when we’re working on a project we’re really excited about, we can’t stop talking about work even after hours and during meals. We even end up staying up late chatting about our plans and coming up with new ideas.

This phase can be fun, but also really draining because we don’t have any off time from thinking about the business.

On the other hand, we’ve had the opposite experience of not talking about business projects at all and experiencing miscommunications. We’re pretty good at guessing what each of us wants in general life situations, but when it comes to business we need to talk about things explicitly to be on the same page.

Our solution to balancing the “all work” or “all play” modes has been to schedule a mini-huddle every morning, to go over what we’re working on and then to catch up at the end of the day to see how things are progressing.

It takes 5 minutes, and we just go over our plans for the day and get any questions out of the way before we get to it. We often notice right away if there’s a mis-match in priorities or if the other person is taking on more than they can handle in one day.

This helps us stay a little more balanced and not feel overwhelmed, too.

Along the we way, we’ve also learned how to stop arguments early, and get things out into the open. One trick we’ve been using is to explain why we want something done a certain way.

So instead of just saying “update this feature” or “go take out the recycling” we add the word “because”. So example, “update this feature because I noticed that many people were having issues getting it to work”, or “go take out the recycling because the box is full and I am about to take a conference call”.

These are just made up examples, but you can see that they’re not as demanding or demeaning when we explain the rationale, and gain some buy-in instead of giving orders to each other.

Avoiding the passive aggressive zone is key here!

3. Agree upon clear roles and responsibilities.

One thing that we did right from the start was set clear expectations on who is doing what. This was fairly simple since my business was established and we were starting a new project together, but I know this can be tricky if you’re just starting out.

Robin has mad spreadsheet skills, he’s a master programmer, and he’s also amazing at solving problems. My strengths are in the ideation phase, writing and sales strategy, and empathy with our market.

Along the way in our relationship we’ve figured out who does what best in our personal lives too. Robin is an excellent chef, and if you were to leave dinner plans up to me we’d be eating a lot more blended foods and simple meals.

So while he’s making dinner, I’m usually getting in an extra bit of work.

Finally, having totally romantic time together is a non-negotiable every week. We’re homebodies so we don’t go out on dates very much, but we do have amazing weekends in where we can really relax and be fully present together.

Do you work with your spouse? Thinking about it?

I’d love to hear your tips as we continue on this journey of working side by side to build new businesses together.

Leave a comment below with your experiences, advice, and any hesitations you might have about working with your spouse!

25 Comments

  1. Jaymie Meyer on August 6, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Love your posts – you are smart, charming and fun~
    Wishing you continued success!
    Cheers,
    Jaymie



    • Nathalie Lussier on August 6, 2014 at 11:56 am

      Aww thank you so much Jaymie, you’re so sweet! :)



  2. Anne- Do Less, Earn More.com on August 6, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Nathalie- this video came at exactly the right time for me! My husband and I are also starting a software project together.

    I have a question about how you handle ‘work hours’. My hubby is a total night owl, and I’m a morning person so our peak hours don’t line up. It’s hard for me not to get upset when I’m working hard, and he’s snoozing the morning away. Have you run into this? Do you have set ‘work hours’ or do you work when inspiration strikes? What do you do if one of you needs a day off?

    Any insight you can provide would be greatly appreciated!



    • Nathalie Lussier on August 6, 2014 at 12:00 pm

      Great question Anne! Robin and I have different work styles and schedules, for sure. He’s more of an early morning person, and I seem to hit my stride later in the day.

      Since we don’t need to be working at the same time to make lots of progress, we just make sure that we set times to communicate about our projects every day. Usually that’s in the morning, or even before lunch if we don’t think about it first thing.

      As for days off – yes! I take days off and so does Robin. We’re both pretty self-directed so if the other isn’t working we still have plenty to do. ;)



  3. Laura Husson on August 6, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Hi Nathalie!

    I work with my husband who came into my business full time 14 months ago.

    We have a bit of an unusual setup in that we spend 50% of the year in different hemispheres too – he’s in New Zealand while I’m in the UK. While that’s great for clients as we can offer a 24/7 service it can be difficult for us to remember to have non-work talk when we’re operating virtually.

    Bringing Chris into my business was a scary leap of faith but it has catapulted everything to a level I was only dreaming of before. He’s an absolutely essential part of what we do now and I feel so gratfeul to have created the life that we have. Today, we took the morning off to enjoy a walk on the beach together :)

    Thanks for this post!



    • Nathalie Lussier on August 6, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      Oh wow I can only imagine what it’s like living and working together but separately on different timezones/parts of the worlds. Kudos for making that work, challenges and all. :)

      And it sounds like you’re making the most of the time you have together, too. Love it! :)



  4. Kat Bern on August 6, 2014 at 11:36 am

    I am soooooo looking forward to working with and alongside my better half. I do feel that we make each other better and, surely, there will be challenges, but also it should be rewarding!

    My partner always says that 1 head plus 1 head makes 11. Maybe not quite mathematically correct, but together we sure are much stronger :)

    Great video and good to know someone else thinks it’s a good idea ;)

    Love, Kat xx



    • Nathalie Lussier on August 6, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      Aww I think that’s so cute Kat! I totally agree that together we’re much better than on our own – and happy this feels inspiring for you, too! :)



    • Larissa Galenes on August 6, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      Hi Kat!

      Love the “1 head plus 1 head equals 11”!! Best of luck to you when you finally do get to work together.

      Peace & Veggies,
      Larissa



  5. Tora on August 6, 2014 at 11:53 am

    I actually started a business with my partner and we went from being apart at least half the month to being together 24/7 for weeks at a time. Wow, that took some getting used to!
    So many people are interested to know how on earth we work together that we’ve jokingly talked about setting up a new business on how to work with your partner/spouse!
    Our relationship has got stronger since all the ups and downs of starting a business.
    Two things that have really helped us:
    1. Communicate about everything, from practical business stuff to how we’re feeling about the business stuff. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
    2. Allowing ourselves different ways of working, as long as we reach the agreed goals and timeframes. It took us a while to get that one sorted as we are sooo different in this area, but it has meant much more harmony, better productivity and more enjoyment. :)



    • Nathalie Lussier on August 6, 2014 at 12:04 pm

      Great tips Tora!

      I hear you on being together 24/7 – and if you’re not used to that, it’s a whole new way of relating. :) Different ways of working is definitely important, and we’ve each got our “grooves” and preferences.



  6. Akirah on August 6, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Hubs and I own a restaurant together. I don’t work with him FT, but we live above the restaurant, so it’s hard to escape. Not that I necessarily want to, but you know what I mean. Anyway, I echo everything you’ve said here. Working together has been such a joy, so I wouldn’t have it any other way. But we definitely face challenges from time to time. The best way to help that is to COMMUNICATE. :)



  7. Larissa Galenes on August 6, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Hi Nathalie!

    Thanks for a great post…you and Robin sound a lot like me and my partner, Vickie. We have been together for 12 1/2 years, and began working together on various ventures for the past 9.

    We started out by “testing the waters” to see if we could work well together by selling on eBay, which we did for a number of months. It was fun, but selling designer handbags definitely wasn’t our passion!

    We were both working full-time 9-5 jobs at that point. After the eBay experiment, we realized that we balance each other extremely well when it comes to business. We knew that our ultimate goal was to one day be in business together full-time. With this in mind, we formed an LLC in 2005.

    In January of 2013, we became vegetarians. We got lots of questions from friends and family and had many of our own. In March, 2013 we created Vegetarian Zen as a non-judgmental means of educating others (and ourselves) about leading a plant-based lifestyle. In July of last year, we launched our weekly Vegetarian Zen podcast. In April of this year we launched a second podcast, Wisdom of the Profit, based on CNBC’s show The Profit. We’re currently working on creating a third business,this one productivity-related. It will also have a podcast component…can you tell we’re podcast addicts?

    I know this has been a long post, so I’ll get to my 2 cents about working with your spouse! I agree with you that it’s definitely not for everybody. I think it’s essential that you and your partner can each bring unique and separate qualities to the business. Vickie and I balance each other extremely well. Her strengths lie in business skills (she has an MBA), productivity, idea creation and podcast editing. Mine lie in execution, technical issues, and editing the written word. Some skills we overlap on, including writing, overall creativity, and communication/networking.

    We do have a morning “stand-up” meeting at breakfast. This allows us to get clear about what we will be focusing on (3 wins) for the day. Vickie still works at a corporate job full-time but I no longer do, so I am responsible for much of the day-to-day tasks, like preparing podcast outlines, managing our virtual assistant and web developer, and keeping up with correspondence/networking.

    We each have our own working styles, and I agree with you that having separate work spaces is essential. I am a very “chatty” gal, and sometimes I have to work hard at keeping quiet while Vickie is working.

    Separating work and personal life is also crucial. That’s another thing that we struggle with sometimes, for a couple of reasons. One, because Vickie works a full-time corporate gig, her time to work on our business is limited, and therefore precious. We also tend, like you, to get wrapped up and carried away by business discussions and ideas. We have been trying of late to make unbreakable dates to spend time together. Enjoying classic tv shows (the ones we grew up with, like Charlie’s Angels, Love Boat, Dragnet, etc) on DVD before bedtime is one way we do this.

    Whew! Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! To sum up, I am a huge proponent of “testing the waters” before jumping in head-first, bringing unique qualities to the table is hugely important, having respect for each other is crucial, and work-personal balance is a must. But, more than anything else, have fun with what you do, and it won’t seem like work!!

    Thanks again for the stellar post, Nathalie. Vickie and I will be at Podcast Movement in Dallas next week and would love to connect with you!

    Peace & Veggies,
    Larissa



    • Nathalie Lussier on August 6, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      Peace and Veggies – love it Larissa! Thank you so much for sharing your story and incredible insights – it sounds like you and Vickie are kicking butt in your businesses and I’m looking forward to your podcasts, too! I look forward to meeting you in Dallas! :)



  8. silvia on August 6, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Hi Natalie,
    I’ve been working with my life partner, who is also my business partner, for 19 YEARS and we are together pretty much 24-7. It’s never been a problem for us, no “submarine disease” as we say in my country (Slovakia). It does require patience and understanding but if your relationship is important to you, you can do it. And it gets much more easier in time :-)
    Best wishes,
    Silvia



    • Nathalie Lussier on August 6, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing your story Silvia – glad to know couples are making it work for 19+ years, woohoo! :) And you’re so right, I have a feeling that it all gets easier over time. You’re an inspiration! :)



  9. Joanna Wiebe on August 6, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    I too run a business with my spouse. And so many of the startup founders that write to me are, I eventually find out, cofounders with their husband, wife or partner.

    Admittedly, sometimes it ends in dissolution (e.g., Catarina Fake and Stewart Butterfield), but so do partnerships between non-spouses, right?

    Here’s a short list of co-founders who are/were married: http://om.co/2012/05/29/so-you-think-couples-are-a-bad-investment/ (Check out the comment by the founder of Slideshare.)



    • Nathalie Lussier on August 6, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Ooh yay so great to hear you chime in here Joanna! I love the list of married co-founders, too. It’s refreshing to see that it’s more a bias from venture capitalists making investments as opposed to the whole idea of working with your spouse being impossible. ;)

      And you’re totally right, sometimes partnerships don’t work and that happens in any business relationship/partnership!



  10. Carol Lawrence on August 6, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    My husband and I have been married for 28 years and have been working together running our home based marketing business for 1 1/2 years. It took some convincing for me to jump off the cliff and have him home working with me. Totally trusting and putting our all into it has made it very successful and rewarding. We both pretty much stay on the same schedule. If we are in the middle of a project we might work crazy hours but for the most part we are on the same sleep schedule and try and take weekends off. Flexibility is key and allowing each other to work at their own pace. We do work in different rooms. I’m enjoying reading everyone’s stories about working with their spouse. We have so much gratitude for having our life of freedom and being able to spend so much time together. It’s not for everyone but it works for us. I laughed out loud at the comment you made about having different tastes in music. We sure do. That’s one reason we ended up working in different rooms. P.S. If you are limited on space have one person set up in the dining room or living room for the day.



    • Nathalie Lussier on August 6, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      Congrats on your 1.5 year of working together anniversary (and 28 years of marriage)! I love that you’re on the same schedule and that you also make room for flexibility, too. :) Thanks for sharing your story Carol!



  11. Sam on August 6, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    My husband and I started working together about 5 years ago. We have 2 different businesses now and a range of smaller sub-markets.

    To make the story more interesting, we separated 2 years ago and divorce papers went through last month. And yes, we are still running the businesses together.

    We found that we made much better business partners than we did life partners.

    We both have new boyfriends and girlfriends now, and still work from the same office together.



  12. Julie Bernstein Engelmann on August 7, 2014 at 12:29 am

    My husband and I co-owned a business for 12 years. I wouldn’t trade that experience and closeness for anything. We had complementary skill sets, so division of labor and departments was extremely obvious. That fact became very helpful as we grew and hired up to 18 employees, because everyone was crystal clear about which of us to report to on what subject.



  13. Fran on August 7, 2014 at 2:03 am

    You bring the best things up Nath! So interesting reading all the comments! I loved your tips.

    I actually met my fiancé when I hired him! (He’s a high-tech developer, I’m a designer and basic developer). So we started off by working together. That overlapped with the getting-together phase and we found that we started arguing over work (me telling him what to do), so we stopped working together to protect our relationship.

    We’ve since got a bunch of ‘side’ projects that we’re working on, and it works really well because the roles are very clear. Someone is lead, and someone is ‘pretend hired’ to help. What we needed were clear roles and a clear leader :)

    At the moment he works in an office, so it’s really beneficial to read your tips about working at home together – separate rooms sounds like a must. Thanks!



  14. Torill Bye Wilhelmsen on August 7, 2014 at 5:35 am

    Thank you for great tips about working together. We have one office, but two different businesses – one each! Sometimes we agree to work on each others projects and then we have short morning “meetings” to figure out what needs to be done and when. It´s a lot of fun working together!



  15. Danielle on August 24, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Great points and good timing! My fiance is slowly starting to help me with my business and we’re figuring out how to navigate the issues that pop up. It’s definitely fun working together but it can be tricky and requires separation of work and play, like you said!