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Wellbeing / Work & family

Working with your loved one: a survival guide

Running a business with your loved one can be a tremendous challenge; if you work from home, even more so. Managed well, it can be an extremely rewarding experience.

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But if managed badly (or not at all), the pressures can be too much for even the best of relationships, and can ultimately lead to the breakdown of the business partnership – or worse yet, the relationship itself.

Having survived the ups and downs of business partnership with my wife for the past five years, here are my 10 suggestions for keeping both your business and your relationship on track while working together:

  1. Prioritise your relationship. How long would your business last if you invested no time or energy into it? Your relationship is equally in need of TLC. Put some time aside to think about what you can do to improve it.
  2. Divide up tasks and responsibilities. Assign yourselves specific roles according to what you’re good at, do them, and don’t micromanage your partner. This will save many pointless arguments.
  3. Avoid discussing minor matters as they arise. This is irritating.  Make a list, schedule a meeting and discuss them all at once – just like in the outside world.
  4. Set clear boundaries between work and home. It’s unhealthy for a relationship to revolve entirely around work. Make a pact, e.g. no talking about work after 7pm. If you have a home office, shut the door and don’t go back in.
  5. Spend time outside work together. Make the effort – and yes, sometimes it takes an effort. It can be as simple as an extended lunch outside the office – but no talking about work!
  6. Have individual lives as well. On the other hand, we all need time to ourselves. Not only is this good for your mental health, it gives you something to say when your partner asks, “so, what did you do today?”
  7. Be physically apart wherever possible during work hours. Spend 12 hours a day with someone and their mere presence can annoy you. These days it’s simple – grab your laptop and move to another room, or go to a cafe for an hour.
  8. Treat your spouse with the same courtesy you would a work colleague. Every time you get irritated or feel like being “honest” about their work, ask yourself, “how would I handle this if this person weren’t my wife/husband?”
  9. Get professional help. If your work arrangement is having a detrimental effect on your relationship, get help sooner rather than later. There’s no shame in this – working with your partner can be very, very difficult at times.
  10. If it’s either/or, choose the relationship. No business is worth a marriage. If it comes down to it, get a “regular job” while the other runs the business. Don’t worry – you can still be involved as a director.

So there you have it. Yes, implementing your action plan will take some work, and no, there’s no money-back guarantee – some relationships are just not suited to running a business. But you’ll save yourselves a whole lot of grief by giving it some thought before you set out – trust me, I’ve got the battle scars to prove it!

Want more articles like this? Check out the work-and-family section.

"Assign yourselves specific roles according to what you’re good at, do them, and don’t micromanage your partner. This will save many pointless arguments."

Do you run a business with your spouse? What are your tips for making it work?

Hear how Mamamia publisher Mia Freedman manages working with her husband in this interview

Dr Tim Nielsen

was a research biochemist before launching “high-tech” clothing company Brazcom from home with his wife in 2008. Together, they have built Brazcom into an award-winning importing, manufacturing, wholesale and retail operation.

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