So You Love Your Boss: How to Work With Your Spouse

As we are officially one year into my husband leaving the classroom to come work with me, I thought it would be fun to have him share some insight into a question we are asked all. the. time. If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like to work side by side in your business with your significant other, Jameson has some insights into what this year has been like for him to step into my businesses.

Tomorrow is my birthday, and my amazing wife has already given me the gift of blogging. Last Sunday Racheal came to me and said the next post on her calendar was working with your spouse. Huge interest there, people always ask about us, perfect topic! “Would you like to write it?” …Totally! I love working with my wife, and I’d love to share how we manage it all so damn well that we’re falling for each other every day.

Let’s share a bit of the story…

In August of last year, I resigned from my position as a public school teacher to join the businesses my wife had built. We’d talked for years about the possibility of me working with her – what we’d come to call – family business, and we planned for it. Finally the timing was right, all the numbers added up, and we made the leap. Now I work from home with Racheal.

The past year has been one of the most amazing years of our lives, and certainly of our lives together. It’s been 14 years since Racheal and I began dating, and 8 years since our wedding. But all that time and experience in our relationship together, plus all my employee/work experience, did not simply add up to a perfect working relationship.

Of course it didn’t. We added a new dimension to our existing relationship, and had some rough days in the beginning as we tried to get into a new rhythm.

There’s this great analogy by Bryan Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola, that imagines all the big aspects of life as five balls that you’re juggling. They’re named Work, Family, Health, Friends, and Spirit. Now the important thing is recognizing that each of these balls are made of glass – they can be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered if they drop – except for Work. Work is a rubber ball, and will always bounce back.

Well joining your spouse in Work turns that rubber ball into a beach-ball. It’s larger and clumsier to manage than the others. It’ll bounce back, but slower than you expect. And if there’s a breeze? Well, you get the idea.

It’s tricky. But it’s fun too! I mean, you’ve got a beach ball.

So, what makes working with your spouse so unique compared to working with (or for) anyone else?

It’s the fact that you’re adding a great new dimension to your relationship. You weren’t strangers that became colleagues. You’re a couple that became colleagues.

The easiest comparison here is remembering the time when you first started living together; we all know how exciting and clumsy that transition can be. You learn about each other’s morning routines, sleep habits, and whether you throw your clothes at the hamper or on the bed after a long day. Roommate became a new category in your relationship.

You both managed that transition, probably with more grace than you give yourself credit for. You can do just as well when you start working together.

I’m not going to ask you to remember all the lessons that you learned (probably the hard way) when you started living together, because working together is still very different. I can only share what I’ve learned, and what’s most helped Racheal and myself, as we work together.

Balance Your Time.

Hopefully you’re already keeping a healthy ratio of work vs personal time.

Then you start working with your spouse and BOOM. Your work time just became much more personal. And your personal time? You’ll suddenly catch yourself thinking, and talking, about work a lot more. This is bad.

Working with your spouse, and especially if working from home together, you have got to draw a Grand Canyon of a line between the work and the personal.

When I first started working with Racheal last summer, there was so much to learn and so many new ideas firing at all times that we found ourselves talking about business 24/7. As a night owl, I found myself logging in another 4-5 hours each night after our kids went to bed.

When we realized that all our time was spent either working or talking about work, we quickly created a new Model Calendar. It’s been amazingly helpful to have a container for our work hours, permission to just relax on the weekends and evenings, and even a night off every week to go play on a local soccer team.

It’s Nothing Personal, It’s Just Business.

The most important part of your new working relationship? Your communication. During work hours, you’re both all about the business, and have no permission to take anything personally.

Your spouse may compliment you or your work, and that’s excellent! But it’s probably not a signal that they’re planning a second honeymoon, or even that they’re happy with you in general (especially with all that laundry on the floor). It’s not personal; it’s just a work-related comment.

Your spouse may give feedback on your work, and that typically feels unpleasant. But it’s not bad! It’s an advantage, an opportunity for you to improve your work and improve in the eyes of your spouse and business partner. It’s not personal; it’s just a work-related comment.

This was a big hurdle for us at first. Racheal has always spoken up in our relationship when something needed to be fixed or done differently – but coming into an existing business as a former English teacher with no entrepreneurial background meant I had a TON of learning to do. And in a quickly growing business, joining Racheal meant jumping right into the deep end and learning by doing.

We quickly found that my background as an English teacher was a perfect fit for a business like Racheal’s – she’s always creating new content. I quickly took on the role of Editor and Producer. But it was ironic to be on the receiving end of a red pen with all the notes from Racheal!

Talking with your spouse and not taking anything personally might sound impossible, but it’s actually quite easy. Your relationship with your spouse during personal time is one thing, and your relationship with your colleague during work is another. Tell yourself that once a day, and after a week or two, it’ll be so natural you won’t even think about it anymore. Simple, mindful, mindset shift. You’ll work better together, and your personal time will become more valuable and vibrant.

Create a Sacred Workspace.

The second piece to balancing your time is just as much about your space. It’s important for every job, especially for couples working together, and absolutely essential if you work from home.

During my first month working from home, I totally fell into the stereotype: I slept in as long as I could, wore my most casual and comfortable clothes every day, and got up to snack whenever I wanted. My workspace is where I slouched on the couch with my laptop, or sat up with the throw pillows on our bed.

This was stupid.

I didn’t feel like I was at work, so I didn’t get much work done. When you’re sitting around in your pajamas all day, it’s easy to lose focus when something distracting pops up on your Facebook (for hours). What little work I did do was shoddy and incomplete.

While working from home, you’ve still got to have a clear definition of what you look like at work: how are you dressed for your version of success? What does your workspace look, sound, smell, feel, and taste (coffee, black) like?

You should get up and get moving in the morning – your spouse agrees. You should get dressed for work – your spouse agrees. You need a dedicated workspace – your spouse agrees. Create an environment for yourself that lets your mind to be fully committed to work.

Now to clearly define your workspace, you gotta think about both the physical space and its space in time. I’m not talking about declaring that spare room for your “office” and using a calendar; those should be givens, do those first.

What’s more crucial is having rituals to begin and end your work each day. I learned this from Racheal as soon as I started working from home Racheal teaches about this in her Fired Up & Focused Challenge, and it’s an absolute must.

Here’s the gist: create a ritual that ends your personal morning time and begins your workday, and another that ends the workday and returns your personal time.

Without a daily commute, I realized that I was missing a ritual that mentally prepared me for the day ahead. But with a ritual to open and close your work time, you can help yourself get and remain focused.

After the morning routines with the kids, I turn on NPR, get my first cup of coffee, open my planner to the day’s list, and start.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the workday, I revisit my planner, update my to-do list for tomorrow, shut down my laptop, stretch, and go kiss my wife.

You need a sharp definition between your work area and work time from the rest of your life, and rituals will help you separate the two. Your attention to your spouse during personal time will skyrocket, and your focus on your work, the same. It’s amazing.

Time Together and Time Apart.

This third time-balance piece, honestly, it took a couple months before Racheal and I really started to act mindfully on this part.

We’ve been together for nearly 15 years; we know each other very well. We’ve spent 24 hours together on countless occasions… but not during workdays… and not for weeks at a time.

Working in the same room all day, then ending work, and still being in the same room all day is going to make you both tense after a while. And it’s even more frustrating when you recognize it because your emotions are all mixed up: “I love you so much! And also, I have to get away from you for a while before I explode.”

Work from home. Work with your spouse. Just don’t imprison yourselves together in your house.

First, only work together when you’re working together, on the same thing, talking about it, looking at it, together together. When you need each other, be there for each other 100% as always.

Second, work on independent tasks independently of each other, in different rooms, different buildings, out of eyesight, out of earshot. When you have work that’s just for you, be there just for it, and minimize the risk of flirta… distraction.

Third, if you have any hobbies that get you out of the house, keep them. Everyone has some interests that differ from their spouse, and continuing to enjoy those is just good for you.

I occasionally meet with friends to play cards (full disclosure, Magic the Gathering), and recently joined an indoor soccer team. Racheal has coffee dates with her mama friends, and occasionally they pamper themselves at the local spa. We also joined an amazing gym this year, and go workout 3 or more times every week.

Finally, make personal time with your spouse the most awesome time in the history of the universe! Have date nights, plan little trips together (arrange for the kids to be with family or at a sleepover), buy her flowers, light candles, just make a little bit of an effort. Simple.

Work. Play.

The big picture here is not a new concept. People forget how easy it is with a traditional 9-to-5 where work and life are separate almost by default.

However, when your partner is your business partner, and your residence is your business residence, it takes a whole lot of mindfulness to keep these two parts of your life defined.

  • Remember that communication with a colleague is different than communication with your spouse.
  • Remember to separate your space (your appearance and environment) and time (bookended by rituals) just for work, giving 100% focus to it during those hours, and 100% attention to your spouse for all the rest.
  • Remember to make time together with your spouse, and time apart, both for work and for play.

I said before it’s tricky (remember that beach ball)… but it can be incredible to truly co-create a life together with your spouse.

I don’t claim to be an expert; I’ve been working with Racheal for one year. But I can’t express enough just how great an impact these pieces of mindfulness have helped us in every aspect of our relationship. I hope they help you too.