I Love You 24/7: Five Tips for Working with Your Boo
There came a day when opportunity knocked at our door and said, “Hey! Wanna quit your day jobs?” Like any typical millennial on a quest to find meaningful work, my then-boyfriend and I said “HELL. YES!” without hesitation. At the time, my boyfriend and I had been dating for two-ish years and we thought going into business together was a totally viable idea, vowing to curate a gallery of cute dog photos, unlike anything the Internet had ever seen. Intoxicated by the air of freedom and independence, we would no longer be ruled by a 9-to-5. No, we were free to do as we pleased, to see if our Big Idea had wings.
We were so caught up in all the hubbub of building something from the ground up that we didn’t realize that we were saying goodbye to the idea of co-workers. We were unaware that we were volunteering to work in the endless salt mine that is owning your own business (which, BTW, you can’t just “clock out” of because it is a flesh eating disease that you carry around everywhere you go, FYI JSYK).
And we certainly didn’t stop to seriously consider the implications that working together would have on our relationship.
Unlike an engagement ring, we tethered an interdependent ball and chain to one another, mixing business with pleasure. We hadn’t yet committed to “forever,” but we were risking our livelihoods and our relationship by taking this very serious step. In forming a company, we were inadvertently agreeing to spend practically every single second of every single day together, for better or worse.
Well, when you assess the situation retrospectively and lay the past bare in a blog post to share with strangers, it seems pretty damn foolish that we rushed into things so blindly and cocksurely. We didn’t totally fail because here we are three years later, now married and still in business. I am happy to report that I love my husband 24/7 and it is because I have come to acknowledge a few simple “ahas!”
- I Love You, But I Don’t Always Like You. When you’re married to your co-worker, workplace etiquette and HR practices go out the window. Work life bleeds into home life and personal hiccups seep into professional disputes.
Come to terms with it: there are going to be moments when you hate your partner’s guts. Just know that this anger is going to feel different than an annoyance with a co-worker you’re not going home with. It’s cool – you can hate for a hot second, as long as you’re willing to put in the work to get back on track.
- Stay in Your Lane. In the early days of our business, everyone did everything. Naturally, our strengths began to emerge and we let each other to own certain functions of the business. This isn’t to say that we don’t weigh in on developing conversations. Simply put, in tie-breaker situations, we defer to the master of that particular domain, allowing the more informed partner to make an executive call. That works really well for us.
In a normal work environment, you are hired for a role. When working with family, it is just as important for each partner to have their clearly defined position or an acknowledged area of expertise. This helps create an effective system for decision making. It is easy to overstep boundaries when you are sleeping with the boss, but it’s extremely important for the viability of the business that you identify your partners’ strengths, acknowledge where you’re weaker, and find a symbiotic power structure.
- Call in the Professionals. In a moment of desperation, I started seeing a therapist. My husband and I were bickering all the time about the business and it was straining our happiness at home. Though that passing situation has repaired itself, I still see my therapist and it has the greatest return on investment of any money I’ve ever spent on professional development. It forces me to reflect on how I handled dilemma, own my contribution to the problem, and hone skills for doing better while doing differently in the future.
If you’re having issues in the workplace, usually you get to go home, vent to your partner, and are consoled. You give up that ability when you work together. It’s also not as easy to share frustrations with your girlfriends without raising an alarm that you’re on the brink of divorce. When working with your spouse, you are navigating complex dynamics and you need to be able to sort through that mess. It’s even better if your sounding board is objective!
- Me Time. You Time. My friends are always surprised when I show up for a night out on the town without my “other half,” but you wouldn’t bring your co-worker to dinner plans with your best friends, would you? Ahmed and I make a point to carve out time away from one another. Since we spend so much time working together, time independently spent usually happens outside of business hours while socializing.
It is so important for the soul to have its own space to breathe within the shared life. If you experience an uptick in time required together – whether you own a family business or are in the process of planning a wedding – make sure you take time to “do you.” Gently nudge your partner to do the same.
- Don’t Forget to High Five! Sure, my husband’s work anxieties are my work anxieties, but you know what else we share? His successes are my successes and that’s pretty awesome. He doesn’t have to rush home and attempt to explain a big win at the office, because DUH! I was there and speak the same jargon.
Working with your significant other can be a beautiful thing if you’re up for the challenge. The increased amount of time together will indeed result in more fighting, but it also can deepen your understanding of the human you have decided to make a life with. It’s easy to succumb to the stresses, but so necessary to celebrate even the tiniest of victories along the way, because – holy crap! We’re doing this together and it’s working!
Do you and your partner have a particularly good tactic or piece of advice that helps keep your shared life in balance? Pray tell!
Ashley Paguyo El Shourbagy is a human living in a dog’s world, as she’s the co-founder of Dogs of Instagram and peddles Hawaiian shirts for pups. Ashley shares a life with her her husband/co-founder, their happy-go-lucky baby boy, and a lapdog who constantly looks over her laptop.