When people find out that you work for yourself they are curious and ask a lot of questions. When they find out that you are working with your spouse, however, they get really curious and ask even more questions. We are very aware that our work situation is rare, but still find it funny when people (including strangers) ask things like:
- Do you fight a lot?
- How do you split the work?
- How do you stand each other all day?
- Don’t you get tired of each other?
- Doesn’t it take out the romance?
You get the picture. All propriety goes out the window when people learn that you work together — they want the dirt! I’d be the same way, so this is in no way a judgment. In fact, we thought it would be fun to talk about how we survive working with each other because it’s true: it ain’t easy working with a spouse…at least not a first.
Working with Your Spouse: Getting the Lay of the Land
The space you see in the photo above is our actual workspace. We work most of the day about a foot from one another. Occasionally one of us works on the sofa or at the dining table, but for the most part this is it — close together…all day. One of the most important things that we learned early on was to get a lay of the land. In essence, discover how the other person likes to work. The space that they need (or don’t need). Be honest about what you like and don’t like. We learned that physical proximity really didn’t bother us at all, it was more behavioral.
For eight hours a day, Rob and I are coworkers and, lets be honest, sometimes coworkers do stuff that drives you crazy! In the first six months that we worked full-time, side-by-side we nearly drove each other mad. Like any other coworkers we had to learn how to interact with each other. This takes a lot of compromise. He can’t be as chatty as he might be with wife-Katey and I can be as abrupt as I might be with husband-Rob. This leads me to the next tip…
Working with Your Spouse: How to Be Coworkers (and How to Be Husband and Wife)
Rob and I don’t forget that we’re married when we work, but we had to learn to separate the two worlds. Sometimes when we are working 12 hours days and super busy this is harder to do, but for the most part now when we are working, we are working. When we are eating dinner or taking a walk we are not working.
We try not to bother the other person with personal stuff when we’re working and, conversely, not to bring up work stuff when the other person is totally not in the work frame of mind. These boundaries make a big difference. Our attitude is that work isn’t life, life is life. If we were two crazy, nutty workaholics I’m not sure this method would actually work. We love what we do, but we also know how to turn off.
Working with Your Spouse: Equal isn’t Always Better
When we first started full-time together we were so careful to split everything 50/50. We each shared half the client services, half the copywriting, half the web work, etc. It was exhausting. Turns out splitting the work down the middle didn’t make sense. We decided to let our natural talents emerge and utilize them about 80-90% of the time. For instance, Rob does almost all of our client services, business development and project management. Similarly, I do almost all of the design and development work.
Sometimes, I am swamped. Sometimes, Rob is swamped. But, what we never do is judge how the other person is spending their time. We each do what we’re good at and have a different workflow that makes us productive. That’s how it is. It may sound simple, but it took a lot of work on both our parts. Nowadays with little Livia around it actually works out great that the ebbs and flows of our work don’t line up because someone can handle baby duty while the other person gets work done.
Working with Your Spouse: Find Your Comfort Zone
Not to long after we moved to Italy, we hit a sweet spot in our working life together. Things just really started to click. When that happened we actually had a few discussions about what we were apparently doing right and how we could keep doing it in the future. To this day, we often ask each other “What am I doing that is totally driving you crazy?” In fact, most of the time it’s Rob or I saying “Oh my gosh, I’m totally doing that thing you asked me not to do.” Self-awareness goes a long way when you work with a spouse.
In the end, working with a spouse and having your husband or wife as your coworkers really isn’t all that much different than the coworkers you have in an office. The best relationships are forged by kindness, intellectual stimulation, conversation, communication and understanding.