Working with Your Spouse in the Workplace

Working with your spouse could be a tough bet. Many people find it difficult to handle a marital relationship in the workplace. But having your spouse to work with either as a workmate or as a business partner does come with its benefits. If it is well managed it could even improve and bond your relationship. What if it doesn’t work well?  The relationship can prove tricky to navigate--or to end, if things go particularly bad. So the question is: How do you make it work to your advantage? How do you bring the best out of a marital bliss even in the workplace?

Married since 2007 and co-owners of Delancey since 2009, Wizenberg and Pettit know a thing or two about the challenges of being married and working together to run a business. Marriage and business are so intertwined; Wizenberg says the same challenges that exist in one area are often reflected in the other. In her recent book Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage, Wizenberg highlights the challenges of being married to your business. Here, she shares some of her key lessons learned:

Compatible strengths, goals and the “ambition factor.” 

'Having different strengths makes us more compatible. Goal alignment is critical. You can’t be a team with different goals. Ours are written and we see them every day. The willingness to work hard and sacrifice is what we call the “ambition factor.”'

It’s essential to have similar levels of ambition. Without it, partners can become resentful. The partner with more ambition may feel that the other isn’t carrying his or her weight, while the less ambitious partner may find it difficult to support the long hours of his or her mate.

Respect for and trust in each other. 

'We have tremendous respect for each other’s skills, knowledge and work ethic -- but perhaps more importantly we respect each other as human beings. Because of this, we trust that the other is working in the best interest of the firm and our family. We are willing to give our partner the benefit of the doubt, even if we don’t completely understand their actions. We assume positive intent.'

Take stress out of your working relationship by respecting the positive qualities each person brings to the partnership.

Offer support

'Besides working together, we each have an academic job and networks of people we work with. We are always supportive of each other to do our best professionally and build other relationships, as well. Life is too short to not attempt new things, and we encourage one another to try fresh projects to stretch and test our abilities.'  

Appreciate a spouse's support because there are always people who want to compete with you. It is for the team when one of you takes on new goals and interests. By supporting each other you are urging the other to get better and be more relevant.   

Push each other

'We are not only each other’s best champions: We are also knowledgeable critics and regularly spur each other on to keep improving.'

You don't know what you are capable of until you allow your spouse to see something in you that you never saw. Your partner is like a mirror and she knows you better than others would. She helps define you by pointing out your lapses and wanting you to work on them. By accepting or offering such constructive criticism it shows that you have the other's interest at heart.

Honest communication and conflict management

 Being considerate does not mean avoiding difficult discussions. Conflict occurs. It’s normal. Avoiding conflict allows issues to fester. Left long enough, these unaddressed issues can poison a relationship.

'We find that it is much better to get disagreements out in the open and clear the air before this happens. Of course, when we discuss tough issues, we’re honest, but also polite, considerate and respectful. Because we know we love and are loved by the other, we can discuss shortcomings, hurt feelings, irritations, needs, wishes, etc. without demoralizing and hurting our partner. This can take practice, but is worth the effort.'


Ultimately, if you are going to work with your spouse, be willing to forgive your partner when things don’t work out as hoped.

'We have seen too many spouses who worked together but their marriages didn’t make it. We realized the only way we could get past those constructive (if painful) feedback sessions and occasional disappointments would be to ask for forgiveness -- and then to forgive one another.'

Working with your spouse can be straining at times but with these few tips applied it can be achieved. It really all comes down to the same principles applied to leadership; act with courage, authenticity and humility. If you have a story or comment about what working with your spouse feels like, please comment.



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