How to work with your spouse and still love them

When people hear that I’ve worked side by side with my husband EVERY. SINGLE. DAY for eight years they either cringe or tilt their head in a long blissful sigh.  The reality is somewhere in the middle.  

It takes a certain kind of relationship that 1) wants to be together that much and 2) can withstand working together and then go home and have dinner together.

Every.
Dam.
Day.

It is not for everyone, and even those that choose it will encounter bumps in the road (sometimes they feel like mountains).

Once the bliss of deciding to take the second plunge together wears off how do you ensure you still love each other at the end of each day?

Jon and I owned and ran Big Water Coffee Roasters for eight *blissful* years together.   The early years were whirlwinds and we made a lot of mistakes. Once we refined how we worked together things were much smoother.

This was our 10th anniversary, of course we were at work!

This was our 10th anniversary, of course we were at work!

Here are the key things you need to do to harness the power of your partnership.  

Establish Roles

One of the most important things when you own a business together is to establish who does what.  You want to maximize your efforts.  Since you’re both owners it is easy to overlap your efforts and waste time.  

For example, when were first owned the coffee shop we on the surface we had our roles established but we had TONS of crossover.  We both partook in hiring. We would swap between the two of us for training new staff.  We both ordered supplies for the cafe; cups, food, coffee, etc.  

Because we were both responsible for numerous things, neither of us had complete ownership.  We dropped the ball all the time!

We were exhausted and frustrated. Our business was growing but so was our overwhelm.

Fast forward a few years.  We had defined clear roles for each of us.  (But like any small business, we still wore numerous hats)

Dani: All cafe staff, kitchen staff, cafe ordering, marketing

Jon: All roastery staff, coffee purchasing, bookkeeping, maintenance, and website

So what did this mean?  We knew exactly what each was responsible for and did not crossover roles (unless it was deliberate and intentional).  

If an employee came to me to talk about a payroll issue, I sent them to Jon.  He took care of that area.  I made all cafe hiring decisions on my own.  Sometimes Jon would walk in the cafe and see a new face without even realizing we were hiring.  

By compartmentalizing what each person deals with, the other person doesn’t have to use precious brain space for things they aren’t responsible for.  

This was a game changer for us in terms of our productivity.   

Communicate your roles to your employees and customers

Once you define these roles, communicate them to others.  Staff and customers want to know who the right person is to talk to.  

Keep it clear that the staff directly report to ONE person.  This will help morale of staff and make sure they don’t get conflicting messages from numerous “bosses.”

If there was an issue that Jon observed with a front of house staff, he would bring it to me to address, rather than step in and address it.   Things ran much smoother when all roles were clear.   

You want to constantly reinforce your agreed upon roles.  It will help your company run smoothly.  

Decide when you both need to be involved in a decision

We were hesitant in these early years owning a business together, doubtful of our ability to make the right decision.  So we leaned on each other and made the a lot of decisions together.   

But by doing so, we weren't as productive.

Luckily we shifted and became good business partners, defined our roles and made independent decisions left and right.  Good job.

But when should you make joint decisions?  There are a few triggers:

1.  Financial
Typically roles have an agreed amount of money to spend that is acceptable by both partners as necessary to do the job.   But there should be an agreement that if you are going to go beyond this, both parties need to agree to it. 

For example, choosing to be a big sponsor of an event that is beyond what has been talked about in the marketing budget or purchasing new equipment that is not budgeted for. 

2.  Changing Key personnel  
When bringing in a new person that is key to the organization it is important that they fit will both partners.  

At the coffee roaster, I oversaw all front of house staff, but when hiring a cafe manager I did have Jon sit in on the second round of hiring.  I always vetted them in the first round.  If I decided to bring them in again I would have him sit to see if they were a good fit for him.  

Also, if there is an issue with an employee, it is good to keep the other partner in the loop.   It is always helpful to have another person helping to make sure all steps are taken to give the employee a chance to correct their behavior before deciding it is time to part ways.  

3.  Things that would change direction of the company
When you’re making decisions that will impact the direction of the company you want to discuss as a team.  Always.  

Don’t make excuses for each other

You’re a couple.  You know your business partner on a different level.  This can be both good and bad.  But one of the bad things is when you start making excuses for each other.

You know about the personal struggles, physical ailments, and family baggage that each other have.  You may excuse them for not making a deadline or getting certain things done.  It wouldn’t have been like this if you were answering to a traditional boss.

Because we know our partners so well often don’t hold them accountable the way we would others.  

Don’t do this.  It is a disservice to you, your partner and your business. 

You need to agree to what is expected of each other and hold to it.  

Agree on the direction and goals of the business

In order for you to make the right decisions independently for your business you need to agree about two things:  

1. The fundamentals of your business  
Define some fundamentals things about your business such as the heart of your business, your target audience, your core values

2. The direction your business is headed
Where do you want your business to be in the coming year? What are the goals?  What area is going to grow?  

Once you define these things, you have a solid foundation to make decisions that are the right ones.  You trust each other because you KNOW what the business is and where it is going.  

Try to set boundaries….. Or not

It is a good idea to set some boundaries about when and how frequently you talk shop.  But the reality is you own a business TOGETHER.   You’ll want to talk about it at home.  

I really want to tell you that you shouldn’t talk about business after a certain time at night or on Sundays or …..whatever.  

But to be honest, we’ve never mastered this.  

We talk shop ALL THE TIME.  

We each have our own threshold of how much shop talk each can handle. Mine is a lot lower than Jon’s.  Sometimes I have to stop him and say “sorry, I just can’t talk about this right now”  We have agreed that when one of us (95% of the time me) has reached their limit, the other has to respect it.  

There is a dirty little secret about being an entrepreneur.  You LOVE being one.  Yes, there is stress and it is DAM HARD.  But you love what you do.  And you want to talk about it.  

We don’t dread Mondays or dream about quitting our cubicle corporate job. We dream about what possibilities for our business and then we take action and create it.  

It feels amazing.

Keep communicating.  


Not just about business strategy, but about your personal life, happiness, fulfillment and dreams.  

Because your business and your personal life are inseparable and both will constantly evolve.  

Check in with each other

It is good to make sure there is a formal structure to check in with each other and ask the tough questions.  

Do you still love it?  
Are there responsibilities you want to delegate?  
Do you need the company to pivot to be satisfied?  
Do you need to work on an exit strategy?  

These are a few examples of the questions that are hard to ask and harder to answer.  

Being truly honest with yourself and your spouse is the hardest part. But it is key to creating the life and business you want.  

My husband and I went through this.  It was really difficult.  I think it took a bit for both of us to be completely honest with ourselves and work through what we wanted before we could verbalize it to each other.

Essentially I came to the realization that I wanted to live in a different place and that I was ready to move on from the business we owned and start something else.  

Both of the these statements were huge.  And they scared the shit out of me.

But we talked, and talked, and talked some more.  And then we agreed to pivot, come up with a new plan and change the direction of our business and life.   

So we sold the business, moved across the country and have both started new businesses.  

Checking in and being honest are key.   Because you love each other, and you want to be happy.  

Love through It all

Owning a business together places strain on your relationship, but it can also strengthen it.   

Hold on to why you got into business together, keep communicating about what each of you needs to be fulfilled and then support each other.  

Turn out the light knowing it is pretty frickin amazing you get to be with your best friend every day.

We may have our own businesses, but we still work side by side.  

We may have our own businesses, but we still work side by side.