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How to work with your significant other – without ruining your relationship
In January 2013 John and I were walking along the beach in Maine.
There was snow on the sand and a deep chill in the air, but the beautiful scenery made up for any physical discomfort.
We were talking about the podcast, which had launched just about 3 months prior. I had asked him how it was going.
At that point in time I was working my 9 to 5 at a marketing and advertising agency as an account executive, managing the agencies largest client. For years, that had been my dream job.
John seemed pretty fired up about the growth and potential of what he was creating with Entrepreneurs On Fire.
He told me about how he was starting to receive requests from some of his listeners, who were seeking one-on-one coaching from him; how his network was quickly growing with each new guest who came on the show; and how he had started testing out something that he felt had the potential to be a huge revenue stream: individual sponsorships.
The big question
After he finished describing these very different aspects of the business that were organically coming to life thanks to the audience and platform he had been building for about 6 months, he popped a question that I wasn’t expecting:
What do you think about coming on the team and helping me out with the podcast and growing the business?
I was fired up for John, very excited about the podcast overall, and super passionate about his mission of inspiring millions.
But one thing I wasn’t: prepared to take my 2nd leap into entrepreneurship – this time with my significant other.
I wasn’t really sure how to respond, and if I remember that day accurately I sort of fumbled around with my words for a minute or two.
Honestly, the first thought that came to my mind was, “How would this affect our personal relationship?”
Admittedly, I didn’t know too much about entrepreneurship – or partnerships – at the time; but one thing I did know was that a lot of relationships had crumbled due to miscommunication and disagreements between couples that had gone into business together.
So, not knowing what working together would do to our relationship was my first block.
My second block: I didn’t understand, and I couldn’t immediately see, how I fit into the business.
The absolute last thing I wanted to happen was to become a back office assistant to my boyfriend.
Our conversation around how the podcast was doing on the beach that day ended with John saying, “Why don’t you think about it, and we can talk about it again in a couple of weeks.”
My big decision
A couple of weeks passed, and I had definitely thought about what John had asked me on the beach that day – a lot.
While my job was exciting, challenging and exactly what I had wanted for years, it was starting to wear on me.
Late nights (or early mornings, depending on how you look at it) were becoming the norm, and the pressure to please the biggest client our agency had was causing an unhealthy amount of stress in my life.
I’m not sure if John’s question – and subsequently the idea of working together being on my mind – prompted this realization, or if it was simply time for me to find a new path.
Either way, I had a big decision to make: stay in my 9 to 5 “dream job”, join John at Entrepreneurs On Fire, or give my own entrepreneurial venture another go.
I have to admit, something about John and I sharing a vision, making a huge impact in others’ lives, and learning how to navigate completely unchartered waters together was definitely appealing.
We talked about me joining the team a couple of weeks later, and a couple of weeks later, and a couple of weeks later.
It wasn’t until early March that my big decision to join John at Entrepreneurs On Fire was official.
That decision has paid off in numerous ways throughout the years, and looking back I now know why it was such a tough decision: I’ve never been so uncomfortable about taking a new path in my entire life.
How it all started
I made the decision to join John at Entrepreneurs On Fire around March 2013, two months after he had initially asked me if I was interested.
During those two months I had done a legitimate amount of brainstorming and thinking.
Here’s how it all started…
Between the first time John asked me if I’d join the Entrepreneurs On Fire team and us making the joint decision to actually make it happen, I had two major questions to answer.
1. What would happen to our personal relationship?
In order to answer this question I felt I had to come up with solutions to the things that scared me the most about us working together.
Mainly, I wondered how we would separate our working relationship and our personal relationship.
I also wondered how we would handle, and hopefully in large part prevent, major confrontations or disagreements related to the business.
Solutions to these fears:
1. Setting very strict boundaries, and both committing to holding one another accountable to those boundaries.
2. Promising that open and honest communication will never be compromised due to “feeling bad” or “not wanting to hurt the other’s feelings”.
2. How do I fit in to this business?
As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to risk becoming a back office assistant in the business.
But how could I ensure that wouldn’t happen?
First thing John and I did was each take a strengths assessment to find out what each of our strengths – and weaknesses – were.
This allowed us to immediately and visually see that a lot of our strengths and weaknesses were opposites, confirming that if we could successfully split our tasks so that each of us were working on the things we’re best at, we could really make some big things happen together.
On the heels of discovering our biggest strengths and weaknesses – and overall that we are very different people when it comes to what we’re best (and worst) at – I decided to write out what exactly I wanted to do in the business (what I enjoy and get excited about), and also what I’m best at (these were the skills my previous jobs hired me for).
After adding to each of these lists over several days – editing, revisiting, brainstorming – I shared it with John.
Then, he provided feedback on both parts: what I wanted to do, plus what I knew I could do well.
Knowing that what we had planned, and what actually ended up happening would vary, we both committed to each other, and to the business, that we would be all in, and all in this together.
So being able to answer these two questions has made all the difference, and anyone who is considering partnering with their significant other shouldn’t take another step until they’re both able to answer these questions.
And feel comfortable with those answers.
What’s changed over the years
One thing I’m most grateful for when it comes to working with my significant other is that it has brought us closer together than ever would have been possible otherwise.
Having a shared vision has allowed us to stay in synch.
There has rarely – if ever – been a question in either of our minds about where we’re headed with the business (even if that direction is greatly unknown to us both, we agree on it).
Also, having an incredibly deep understanding of the struggles and wins we’ve both hit along the way has allowed us to support one another, and lift one another up, countless times.
These are my favorite things about working together.
But over the years a lot has changed and evolved, including:
- Our roles in the business
- How we work together (and apart)
- Our communication style
- Our lifestyle
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Because that’s what relationships – and entrepreneurship – are all about.
We make sacrifices, we meet in the middle, we support and lift one another up, we’re willing to be flexible, and above all else, we love one another – and what we do.
Biggest lessons learned
I’ve given a background on how John and I started working together, and also shared what I believe are the two most important questions anyone considering working with their significant other should answer.
But what are some things we’ve learned along the way that we wish we would have known at the start?
Here are our top 5 lessons learned
1. Set boundaries – and stick to them
When you love what you do, it can be tough to turn it off, and when you’re working with your significant other that means business can take over quickly – sometimes without either of you realizing it.
Over the years we’ve continued to set – and reflect – on boundaries to make sure we’re both still happy with the balance we’re giving our personal relationship and our business relationship.
One example is that dinnertime has become an important boundary for us, and a turn off trigger for me.
Once I start cooking dinner, work is done for the day. And once we sit down to eat, it’s time to check out of being ‘at work’ and into being ‘at home’.
We’re also conscious of making time on the weekends to unplug and do things outside of work. Whether that be a hike, a mini road trip, or a night out, we always make time for it.
And remember: setting the boundary isn’t enough. You have to agree on whatever you’ve set and commit to holding one another accountable to it. Otherwise, getting into routines that will eventually make either – or both of you – unhappy is a slippery slope.
2. Be willing to step aside for the expert
Compromise is important in personal relationships and in business relationships. I can assure you, you won’t always agree on the same path, the same strategy or share a vision for the same outcome, and so it’s important that you’re willing to step aside.
The best way we’ve done this is by stepping aside for each other based on who has expertise in that particular area.
For example, John is much more the expert when it comes to how to podcast is produced, published and marketed. If he feels it should be done a certain way, I’m not going to try and tell him otherwise. That’s his area of expertise.
However, when it comes to managing the team who helps us with the show notes, running our social media strategy, and going back and forth with sponsors for talking points and agreements, that’s where I run point. John isn’t going to tell me how I should manage that.
This is why understanding one another’s roles and what each of you is best at is so critical to establish before diving in together. When you know who is taking the lead on what it’s much easier to avoid potential disagreements or arguments over how something should play out.
3. Nothing is set in stone
When I first joined John at Entrepreneurs On Fire, I was so nervous about making decisions or diving head first into projects.
It seemed like such a huge deal to determine how something might run, or who should handle what.
But it’s important to remember that nothing is set in stone.
Entrepreneurship happens one step at a time, so if you’re not sure who is best at something, or how a particular project should run, just test it out and see what happens.
You can make changes along the way.
4. Support one another – always
Mistakes will happen, and you’ll work on projects and tasks where neither of you have experience nor knowledge in how it should be done.
Figuring it out, and getting to where you want to go, requires support.
Sometimes that means verbal encouragement.
Sometimes that means respecting the other person’s time and bandwidth, and not involving them at all if it’s not required.
And sometimes that means stepping in to brainstorm and handle the tougher situations together.
5. Enjoy the journey
Working with your significant other is such a treat, but you’re missing out on a huge part of the experience if you can’t take time out to enjoy the journey you’re on together.
There will be tough times, happy times, down times, and up times; the fact that you have someone to share that all with is pretty special.
So be sure to take time to celebrate your wins together and reflect on lessons learned together. If you do, it’ll not only be great for your relationship, but for the business, too.
How to work with your significant other
This post barely scratches the surface of what it means to be partners in both business and in life, and I’d love to share more after hearing from you!
Post your questions about diving into business with your significant other in the comments below, and I’d love to answer them.