We often joke in our relationship that we are enmeshed, co-dependent and see way too much of each other. They say there is a little truth in every joke and our relationship is no exception. We are best friends, confidants, lovers and business partners and we would not have it any other way. As Clinical Psychologists and couples therapists we are directors of our psychology practice, co-founders of My Love Your Love the couples app and just for good measure we also run our own AirBnb property. There are plenty of upsides and downsides to being in business together. You can ride the highs together, experience serious bonding through joint creation and you can develop an immense level of shared trust and respect for each other. However, it is not all high fives and hugs. The reality is you can conflict, disagree, over commit, feel a sense of burden and generally feel stressed and disconnected. There are some general rules to follow to make sure your relationship stays positive and does not get destroyed by your joint business venture:
1. Work out your individual strengths
Perhaps one of you is more creative and the other has better technical skills. Or one of you communicates best by email and the other is a natural talker and establishes rapport easier in person. If you can harness each other’s individual strengths you can divide, streamline and conquer tasks more efficiently. It is worth noting that it might take some time for your individual strengths to emerge but take note and openly discuss them as they arise.
2. Understand you will have energy burst at different times
Did you ever get that fantastic idea at 2am and decide that everyone should wake up and be as enthusiastic about it as you? It is important to understand that you both have fluctuating energy levels. You might have a great idea to share with your partner and to put it simply they might not have the head space to be supportive, open or enthusiastic. This mismatch can lead to stress, disappointment and disconnection. Overcome this by having a shared document that you can both view at any time and schedule times to discuss new ideas and other agenda items.
3. Earn trust and respect each other
Being in a partnership in any context is not fun when one person has to over function or the other feels micromanaged. There is a delegate balance that must be achieved between earning trust and giving trust. Don’t commit to anything that does not feel realistic and complete anything you commit to. It is not about hitting home runs every time, the individual result is less important than the general sense of being reliable and trustworthy. While it is important that each partner does what they say they will do there needs to be a degree of compassionate flexibility. Resentment can grow if one partner feels let down or alone in the shared commitment. Please note this does not necessarily mean equal distribution of tasks. Different life situations might dictate one does more than the other in relation to business.
4. You two before all others
When dealing with other work-related parties and employees it can never be “me” and must always be “we”. To be clear, I am not saying don’t be an autonomous person with your own ideas and relationships. Rather, it is about being an unbreakable united alliance that can’t be split by other parties. Don’t let another person come between you and your partner, always back them up and don’t vent to work related people about your partner (leave the venting for a trusted friend, family member or therapist). There is a lot at stake, not just your business but your relationship. Discuss big ideas and decisions behind the scene so that you can land on the same page. Don’t be afraid to delay making decisions or pausing if you think you and your partner are not on the same page.
5. Put in boundaries around work and discussions about work
Going into business with your partner can be like playing with fire. If you are not careful you will get burnt. Anyone who has run a small business or had entrepreneurial pursuits is aware of how much of your life it can take up. It can also totally consume your relationship and worst case transform it into something you no longer recognise or feel positive about. Discuss hard boundaries from the beginning and enforce them with the exception of business emergencies. And when the emergencies do happen, be sure to put the boundaries back up soon after. It might be something like no business after 6pm, no business talk on Sundays and on date night. You need to prioritise your relationship or the fruits of any business success will be spoiled by the downfall of the relationship.
6. Make joint decisions
Mutual respect means making joint decisions or having a prior understanding that one partner will make unilateral decisions. This might mean confirming “just checking you are happy for me to make a call on this one without you?”. When you are in sync and on the same page it is more than okay to make unilateral decisions with your partner’s blessing. However, making decisions in a way that blindsight’s your partner is a one way ticket to relationship destruction.
7. Make time for fun and have balance
All work and no play will make life feel boring and meaningless eventually. It will also make you stagnate in your relationship which is a foreboding sign. Make plans for fun and exciting experiences together which are not work related. This might be a night out, a holiday or starting a new hobby together. When you can let go of work responsibilities and have fun you can recharge your inspiration and energy levels. It is important to make time for each other to relax, unwind and do other activities each partner values.
8. Be an individual (hobbies and friends)
Having a break from each other might not be an obvious priority but it is one we highly recommend. It is important to feel like your autonomous individual self. Getting away from work and your partner can be a breath of fresh air back into both domains. We would recommend spending time on at least one individual hobby and scheduling time with your friends solo on a regular basis.