Ryan and I met almost twelve years ago, and in one way or another, have been working together ever since. When we meet new people and they ask about what we do, it usually leads us down a conversational path about what it’s like to work together. We get tons of questions about how it works for us, so it’s high time to answer the question: What is it really like to work with your spouse?
Our Work History
When Ryan and I met, we were musical theatre actors. We met doing a national tour of a children’s musical when we were both cast in the show. From day one, we were at work together.
Granted, that type of work is quite different. When you’re on a tour, for most of the day you are apart from your castmates (unless you choose to do something social together), and you come together to prep for your performance, do the show, and then you scatter to your various hotel rooms. So we had the luxury of getting space when we needed it.
We did three more shows this way, either on tour or living abroad. When our relationship got more serious, we shared hotel rooms, which then meant that we really didn’t have any time apart.
Once we both started our own businesses (I started Lovely Indeed and he started Roundhouse Designs, his web design business) and phased out our theatre careers, working together started to look quite different. We moved into an apartment together after all of the touring, and set up our desks right next to each other. So now we lived together, we hung out together, and we worked side by side.
Our Current Work-Together Situation
And that’s pretty much what it continues to look like now! We work in our home studio, which was our garage before we converted it. During that process, we sat down to clarify exactly what we needed in a workspace and created something tailor-made for what we do. Some of our must-haves were:
- a ton of natural light
- a nice area/space to host meetings
- a desk area where we could see into the backyard to watch the kids if they were outside
- furnishings that were easily movable for photo shoots and more
- lots of storage for supplies
- ability to close off the space from the rest of the house
We accomplished all of that, although there are always challenges in working from home (see that below!). So now our desks are side by side and we work daily in this space.
When I say we “work together,” I should clarify that we work on two different businesses — Ryan on Roundhouse Designs and me on Lovely Indeed. But the lines are pretty blurry for lots of reasons. We’re both in the online/web world, he’s my site designer and tech guy, he assists on Lovely Indeed shoots, we help each other conceptualize and brainstorm, we proof each others work, and lots more.
Naturally, everybody wants to know what doesn’t work. So here are some of the things that we experience as challenges of working with your spouse.
Things can feel personal. If you’re looking for feedback on a project, it’s so hard to take the emotion out of it when your partner gives you honest constructive criticism. It can sometimes feel like a personal attack, because it’s coming from your main person.
You’re too familiar. If you’re at work with a colleague, there’s that social barrier of politeness that holds you back from bad habits — interrupting, oversharing, leaving your Thai food on their desk. 😉 But when you’re working with your partner, you’re so familiar that sometimes you forget to turn on that social politeness.
It can be isolating. This is probably because of the combination of working with your spouse and working at home, but it can definitely start feeling isolated. You don’t have that usual crew of coworkers around you, so we have found that we really need to make an effort to get out and be around other people.
Distraction is SO easy. One of the things that we really had to fight in the beginning was the urge to just play hookey from working and hang out together! We’re always tempted to go to lunch early, or take the afternoon off, or whatever. It’s easy to get distracted when you’re with your main squeeze. That’s why we have a super specific schedule that we stick to.
Time equity. This is another reason that we created a schedule for ourselves. If one of us felt shortchanged on work time during the week, resentment would start to build and we would feel dissatisfied. I feel like we finally have a handle on this one.
You get to be together! Obvious, yes, but one of the best perks. I get to work with my best friend.
You know each other better than anyone. This is useful on so many levels. You can use a shorthand language when getting a point across that probably no one else would understand. You know how to best communicate to each other a certain concept or project. And you live within each other’s rhythms, so it cuts down on time spent figuring out how to make things happen.
They’re your biggest fan. Working alongside someone who roots for you 110% can have such a positive effect on your moods, your work output, and your own concept of your capabilities. (This is, of course, assuming that you have a relationship where you truly root for each other.) One of my greatest joys is getting to refer people to Ryan to design their website, because I KNOW he’ll knock it out of the park. We always do our best to pump each other up.
You share understanding of each other’s work worlds. There isn’t that mystery of what one partner does when he or she leaves the house to go to work in a world that you’re not familiar with. When you work together, you can commiserate and celebrate with a full understanding of what goes on during the work day.
You can capitalize on each other’s skill sets. Ryan has a brilliant logistical mind. I have a knack for aesthetics. We lean on each other’s strengths to further our own businesses daily.
#nofilter This might also seem like a challenge, but sometimes in business you just need someone who has your best interests at heart to tell you a tough truth. It hurts less coming from your partner.
A sense of trust. At the end of the day, when you’re in a healthy working relationship with your partner, you know 100% that they’ve got your back.
The Million Dollar Question: Do We get On Each Other’s Nerves?
Um, of course! Have you ever had a coworker that you were a fan of 100% of the time?! I doubt it. And there’s no reason it should be any different when you’re working with your partner. But the beauty of getting on each other’s nerves when you’re working together is that you can address it. Just today, we were working in the studio and Ryan was stressing on a work project. So I said something like, “The vibe in here is heavy, I’m gonna go work somewhere else.” And that was that. We addressed it, we both got what we needed, and we were able to move through it really quickly because we have that emotional shorthand that couples share.
Answering Your Questions!
What do you do when you both want to take the lead on something? In our case, we have very different strengths. So when we come up against a project where we both really want to take the lead, we try to take a step back and discern what would really serve the project. Whose skills are more important in this moment, and which person is truly a better fit to lead? You definitely have to set ego aside and make sure that you’re doing the project justice.
How do you resolve creative differences? I feel like the way we deal with this is similar to the question above! Again, it’s a matter of setting aside that grasping feeling of just wanting your idea to be the idea that works. And looking at the larger scope of the project, and trying to figure out whose creative idea really serves the work that you’re doing.
Any tips for getting work done while the kids are at home? Whoooo this is a wild ride! In fact, I wrote about it here, here, and here. Some of those posts contain our old work schedules, but for the new one you can see the question below. We also use a family schedule to help regulate our time with the kids.
Getting work done while the kids are at home took us a long time to iron out, and truth be told, if you’re solo at home it’s really hard. But there are definitely steps you can take to maximize time. And if you really want to dive in to this, get on the waitlist for The Productivity Tool Kit — there’s a module just for parents who work from home with a ton of the strategies we use.
And speaking of kids, here’s a little photobomb from Henry while we were trying to take photos for this post. So, ya know… You just do the best you can.
Is there a set weekly schedule? You know there is! We’ve gone through lots of iterations of our daily schedule (especially since having kids), but here’s how it is now. Monday and Tuesday are Ryan’s work days and I’m in charge of the kids, no matter what. (That means school dropoffs and pickups, after school activities, sick kids, and anything else that comes up.) Wednesday and Thursday are my work days and he has the kids. We alternate every other Friday.
Within that schedule, we try to maintain flexibility if one of us has a meeting or something out of the ordinary. Sometimes we trade days if need be, or pick up the slack if one of us is particularly slammed.