Finding your footing in romantic relationships can be difficult in its own right—and that holds true at every stage of a relationship. But, what happens when you not only share your personal life but also professional life with your romantic partner? When your significant other is also your business partner, making sure both areas of your life are healthy and set up for success can take some extra work, mindfulness, and intention—but it’s definitely possible.
It’s key to remember that at the heart of every business relationship is connection. So, then, it’s important for your romantic union to be strong in order for a business relationship with a significant other to be successful. “Make sure that the foundation of the relationship is solid outside of what happens with the business,” says licensed mental health counselor and financial wellness expert Aja Evans, LMCH.
“Make sure that the foundation of the relationship is solid outside of what happens with the business.” —Aja Evans, LMCH
Beyond that, there are other considerations to make to ensure success in work and love when your significant other is your business partner. Below, get three tips from business owners who have firsthand experience.
3 tips for when your significant other is also your business partner
1. Listen to your partner when they aren’t talking about work…but also give yourself grace if you both want to talk about work outside of business hours
Natalie Holloway, co-founder of Bala Bangles with her husband Max Kislevitz, says she and her husband priortize talking about more than just work. “The business can easily consume you and be all you discuss,” Holloway says. “Sometimes—at night or on the weekends, especially—you just want to turn that side of your brain off. So we both understand each other’s boundaries,” she adds. In action, this looks like not bringing up business matters if the other person isn’t in the mood to talk about that, and being a source of support—as a romantic partner, not a business one.
Of course, this can be tough in practice. Many folks who don’t work with their romantic partner have a tough time creating a healthy boundary between their work life and personal life. And for those who are both romantic and business partners, this line can be even tougher to separate because of the shared vested interest in the business.
This is a situation that Gregory “Gee” Smalls, co-founder and co-owner of Atlanta-based restaurant Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen, which he co-owns with his husband Juan Smalls, knows all too well, but one for which he tries to give himself grace. “[Sometimes], it’s just impossible,” he says regarding not bringing into his personal life. “I have ideas, and we’re going to want to talk about them. It’s great that we’re able to talk about it right now with our business partner and our life partner, so I think instead of trying to work so hard to create those boundaries, [it’s best] to not feel guilty about talking about work,” he adds.
That said, it’s crucial to check in with one another to make sure neither party feels as though work is taking over more conversation and headspace than they want it to and that everyone feels as though they are being listened to and heard—regardless of the topic of discussion.
2. Own different areas of the business
As individuals, we all have different strengths and weaknesses, and those will almost undoubtedly translate into other areas of life, like business. That’s why Holloway and Smalls encourage coupled up entrepreneurs to play to those strengths and weaknesses when figuring out who’s going to take care of what, business-wise.
“It’s important to define roles and responsibilities.” —Gregory “Gee” Smalls, co-owner of Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen
“It’s important to define roles and responsibilities,” says Smalls. “Usually, as an entrepreneur, you’re doing it all, and I think it’s important for the couple to carve out their strengths and weaknesses and figure out what their roles are going to be in the company.”
For example, in Holloway’s and Kislevitz’s case, Holloway handles marketing and operations, while Kislevitz oversees to product and design. The benefit of defining these roles, Holloway says, is being empowered to be “fully tuned into the business while each of us focuses on our specific areas of the business. This allows our team to know who they partner with in each area and creates a nice division of labor.”
This is noteworthy both because too many cooks in the kitchen, as they say, can breed disagreement and resentment, and dividing the work can also cultivate a growing sense of trust. Plus, no person can do everything, so this also functions as a strategy to reallocate quality time with one another. “We simply do not have the bandwidth to each be on every call,” says Holloway. “These days, we ask ourselves ‘Do we really both need to be on this call?’ If not, one of us can step out and get that time back.”
3. Prioritize communication—about the business and otherwise
Communication in a relationship is always important, but when your significant other is your business partner as well, that emphasis is all the more necessary—perhaps even the key to success in both your romantic and professional ventures.
“When you are starting a business, it can be all-consuming. It can be everything that you’re thinking about,” says Evans. “You have to make sure that [communication is] not only wrapped around the business, because what happens if the business doesn’t work out?”
For that reason, licensed marriage and family therapist Jelisha Gatling, LMFT, encourages couples who co-own a business to “really show up and check in with each other,” adding that this ideally happens regularly. Asking questions like “How are you?” “What’s going well?” and “What would you like more of in the relationship?” can all be helpful for preventing one or both partners from feeling like their relationship has fallen second to the business, says Gatling. And, to be sure, preventing that situation from taking hold is important.
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