Let me start with this very real statement: working with your spouse is not for everyone.
But for me, it works.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 1.4 million businesses in the U.S. are run by a husband-and-wife team. With 97 per cent of businesses in Canada being small businesses, I would expect the numbers to be very high in Canada.
After a successful corporate career working for Fortune 500 companies, I started my own business from my kitchen table in 2006. I was 42, with two young boys and a mortgage, but I had a great idea and I was determined to bring it to life — regardless of the cost.
Many spouses in this position wouldn’t have been as encouraging in this scenario, but my husband was. Down to one income with expenses quickly mounting, the pressure started building, but my husband was always 100 per cent supportive. In those first few years, we re-mortgaged our home, had angel financing fall through and endured more setbacks than I care to count. But through it all, never once did he ask me to stop what I was doing and go back to my old career.
From day one he has been by my side, but he had his own corporate career, which limited his role in the start-up phase. Eventually, as the business grew, he also left his corporate job and joined me on a full-time basis about four years ago. Today, we are still happily married, he continues to work with me in a supportive role and the business is thriving.
So how did we do it?
Marriage comes first
No matter what, your marriage comes first. If issues working together are coming home with you both and affecting your relationship, that’s a warning sign to make a change. At the end of the day, keeping your relationship healthy trumps business issues.
Who’s the boss?
Some couples claim to be equal partners in the business, but I think that can be challenging when neither person wants to back down on issues. My husband joined me full-time after I had built the company for several years. He understands I am the CEO and he is glad to support me however he can. He offers his opinion, but defers to my judgment if we disagree. As he tells me, “I’m here to support you honey, but it’s your show!”
Different departments are helpful
With the overlap between work and home so strong, any separation you can get from one another is useful in maintaining balance — and sanity! For me, I run the business overall, but Dave focuses on marketing. This ensures we focus on our strengths and usually work with different teams rather than spending all day and night with each other.
Same goes at home
Similar to in the office, having different workplaces at home gives us the space we need. For me, I like to work at the kitchen island, whereas my husband’s office is upstairs. Having our own work areas has proven helpful in maintaining that separation and keeping a happy balance.
Extracurricular activities are key
Considering we spend more time together than the average couple, it’s important to spend time apart on our own hobbies and interests. For me, running and tennis with good friends helps me decompress after a busy work day. Similarly, my husband regularly plays hockey with his friends and coaches our two sons as well.
Keep it light and laugh a lot
In the last 11 years since I started the business, I’ve had my fair share of professional and personal challenges. Throughout these times, when the going really gets tough, I know I can rely on my husband for managing our busy household. He is my ultimate support system. And, it helps that after 20 years of marriage, we still appreciate each other deeply, and still share a good laugh — the best stress relief ever!