When Snackbox meets with new clients, we inevitably hear some version of the following, directed incredulously toward Eric and Jenna, our co-founders: “You work with your spouse? I could NEVER work with my partner. That’s incredible.”
They always point out that they met while working for the same agency, so their relationship began as a work relationship. That’s not to say they have it easier than other couples who are in business together, but it helps that they have history and industry in common. Recently, they ran across another couple who launched a startup together, and it was clear they shared some of the same challenges unique to life partners who are also work partners.
They’re in their 14th year as co-owners of Snackbox, and 11th year married. They recently sat down for a “She Said/He Said”, to talk about what has worked for them as “Ride or Die” life and business partners.
Here is a peak into the life of business with your significant other and how they do it.
Divide and Conquer
To keep things from getting personal, we compartmentalize our roles within our relationship. For example, say I have just completed a presentation to a new client. If Eric has feedback, he may say, “You know I love you, you’re my wife, but I need to talk to you as my business partner.” Just that phrase, ‘you’re my wife, but I want to talk to you as my business partner,’ helps me switch contexts and process his feedback as a business partner.
One of the saddest things that I’ve read about are couples that go into business together, drift apart, and then all of a sudden they get divorced, but they are still business partners. In times of stress, it is really easy to only talk about the business. If you do that long enough, you end up where you have nothing to talk about in your personal lives.
If you’re good communicators with each other, then you can be good business partners. If you aren’t good communicators, if you’re constantly fighting, then maybe this isn’t the right route for you as a couple.
You have to learn to over-communicate, because miscommunication is deadly from both a business aspect and relationship aspect. You have to dig down and analyze your communication skills and then work on yourself to be better. If you have issues in your personal relationship that you’ve glossed over and not addressed, you just have to dig those out and work to fix them.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in working with my wife is you have to learn how to let things go. Miscommunication and holding onto things has business consequences, but it also has potential consequences for your personal relationship. You don’t want to go into business together just to destroy your marriage.
We spend a whole day at the office in a room together, and we drive to and from the office together. That drive into the office is our time to discuss strategies and things we want to accomplish during the day. Driving home is when we discuss what happened during the day, hashing things out and processing.
By the time we get home, one or both of us will dive into our devices – I’ll get on my iPad or we’ll play video games. We’re giving ourselves what I call “cave time” – being in our own little worlds as a decompression tool. We’re still in the house together, but we find ways to escape each other without leaving.
Eric has a home office and often works late on projects. It’s not always practical for us to have a hard “no work talk at home” rule. We just try to keep our business conversations out of private spaces like our bedroom.
There’s a danger when you’re with one person 24/7, to start thinking of the other person as an extension of yourself. It can feel like that, and at first that can feel really nice. But you are not an extension of each other – you are individuals, and you have to take care to preserve that in your relationship.
I can go play video games for six hours in the TV room and Jenna is perfectly capable and fine with giving me that cave time. She’ll be off doing her own things. She likes to be with me and I like to be with her, but our house is big enough that we’re able to give each other space. I also encourage her to do things with other people.
I realize how rare it is to find couples who are happily in business together. I’m always asked, “how do you two make it work?,” usually from people who are just starting out as married business partners. They see we have had staying power: we’re still together and we’re still happy, and our relationship is still growing.
During the years we’ve been in business together, I have seen Jenna transform into this complete bad-ass. She’s the face of our company and I love that. She’s also the funniest person I know.
Are you one-half of a romantic-plus-business partnership? We’d love to hear your story and challenges/tips in the comments!