When you realise that your life partner is also your business partner

Some reflections and a few hopefully useful insights.

Many of you will know my keen interest in professionals as they enter mid-life and onwards. Part of my story of transitioning out of organisational life in midlife has been completely unintentional and yet surprising and rewarding on so many levels!

I have over the years helped, James, my husband with his businesses. Initially, I provided him with ad hoc advice (anchored in my consulting experience) when asked as well as some practical help like introductions, developing a website, content writing and other essential things you have to do if you want to create a thriving event hosting business.

As we collaborated together from a work perspective, it was interesting for us to see and appreciate each other in a different light – as professionals in our fields – and not simply how we show up in everyday ‘home’ life (as a spouse, parent etc).

When I set up Wise Sherpa (a consulting and coaching business) almost five years ago, I realised we would both be working from home but had assumed that our major interactions would revolve around meeting in the kitchen for a cup of tea or some lunch and that we would largely be working and running our businesses pretty separately.

All this changed with the pandemic! Suddenly, we found ourselves working together 24×7 pivoting James’ event hosting businesses into the virtual space which we managed to do successfully in a short, intense period of time. Throughout the pandemic, we continued to work together closely – winning clients and delivering projects on things we never thought we would collaborate on. Our work collaboration has continued as we have come out of the pandemic maybe not as intense as it was when we were in the midst of lockdown but we spend much more time together working and supporting each other on our work projects.

More recently, I’ve come to realise that we are actually part of an increasing trend of couples in midlife who have often but not always left organisational life and are either intentionally or accidentally finding themselves not only living but also working together.

It’s not for everyone and whilst it can be brilliant much of the time, at times it can also be extremely challenging! So, I’ve spent some time both reflecting on our experience with James as well as talking to others who have taken this step. There are some clear benefits but also the potential for some real problems. Summarised below are a few insights based on these reflections and conversations which I hope will be useful:

1. Agree how and where to work – I am fortunate James’ job as an event host takes him out and about frequently which means I have space and time at home to focus on my business and work. If you are thinking about working with your spouse or even struggling to work with them, then being really clear on your needs, agreeing on how and where you will each be working and recognising and discussing in advance potential areas for conflict is critical. We have a rough daily routine and review our priorities and diaries together regularly. We also use a diary aggregator so we can each see when the other is available so that if we do need to talk, we don’t disturb each other (usually in our enthusiasm) – it’s not perfect but it does help. We both have voices that carry, so we make sure if we are doing calls doors are shut and headphones are on. Crucially, we also have sufficient space at home so work can only happen in dedicated rooms and at the end of day, we close the ‘office’ door and try to leave it behind. useful insights

2. Establish boundaries for work and stick to them – we don’t talk about work in family and personal time (sticking to this is hard and our daughter is really good at calling us out on it). And we don’t take work on holiday with us unless by prior agreement. Last year we were in Denmark and Netherlands for Easter, and we agreed to deliver one virtual event while we were away (in order to help fund the trip!) useful insights

3. Understand where your skills and experience are complementary and where there are gaps (and do something about it) – unless one of you is keen to fill the gaps the strong recommendation is to bring in external expertise. We have a range of consultants we use to plug our gaps, especially on the technology side of our businesses. I am also very good at the admin side but can find it draining so we also use external admin services to assist us. Knowing when to meet in the middle is important (the compromise word); whilst I enjoy writing, knowing I have a range of blogs, newsletters and posts to write every month can be challenging but currently, we don’t want to outsource this activity. In return, James takes on a number of activities that I struggle to do for my business and whilst he doesn’t love them, he can do them. Useful insights

4. Do work you enjoy together – and not just the stuff you find difficult – and make it fun – it can be tempting to lean on each other when there are difficulties or challenges in work but crack on happily independently when the good times are rolling. We’ve initiated since the start of this year, one day a month where we go to a work related event together that we know we will both enjoy or a site visit (we are fortunate with James’ business we get to go to some lovely places) or have a work away day together in a different setting where we spend time working on our businesses (and not just in them). Appreciating when things are going well and having fun together is really vital! useful insights

useful insight5. Be prepared to listen and reflect (and respect that there are many different ways to do the same thing). We have had some major business-related arguments over the years. We try not to take that frustration into family time by resolving our differences once the heat of the moment has subsided. It is important to listen, to try to understand and take time to reflect. It’s likely unrealistic to think you can work in harmony all the time with your spouse, which is why James and I have some projects we collaborate on and others where we work on our own or with other colleagues. useful insights

If you are thinking of collaborating with your spouse, or you are already doing so, I would love to hear your insights and thoughts. Is there anything that is important and not reflected in the above?

To learn more about my work with organisations and individuals, you can email me at rebecca@wisesherpa.co.uk. or just fill in the form on my contact page.

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