Husband & Wife Teams and How to Make them Work

April 10, 2012

Last week I received the following email from Green Room reader Kristi,

“I would love to see a post about husband & wife teams (or working with your spouse/partner etc) but in a super honest way. I feel like all the husband & wife teams out there only talk about the good and not the real challenges.

I myself have always hated the phrase ‘husband & wife team’ because it makes it sound like we were matching jogging suits and finish each other’s sentences. When that is totally not us. We are more likely to argue about the shot one of us missed or the one of us choosing too many of our own photos etc. Please can you help?!

P.S Viva la Rock n Roll Bride!

Well Kristi that’s what I’m here for – and we all know I’m going to be as super honest as possible! As one half of an accidental husband & wife team (the initial plan for Rock n Roll Bride was never for us to work together) there have been a lot of steep learning curves that we’ve had to navigate along the way. We’ve had to make changes to how we live and work, mostly without any forward planning (I’m sure ‘proper’ business people are shuddering right now) but I do think we have somehow made it work. Like with anything business-related I think it’s very easy to look at other husband & wife combos and think they’ve got it made, when of course, deep down, we all know they’re only sharing the good stuff and keeping the real nitty gritty and blazing rows under wraps. It’s certainly not all high fives and long lunches in our house, but there are a few conscious decisions and changes that we’ve made along the way, all of which have made a huge difference to our work/life balance.

Be honest with each other, don’t be afraid to hurt the other person’s feelings but be respectful

This is a toughy because on one side you love this person more than life itself, but on the other they drive you crazy! And well all know this isn’t limited to the business side of a relationship either… Gareth & I aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination and we of course still have disagreements about the blog. However like in any relatiopnship (intimate or working) one of the fundamentals of making it work is communication, and when you are both lovers and business partners this is even more paramount.

Luckily we’ve always spent a lot of time together (before Rock n Roll Bride I worked night shifts at the shopping channel and Gareth ran his own IT business from home) so it’s never really been strange for us to be in each other’s pockets all hours of the day. However just being together is a very different matter to having to work together, and having to make decisions as one. Of course when it comes to disagreements each of us always thinks we’re the one in the right so how do we get to that happy place of being adult enough to listen to each others view point as well as getting our own ideas across?

I stole this quote from my new favourite book (seriously, have you bought it yet? It’s bloody brilliant!)

“If there is any one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own” – Henry Ford

Yes you have to be honest, but you also have to be respectful of the other person’s feelings. Instead of trying to push what you want onto the other person, approach the conversation in a way which encourages them to see your point of view as well as mentally preparing yourself to see theirs. It is only when you find this happy medium that you can respectfully make decisions together. For example (and yes this is another example stolen from Carnegie) if you had a child that started smoking, instead of scolding, preaching to them of the heath dangers and telling them to stop doing it because YOU said so, you might instead give reasons to stop that they can relate to i.e. if they continued to smoke they would never make the football team/boys wouldn’t want to kiss them/they would smell. There is no point preaching to someone about the dangers of smoking if they don’t themselves see a reason to change. In a nutshell you can’t force anyone to change their mind if your reasoning for them to do so is because of how it affects you (or the things you value), you would be better to put an opinion across in a way that taps into their sensibilities.

Have difficult discussions

This follows on from my previous point, but you really do have to address those niggling annoyances in order to move on and progress (in an honest, open but respectful way). Full disclosure: I don’t always get this right.

Gareth & I have very different approaches to our working day. I’ll be up at the crack of 10 (!) ready to get to work right away (I’m most productive in the morning – well mid-morning…) whereas Gareth with sleep til past noon, potter about for a few hours, go to the gym and then start work at 4/5pm. This used to really annoy me! I felt like I was the one doing all the work as I was working ‘normal’ hours. However once I got up the courage to mention this to Gareth we were able to have a (slightly awkward) chat and I realised that I was 100% wrong with my assumptions. Just becuase our working hours were different, it didn’t mean that he wasn’t pulling his weight – just the opposite in fact.

When it comes to having these difficult discussions be sure to approach them from a positive place, one that wants to resolve any issues rather that an accusatory one. Never say “you don’t do this”, “why don’t you ever do that…” or “your idea is totally wrong” instead take a softer approach and have an adult discussion rather than a blazing row.

Another thing we all need to do more often is to say thank you and make sure the other person knows how much we appreciate them. For some reason, and especially in husband & wife teams, we often think that it goes without saying that we love and appreciate our partner (well it did for me anyway) but sometimes even the strongest of people really need to hear it.

Define your roles

When it comes to relationships (personal or business) there is often one partner that is more ‘in charge’. For this reason it’s vital that you sit down and discuss what your role in the the business will be.

It might sound ridiculous and you’re probably thinking “well duh I know that I shoot/edit/design/write while they support/email/clean/plan” etc but honestly, having this open dialogue and laying out exactly what you expect of yourselves and each other is really beneficial. This was actually a technique that we picked up from doing a pre-wedding marriage course. It allowed us to take the time to make plans and decide on our roles beforehand which stopped potential arguements like “well you never do the washing up!” or “why does it always have to be me that cleans the bathroom?” To me, it stands to reason that the same principles can be applied to a business partnership.

Allow each party to make decisions

In some ways I think we’ll always see Rock n Roll Bride as ‘my’ thing. I’m not sure this is entirely healthy and it’s certainly not true, but as I started it on my own it’s kind of our default thought process. I know this is something we need to change and allowing Gareth to take complete control over certain aspects of the business is one of the ways I want to do this. It then not only frees me up from worrying about the things I’m no good at (tax/coding/designing) but also enables Gareth to grow into the job and shine! He’s a very talented man after all!

One of my biggest flaws (although I’m also sure it’s also an atribute) is that once I want something changed or I make a decision, I want it done now now now! In a positive way this means I never put things off or have an idea and then forget about it, but in a negative way it means if I think of something that would fall into one of Gareth’s roles I want him to do it right this second!

Gareth doesn’t work like that at all.

Over time I’ve learnt that asking him over and over to do things (or ‘nagging’ as he so eloquently likes to put it) will most likely have the opposite effect – he’ll get annoyed and put his head in the sand. However when I leave him to it, he usually does get it done (granted, right at the last minute!)

Gareth is the kind of guy that when he does things he does them really really well. However he has to be in the right mood to do them (I think it might be a geek/creative thing!) The great thing about this is that often he’ll come up with some genius wizzy blog idea, not tell me about it, but then surprise me when it’s finished. He thinks in a very different way than I do and so we compliment each other beautifully.

Work in separate spaces

When we got home from our 2 week Omaha/LA trip last August I knew I was coming back to a mountain-load of work and over 1000 emails (eeek). It was only then that I realised the importance of us working in different spaces. Previously I was working on a computer in the nook under the stairs, in the front room. However the thought of such a massive backlog made me realise that I’d need as few distractions as possible to get through it. So we decided that I would semi-permanently move upstairs to the spare room (which was always used as Gareth’s office due to him previously running his IT company from home).

And oh how my workflow and productivity changed! No longer was I getting distracted/annoyed by Gareth’s afternoon Pokemon marathons (haha outed!) and we argued much much less. After a little while we realised that this situation was working out a lot better for us so I moved upstairs permanently. Hurrah!

If it’s possible, I would always recommend working in different rooms (especially if you work at different times of day like us) or to not be in view of each other (i.e. sharing a desk). This may sound mean but my reasoning is anything but. Even if we did work in similar timezones, I know I’d get distracted by his pretty face all day if he was right there all the time! It’s for his benefit as much as mine!

Have time off and don’t talk about work!

Switching off is one of the hardest things to do when you run your own business so imagine how difficult it is when you both work together! Even if one person is in ‘switch off mode’ the other might not be. Therefore it’s so important to make sure you have time away where you both power down. It’s a bit like wedding planning, if it’s all the two of you talk about it can totally encompass you, take over your personal relationship and make you forget what you used to ever talk about beforehand!

I’m not going to pretend that we’re perfect at this, and often we will go out to dinner and just end up talking about the blog, but it is something that I want us both to get better at! Workaholics? Us?!

Another thing that’s really important to us is that we make sure we always eat together. We usually only eat breakfast and dinner in our house (Gareth makes breakfast as I’m working at this time and I make (or more likely, order) dinner as he works in the evening). Making sure we both stop to eat together not only allows us to have a break and spend some non-work time together, but shows each other that we are appreciate of the fact that they’ve made a meal.

Similarly I think its really important to have time apart (shock, horror!) Often when I go away for a few days, we’ll come back together and will both be brimming with new ideas or have things to discuss that we’ve mulled over in that time. It keeps things fresh, allows you to be inspired by outside forces and enables us to grow our business…together.

Ask for advice from others

I’m not claiming to have the perfect relationship or business partnership but these are just a few things that seem to work for us. In order to give a more rounded view, I also asked a few of my friends, who also work with their partners, if they had any tips that they’d like to share…

♥ Charis, one half of husband & wife photography team O&C Photography said, “Working with Owen is just brilliant. We understand each other so well and have developed understanding about our skills and abilities that just means working together is second nature. It took us time, but then, doesn’t any relationship! The choices we have made to leave our jobs and go full out with photography were huge decisions, but the support we have in our marriage has carried over into the steps we now make and to be blatantly honest…. It rocks the world!”

“We had to learn to be respectful of each other’s creative ideas and styles, and although we are different in the way we approach aspects of our job we have learnt to capture a wedding day and process our work in a manner that compliments each others photographs. We work from home and process our own work. We give each other time and space to create finished images before combining them into the completed set that our clients receive. We have had to learn to not be too precious about our work, but with mutual respect our feelings don’t get hurt….that often!”

“My top tips would be to real – be real about what you want and how you can work together. Laugh a lot – at weddings, at home, about your work and about anything and everything work related. Take time out to ‘do life’, whether it be family life, trips to the beach or movie watching. Find other married/couple types who work together (Twitter is great for this!) and chat about how others do things and what roles others have. Challenge each other in the styles you shoot/work in, the manner in which you carry out your role and how you can better yourself. Love each other above work and if it gets too much, don’t ever sacrifice your relationship over work… its not worth it.”

♥ Husband Owen also had a few words to say, “Being honest with each other is a biggie in both importance and difficulty. For me, the final cut is the most uncomfortable part of what we do as a couple (i.e. how many of each person’s images end up in the final wedding edit). There can be a tension between having pride in your own work, wanting to share it and in encouraging the work of your  partner – all whilst keeping the client and their style at the forefront. Ultimately you have to respect, and I know it sounds soppy, love each other.”

♥ Lucy Ledger, who works with her husband David, said “I guess all I can add from our short time working together is that all of what you just said definitely important plus David and I try to take a little time out during our working week to do something we wouldn’t be able to do if we both had conventional jobs. It may just be a walk in the woods or lunch out somewhere in the afternoon with the baby, but those are the times when you can step back and reflect. Taking that short time away from the usual stresses and deadlines makes you realise how lucky you are to be working together and for yourselves – it gives you renewed motivation and excitement for the job you do.”

♥ Pen, who works with husband Cam to run McKinley-Rodgers Photography adds, “Well, I love working with Cam (he assures me he feels the same way!) and that’s actually the main driver behind our business.  I think the number one tip/advice is to really want to spend most of your time with your partner!  We’ve had 3 other businesses together in the 10 years we’ve been married, and I think the key to making the all of them work has been the same thing.  We share a common vision based on the same values – but our strengths and skills we bring to the table are different and compliment each other.  Cam is the more extrovert and outgoing partner, so a lot of the client facing work is driven by him (our previous businesses were retail based) whereas I am definitely more quiet and reserved, and I love the ‘back office’ work.”

“Being honest with each other is hard, but we try and employ the ‘feedback sandwich’ (or s*it sandwich as Cam refers to it!) So we always try and lead with something positive before bringing up what might need  improving/ developing/ changing etc and then end with another positive.  It doesn’t often work (and we both have very fragile egos) but ultimately we know it comes from a place of wanting our business to be better, so generally we can put our ego aside and hear what the other person is saying.  Even if sometimes it takes a little more time to see it!”

♥ Amber, who works alongside husband Jon to run their business Live It Out Photo says, “Having a schedule. Working from home makes it really tough to define when we’re working and when we’re not. So we’ve decided a cut-off time for work-talk, work-everything. After 8pm we have to stop talking about work. It’s been super helpful in keeping a healthy work-life balance. When you have your own business it’s really easy to let it take over your life, which can put a lot of strain on a relationship. Remembering to go on dates (even small ones) where you reestablish that husband/wife relationship is so important. It also keeps burn out at bay.”

♥  Helen, who works with husband Dom to run their stationery company Cutture says, “Everyone says don’t talk about work when you go out for dinner…well I disagree, some of our best ideas have come out over a romantic anniversary dinner. It’s the one time we get to talk creatively about our businesses again and get excited. At the end of the day your work is a massive part of ‘you’ when you do it together so it’s not bad to talk about it over dinner, get excited and enjoy it. That said by the time you reach your main course, it’s probably time to change the subject.”

“Also if you have staff and you do disagree at work, sort it out over lunch away from them. Talk about the problem and don’t let it harbour, there is no time when you work together to be angry with each other. Communication is vital, but be sure you don’t make your work force uncomfortable. If you feel like having a blazing row (for personal or work reasons), take it outside, it should categorically not effect your working environment, it’s unprofessional and not nice for staff. On the other hand, sometimes it’s good to disagree, you need to solve problems together.”

I’d love to hear some of your ideas if you work with your husband/wife/partner too. Comments below please!

All Photography Credit: Emma Case Photography – full shoot here.