We have all been warned of the dangers of office romance, but what about working with someone with whom you have been in a long-term relationship? Certainly the same rules do not apply to people who are in a committed relationship as those that apply to some office fling?
There are many reasons to believe that working with your spouse or significant other will work out. You will likely base this on the same things that brought you together in the first place. Your compatible qualities are not always the same professionally as they are romantically, however, and this can play out in several ways, depending on your professional situation before and after the merger of your professional lives.
Working For Someone Else
If your significant other is thinking of coming to work for the same company as you are, there are several different issues to explore and prepare for before she makes the move. The first is how closely you will be working together. If you are going to be working together in the same field or department, then you need to assess how you are going to separate your personal life from your business life.
The first deficit you will face is the automatic assumption on the part of your co-workers that you will be biased when working with your romantic partner. In order to counter this, some have the tendency to go too far the other way and be really hard on their significant other to prove that they do not have this bias.
Even if your girlfriend works in another department, people will always be looking for reasons to hold your under a magnifying glass, and occasionally use it to their advantage (blaming an office couple is so much easier than taking responsibility oneself).
Aside from office politics, there will be a shift in your personal relationship. If you work in the same area, you have to acknowledge that there will be competition between the two of you. If you started working at the company first, do not tell your girlfriend coming in who she is going to hate and who she should be nice to, etc. Doing this is like establishing the office as your territory and undermining her ability to find her place in the office. If she has any questions, she will ask you. If you see her being taken in by any office sharks, feel free to give her a head’s up, but let her do with that information what she will.
One important piece of advice is not to get jealous as she develops working relationships with the other males in your workplace. Do not go around making sure that everyone knows that she is your girlfriend, as this will just make you seem insecure. Keep your relationship a non-topic at work. When women are fitting into a new place, they might use a bit of flirting with co-workers to get settled and find out what they need to know. As long as you trust her, trust her to find her own friends at work and fit in how she needs to. Remember, if you worked there first, she needs to establish herself as an individual in order to find her place.
Owning A Business
The first thing that you need to do if you are planning to open a business with your spouse or significant other is to sit down, either as a couple or with a relationship therapist, and sort out the separate goals you have for your self, for your relationship, and then, finally, for this business. Make sure that if you are going into business together that you make a decision to do so. Don’t just accidentally fall into it, and don’t assume that your significant other wants your presence in her business unless the two of you have discussed it (and vice versa).
The communication and relationship style that you have romantically is not necessarily—and likely not— the same dynamic as you will have at work. If you have a relationship in which one of the partners makes more of the decisions than the other, then you are going to have to watch for that in your work situation. This might work if that dominant person is the boss and the partner is simply “helping out,” but likely, in a business situation, this behaviour will be seen as undermining and unprofessional. Acknowledge your patterns and be honest with each other about how you see your role and the role of your significant other in the business. Make sure these roles are clear and agreed upon by both sides.
In order to prevent your relationship from becoming purely about the business, make sure that you have time away from the business. If possible, do not have your business in your home, as it will be ever-present. If the business is in your home (and even if it is not), make sure you have romantic dates in which you do not discuss any business, and take weekends away so that you have both physical and psychological distance from the stresses of the business.
If one of you already owns the business, it is going to be difficult for the other to find their place in the business as a partner. It is important to define your roles here especially. If you are joining her business, does she regard you as an employee or a partner? Do you have the proper experience to qualify you as a partner? That is to say, acknowledging that she is the expert in her business might be important if you are just learning the business. This will mean an imbalance of power, at least for the first while, and you need to figure out if you are comfortable with that. Likewise, your partner need to be honest about whether she sees herself sharing the power of ownership with you, or if she is so attached to her vision of the business that she doesn’t take your input seriously.
People’s businesses are like children. They take a lot of nurturing, a lot of financial and emotional investment, and a balance of power among the players in order to make them work. Having both of your incomes depending on this one business is a lot of pressure to put on a relationship. Also, bringing your relationship into the business is a tough balancing act, not only for the two of you, but also for employees who have to deal with your dynamic together. The best chance you have of your relationship and your business thriving is to respect and acknowledge the different strengths you each bring to the business and to keep the lines of communication open.