“Couple-Preneurship”: How to Work With Your Spouse

A couple discussing finances - Couple-preneurship - how to work with your spouse

By Kenny Markwardt, Certified Two-Brain Fitness Business Mentor

It’s been a long day, mostly because you and a co-worker aren’t really getting along. 

The two of you have a major disagreement. You’re frustrated. You can’t wait to get home and get some relief from the subject as well as the co-worker. You know that if you can just get some space, think it through and vent a little, you’ll be fine.  

You make your drive home, pull in the garage and walk in the front door. You look up to find that co-worker sitting on the couch, reading a story to your son. 

You consider running away. 

Then you take a deep breath and try to reconcile the fact that the person you were upset with all day is also the person you fell in love with and married 10 years ago—the same person you have shared so many victories with, and the same person you have been so proud to work next to as you build your shared dream. 

You’re one of the lucky ones who gets to co-own a business with a spouse. While this is normally awesome, it’s a bit of a problem when a tough day at work might create a tough evening at home.

So what do you do?


When Work Troubles Come Home


Well, you can’t just leave, but you also shouldn’t squander any more of your day on your work dispute. Everyone needs a break, and everyone needs healthy family time.  

My wife, Jenn, and I have lived this reality many times over the last decade.  

Ninety-nine percent of the time, we work incredibly well together. Part of the reason I married her is that we make great teammates. If I could only pick one person to help me navigate the challenges in life, it would be her. 

Unfortunately, there is that 1 percent of the time when we have significant work disagreements that have the potential to make it feel like the whole setup is a mistake.  

To prevent such feelings, we use strategies that have been effective in maintaining a successful work life and home life.


Strategy 1: Know Your Role


To avoid problems, you must make sure your roles and tasks are clearly laid out. You should both know exactly which hats the other wears, what the other is responsible for and where the other’s main talents lie. If you simply consider yourselves “owners,” you are set up for disaster.  

Like most couples, Jenn and I have complementary traits and complementary loves and hates. I have always been a coach, I have done every single job in our gym, and I have always loved numbers, so it makes sense for me to wear the hats of chief operations officer (COO) and chief financial officer (CFO). Jenn is far superior in sales and marketing. She also has a strong passion for nutrition coaching. So she carries the title of chief marketing officer (CMO) and head nutrition coach.   

This way, when we approach challenges, we both know what’s under the other’s umbrella. If it’s an operations issue, it’s my problem to solve. If it’s a sales and marketing issue, it’s her problem. Of course, each benefits from the other’s point of view and assistance when needed, but we both clearly know whose lap any issue falls in first.  

If you have not broken down roles and tasks with your partner, you need to do it immediately. This Two-Brain article will help you: “Done-for-You Hiring Plan and Detailed Job Descriptions for Gym Owners.”

I can tell you from experience that having discussions as COO and CMO is way cleaner and more productive than having discussions as Kenny and Jenn, co-owners.  


Strategy 2: Schedule Meetings


Just as we meet individually with our key staff members weekly, Jenn and I meet with each other weekly as C-level employees. These meetings are planned in advance, and we don’t let anything steamroll them. We have an ongoing Google doc we use, and we maintain a format that encourages progress, accountability and collaboration.  

As sterile as that might sound, it provides a great space for work to happen while reinforcing the boundaries that maintain the integrity of work and home life. Knowing that we have a designated time to work together means that we can spend the rest of the time maintaining that separation.


Strategy 3: Create and Maintain Boundaries


We try to establish as many boundaries as we can between work and home life. It’s tempting to daydream and plan your takeover of the world during dinner and on weekends, but it can be a recipe for disaster. 

In our experience, when things are good, they’re great! We feel like we can do anything together, and we relish the opportunity to take on the next challenge. We’re like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen running down the court, anticipating each other’s moves so far in advance that it feels more like an elaborate dance than running a business.

Unfortunately, when it’s not good, it’s really not good. It’s more like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s off-court relationship circa 2000. Instead of allowing us peace of mind, the home can be disrupted when conflict follows us and pervades the space we both desperately need for sanity.

Our rule is to maintain some distance between work and home life, both in good times and bad. Work talk is fine during work hours. After that, we’re home. We talk about other stuff, we spend time with our son, and we try to leave everything from work behind us.

Inevitably, as excited entrepreneurs, we’re going to come up with ideas and solutions outside work hours. In fact, that’s part of the fun! So what do we do in that situation?

We just ask permission before starting the conversation. Instead of smashing through the boundary we’ve created with our new, brilliant idea, we just ask, “Hey, can I talk about work for a second?”

If one person is excited to chat but the other is winding down for the evening, the conversation is pushed to the next day. If everyone is on board, the impromptu meeting is held, but at any point either person can say, “You know what? I think I’m done for the day. Can we finish this tomorrow?”

It’s simple, it’s effective, and it’s saved many an evening in the Markwardt home.


Double the Power


While running a business with your spouse can be risky, if done right, it can be one of the most rewarding things partners can do together.

If you can remember exactly why you “hired” each other and why you fell in love with each other, and if you strive to maintain a separation between work and home, you will be able to conquer anything together.


Other Media in This Series


“Couple-Preneurship: How to Hire Your Spouse”
“Couple-Preneurship: What to Do When Things Go Wrong”
“Couple-Preneurship: What to Do With the Kids”
Podcast: “Working With a Spouse: The Secrets to Ending Stress”

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