If you search ‘working with my spouse’ there are many inspirational, oddly similar stories giving wonderful tips about how to make it work. Good in theory, not always in practice especially when you throw in menopause and teenage children.
Paul and I started Rowe IT in 2008 when he became a contractor. ‘It will be great, Han. We will have more flexibility to take time off and do things.’ 15 years and a thriving business later, I am still waiting.
If you are going to work with your spouse, you need to go into it with your eyes open. You lose the freedom to simply say enough. Any business worth its salt will become more than the owners and needs constant tending. And it will be hard, exhausting, emotionally draining and financially demanding. Just like our actual teenagers.
But it will also be the best thing you will ever do. Seeing the culture grow, people develop, making positive changes in the wider community, learning new skills, solving problems you never thought you would deal with, and generally being part of a team, that you would do anything for. This is what you will need to cling onto because throughout all this, there will be days you will want to throttle your spouse.
What have I learnt after 15 years?
- As hard as you try, sometimes your personal baggage will make its way into work. If you had an argument in the car, it is tricky to be normal walking into the office. It gets easier, but it helps if you have a senior management team that can allow that interplay at times.
- Defined roles and responsibilities are a must. It allows both parties to flourish and use their individual strengths. It will also benefit the business.
- This is one we are still working on! Be equal – at home and at work if you can. Paul is not domestically gifted which causes all those arguments in the car but at work we are equal. It has taken time to get there, as Paul started from a greater position of strength than me, but it has been worth the journey. He is analytical and logical; I am driven and intuitive. We make a good team.
- Try and have a cut off time. We are genuinely awful about this but reading the end of year accounts in bed was probably our lowest point. I do not help as tend to think all the time about changes and things that we could do. I need to keep a book by the bed to write them down in but instead blurt them out at 0730! I am not sure hybrid working has helped as home and work feel the same. We definitely work better together when we are in the office probably because we have to moderate how we interact!
- I have on occasions wanted to leave. Menopause has taken its toll and I often find the brain fog and pain overwhelming. I have learnt to be more open about this which I think is a good thing culturally. It has allowed me to continue which has been important to us both. Having someone to talk to in an open and uncensored way is key. You can speak honestly in a way you can’t with anyone else. I genuinely believe it has helped grow the business and our relationship.
Running a business together does take its toll on your personal relationship. I do not believe anyone who says the opposite. It will change things and you must make your peace with that. Pick your battles and respect each other’s opinion (sometimes with a sorry I thought you were an idiot to think that – more often from me) and it will be ok.
I love the business we have grown together. I am proud of the difference we make to our clients and wider community. 15 years ago I was a different person. Working with Paul has made me a better one. I find him inspirational (don’t tell him). Although he can be very annoying. Just saying.