Tips to avoid tension: Living and working with your partner

You wake up together, go to work together, spend the day in the office together, go home together. The thought of being around your other half all the time sounds sweet, especially if you’re still in the honeymoon phase. About a third of all small businesses are run by couples.

But just like the honeymoon phase comes to an end eventually, running a business with a partner can be a rocky journey. So how do couples who live and work together cope and what strategies do they have in place to keep their business fresh and prevent their home life from going stale

David Robinson and Oliver Gosling have been together 11 years. They run Big Fan, an independent branding agency, and CardNest, a Bristol-based greetings card subscription service. David says key to the businesses and relationship thriving has been having defined and varying roles.

"We’re in a lucky position that we have very different skillsets and different drivers that just so happen to work very well together," he adds. "Oli is technically-minded, very business focused and pragmatic. I’m the opposite, however... full of ideas, creative and emotional, and tend to flit from one thing to the other."

Recognising these differences has helped them understand how to get the best work out of each other over the six years since founding BigFan. As a result it has led to them "respecting each other and figuring out which parts of the business are more suited to whom. We’ve found a pretty good balance."

David adds that "we joke that we spend about 23 hours a day together, with toilet breaks often being our respite. But it’s kind of true – we live in each other’s pockets."

Even though on good days they can feel inspired and, David says, "feed off each other, egging each other to take an idea to the next level or to hit that crucial deadline, on bad days, a problem shared isn’t a problem halved. It’s fuelled by frustration and even resentment towards each other and can quickly escalate."

When it all gets a bit too much, time out should be called for. Sam and Tola Onigbanjo have worked together for 13 years and now run the Women4Africa awards. Initially they found it hard to separate the emotions of running business from their home life, but they have grown to recognise instinctively when issues are arising and when to step back.

"Taking a break disengages me from negative feelings. This might entail comfort eating or going for a walk and looking at happy people on the streets," says Sam. "Normally, after a short break my natural energy is revamped. Stepping back has a massively calming influence."

For Sam and his wife, the emotional rollercoaster of being both partners in life and work is just part of the parcel. Liam Trotman runs the Henley-on-Thames pub Orwells with his partner Ryan Simpson. He says that all the emotions they’ve had to deal with and the bumps they’ve hit along the way have been a learning curve. "We like to think that all of the disagreements in the early stages of the business [in particular] were fundamental stepping stones to where we are today."

Taking time out can help the day-to-day operations run smoothly, but finding the time to do things as a couple is as crucial to keep the personal life ticking along.

Being in the restaurant trade and around food every working day, it might be assumed that eating together would be the last thing on Liam’s mind. But he says that they find it extremely relaxing.

"After a busy week at the stove, nothing is more rewarding for us than a ribeye roast and a good bottle of wine. Nine times out of ten Ryan does the cooking as he likes to experiment – a lot of our dishes come from us being the guinea pigs."

David says that he and Oliver find it difficult to go for dinner as a couple and not end up talking about work. "Every off-shoot conversation that we so desperately try to find naturally and swiftly morphs its way back to what’s happened that day in the office, or what you need to do before the weekend you’re hoping to take off," he explains.

"But it's not all bad, of course. The flexibility working for yourselves offers is something we really treasure. We only have each other to answer to and that’s pretty empowering. It can feel like there's no escape from work, but ultimately you have complete freedom."

So is working with your other half worth the emotional turbulence and lack of personal time? Yes, says Liam. "You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Love is stronger than everything in our eyes."

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