When Your Bedroom Becomes Your Boardroom: (Happily) Working With Your Spouse

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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wedding_couple_under_new_management_cardSpouses that choose to work together embark on a very unique journey. This arrangement is not a conventional marriage. Two of the hardest things a person can attempt is to build a successful business and a successful marriage. 90 percent of all businesses fail within the first 5 years. The divorce rate (in the U.S.) is now higher than 50 percent. Combine these two endeavors, and you face a lot of risk. There is a lot at stake at home and at work if things get rocky. The levels of expectations for one another are much higher than in a typical business partnership or typical marriage. Consideration must extend much further than, “I have this great business idea, can you help me?” 

As a follow up to my February 10, 2013 segment on Washington Business Report (http://www.wjla.com/articles/2013/02/washington-business-report-feb-10-2013-85006.html) on working with your spouse, I’ve interviewed several other business owners who have braved this model to learn what makes it work, and how to avoid trouble in paradise. Rather than giving a simple bulleted list of strategies such as “schedule a date night” or “agree not to talk about marriage at home,” I’m sharing a more detailed behind-the-scenes glimpse of the complexities of this arrangement. If you are currently working with your spouse, or thinking about it, this is an important column for you. 

Derek and Melanie Coburn: Owners of CADRE  (www.cadredc.com)

Derek and Melanie Coburn are the founders of the outstanding  2-year old “un-networking” community called CADRE (Connecting Advocates, Deepening Relationships, Exclusively) that has taken the DC region by storm. Cadre connects visionaries and leaders that are committed to helping others in a way that has not been done before.  (In full disclosure, I’m a board member and founding member, and an enthusiastic evangelist for Cadre.)

Derek and Melanie are the parents of two very young children, so they have their hands full as they try to  feed the needs of a young business, young family, and young marriage. I asked Derek his insights, and he shared this:

“Of course, my first answer would be its great because I get to spend even more time with my best friend and the woman I love. 🙂  (Derek is a very smart man.)

Aside from the obvious, one advantage I find to be significant is the shared knowledge of what needs to be done and then the space created by one so the other can do it. Like most businesses, we go through periods where the work piles up and some late nights at the office are necessary. For example, because Melanie knows what has to get done, she’s much more understanding of me staying at the office late to do it.”

I will also add that Derek and Melanie have done an excellent job of carving out very specific roles in the company. As someone who interacts with both of them on a regular basis, this has been very helpful in clarifying, communicating, and promoting the vision & value of CADRE.

Michael and Sharon Ferraro, Owners of Training Solutions, Inc. (www.trainingsolutions.com)

Michael and Sharon have run TSI together for almost 20 years. The company provides information that enables business owners and executives to make better decisions regarding their people issues. It also provides people skills programs and coaching services to enhance employees’ productivity. Sharon shared their secrets to a healthy business and marriage partnership:

“What makes it work is that we share common goals – both with business and family. We believe in high quality customer service, honesty, high quality programs as well as a strong faith, quality time with family and friends, and love of sports and fitness. It also works because we have our offices on different floors to keep space between our different working styles, and we allow ourselves personal time to make sure we have fun time outside of our time together.”

Antonio and Francisca Alonso, Owners of  AV Architects & Builders (http://avarchitectsbuild.com/)

Francisca is an inspiration to me. She has been married for 20 years, and has run her business with her husband for 12 years. They also have 4 kids.  She shares great insight into making it work with your spouse at home and in the office:

“We are married for 20 years now and launched our business in 2001. It has been interesting since when we started we had a 5 year old, a 3 year old, a 2 yr old and an infant… not good timing in terms of family and babies but perfect timing in terms of market and economy. I think that what keeps us together is that we both want the same thing: a solid family, a growing business and a loving relationship…but not always in that order. Some days the focus is on the family, other days on the business and other days on our relationship.

Additionally, what allows us to work together successfully is that we don’t have the same competing roles for the company. Tony has his skills and strengths and I have mine; we don’t compete with each other but respect and admire each others abilities. This is a key ingredient!

People ask me every day: ‘How do you do it? How do you keep it all together?’ I don’t think it’s perfect every day but we sure try our hardest to focus on doing the right thing. In a conversation, a family friend told me: “Francisca, you CAN have everything, just not all at the same time”. I thought this was very wise and I remind myself of that every day when things get a bit tense.

One more thing to think about as well.  When you first launch a business you are wearing “all the hats” and that was no different for us. However, once you start growing and hiring people you realize that you simply cannot wear all the hats. This is were working with your spouse can get tricky – since they know you best (all your weaknesses and strengths) it is not easy to figure out what each others strengths are objectively. What helped us, was to hire a business consultant as a “mediator” to identify objectively what each one of our roles in the company would be. This was a turning point for us in terms of growing the company and strengthening our relationship.”

 Specific Strategies

While there is no secret weapon to ensuring success when spouses choose to work together, there are some things that they can do to raise their chances of success. As discussed here, these include:

  • Mutual trust and respect
  • Clear identification of roles and responsibilities based on each other’s strengths – and respect for those roles as well as the decisions that result from them
  • Engaging a coach or strategic planner at the outset to identify roles and responsibilities
  • Setting aside time away from work to re-connect as a couple
  • Implementing boundaries at home so that home-time becomes a work-free zone
  • Giving each other physical space to work, as well as emotional and mental space away from the business when one needs to recharge
  • Not allowing your ego to get in the way of decision-making. Someone will need to own the final decisions
  • Remember and acknowledging all of the contributions your spouse is making at home and in the workplace
  • Remembering your ultimate goals and why you are doing this in the first place – your family

Additional Perspectives

For more insights from couples who have successfully and unsuccessfully worked with their spouses, check out this article in Time Magazine:


Link to show segment: 


Good luck!





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