When work talk is about solutions not just a band-aid of instant comfort
Working together can let you appreciate your partner outside of the domestic sphere
Typically, we’re advised never to work or enter into business with our friends, because the pressures of such arrangements eventually seep into even the most airtight of relationships, causing irreparable damage. I’d say this instinct explains about 50% of the incredulous looks I get when I explain my co-working situation with my wife to other men. The other 50% consists of jokes about losing my peace, privacy, hair, and any other apparently non-renewable resource man must vigilantly defend in the devil’s bargain of marriage (watch these jokesters closely and you can see PTSD suffocating their brains).
There is definitely a whole new dimension of strain that visits a couple that shares both a bedroom and a boardroom, married or not. It is critically important to be clear-eyed about this, and to know exactly what you’re putting on the line. However, at a time when professionals report wanting more than a steady pay cheque from their jobs, I would argue that my situation offers plenty of manna to counteract the strains of working together.
When I first returned to Mumbai from business school, I joined a financial services firm that required me to be ready in attention at the office by 7am for a less-than-scintillating daily conference call. My wife, Malini, had just quit her job to commit to writing a blog from home full-time, meaning she would occasionally be tip-toeing into our home from a night out of “reportage" just as I was getting ready for work. While I desperately tried to rub the sleep out of my heavy eyes, Malini would be swan diving into a mountain of soft pillows with an obvious glee in hers. You can see where I’m going with this. It’s as if we lived in different worlds, with just enough overlap for me to witness her winning more at life. By the time I returned home to crash and burn, Malini would be limbering up for another night out. I’m sure many working couples can identify with this problem—your time apart takes so much out of you that it ruins whatever little time you have together.
When Malini and I became colleagues, our work schedules suddenly aligned, as did our free time. Making plans together became much simpler, as did planning our weekends and holidays. If we partied hard on a weeknight, we could commiserate about our hangovers at work the next day. Our moods and energy levels coincided more often, and “work-life balance" was not something we had to actively think about. Our personal and professional routines were in harmony. Add to that the heady mix of excitement, adventure and adrenaline that comes with cutting all anchors and starting a new business, and you can quickly see how positive this was for our marriage.
Working together allowed us to be more forgiving of each other. Missing the occasional personal commitment for work is a lot easier to explain when your work commitments drive the same bottom-line. A comforting shoulder after a tough day is much easier to find when the office is a shared experience. Even venting about work is more tolerable when you both know exactly why that vent needs to be wide open for those 15 minutes.
While I would certainly advise you to set some clear boundaries separating your work talk from your personal time, I will add that your work talk is usually much more productive when your goals are aligned. Another major benefit to working together, especially in an entrepreneurial context, is being able to appreciate each other outside of the domestic sphere. There is good reason Malini is who she has become today—not only because she is a dynamo of social energy, but because she is a professional tour de force. Seeing her instinctively leading our content teams, effortlessly dazzling clients, or passionately inspiring countless young women at speaking engagements across the country adds a whole new dimension to my love for her. If I wasn’t a part of that journey, I’d be the first to admit I’d have eventually let jealousy and resentment creep in, and would have found a way to sabotage those fluffy pillows.
Co-working is not for every relationship, but it can bring couples together by aligning their schedules, creating joint goals, fostering empathy, and providing new perspectives that reinforce and strengthen the bonds of admiration. Take it from me—that’s a better return than any investment I ever made in high finance, bar none.
A Working Marriage is a column that will cover the practical considerations of working with your spouse. Nowshad Rizwanullah is co-founder and CEO of MissMalini Entertainment.