How to Build a Successful Partnership in Work and Life

Contributed by Katty Douraghy, president at Artisan Creative, a member of EO San Francisco and the MyEO Women of EO Champion. 

In January of 2000 my husband, Jamie, asked me to come work with (for) him. His creative recruitment business was growing and he needed stronger personnel management skills, which was an area I had spent the previous 10 years developing in my own career.

It all sounded fabulous—on paper. We would work closely to create the next chapter of our business together. We would lunch together and even walk to the office together. I was excited to start this perfect wedded-working venture together.

Building a Foundation for Success

Over time, reality set in. There were times when I inadvertently called him “honey” in front of our staff, followed by my being miffed when he asked me to re-do a report. I was so annoyed at times that I didn’t want to talk to him all afternoon…nor at dinner, once we got home.

Very quickly, the realization set in that if this new working union was going to be successful we needed to re-think the arrangement and make certain that we had clearly defined roles with guidelines to work within.

Twenty years later, this collaboration has become a partnership in life and work with many lessons learned along the way.

Through EO, my husband and I have developed a friendship with fellow EO couple Brian and Jean Brault. We soon realized that we had many experiences in common. We also share similar learned lessons over the course of our respective marriages and entrepreneurial journeys.

EO members, if you work with your partner or spouse, check out this MyEO groups: Couples Who Work Together. Created by Brian Brault, the group is designed to strengthen both your business and personal relationship.

Lessons Learned as an Entrepreneurial Couple

With Brian and Jean, we have compiled a list of our top lessons from life as an entrepreneurial couple:

  1. Define roles at home and at work.
  2. Set boundaries, including work times and places.
  3. Leave work issues at the office and leave home issues at home.
  4. Refrain from using pet names at the office.
  5. Give one another space to grow individually.
  6. Remember you are a couple first and co-workers second.
  7. Congratulate each other frequently, be each other’s cheerleader.
  8. Don’t let frustrations build. Talk things out.
  9. Check in on regular intervals and confirm you are working for the same goal.
  10. Make it fun. Go away on a “business trip” to dream.
  11. Remember, when work is stressful don’t turn that on your partner.
  12. Acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and get help to fill in the gaps.
  13. Maintain outside interests together. Have a life together beyond the business.
  14. Be proud that you are building a business together.

Together, we’ve also developed a few questions to help entrepreneurial couples engage in conversations to gain clarity, communicate more easily and connect with one another at a deeper level and to live a life by design.

  • What are three things we could do to better communicate?
  • What inspires you most about our relationship?
  • What do we stand for as a couple?

There are also a few tools that can benefit couples—5 Love languages, CliftonStrengths, Kolbe and DISC, among others. Using these tools regularly allows you to get to know yourself and your partner better.

Jamie and I adopted CliftonStrengths and refer to it often in our communication, both at home and at work. We have built a common language for support and growth as a couple. Having an external tool to refer to has also helped us reduce misunderstandings and focus on one another’s strengths and recognize when we need to step in and support one another in business and in life.

This Valentine’s day, I hope these simple concepts can lead to better communication at home and at work.

Katty Douraghy is president at Artisan Creative and an active member of EO San Francisco. She is also Champion of MyEO Women of EO, a group of entrepreneurs who are committed to learning together, supporting each other and creating a powerful network of women in business.

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