What It's Like To Be Married When Your Wife Is Your Boss — Literally

Photo: Peshkova / Shutterstock
What It's Like To Be Married When Your Wife Is Your Boss — Literally

"Let's go over this again: you're going to spend our life savings on dried fruit?" I asked my wife, Noha, in 2004 when she first pitched me the idea of starting Peeled Snacks, a fruit and nut snack company.

Earlier in the year we'd both quit our jobs to go traveling before I started a stint as a public school teacher, but I'd assumed that she'd get back to work with a position lucrative enough to offset the modest teacher's pay I'd soon receive. Instead, she decided to become her own boss and make negative money

Though those first days truly did gobble up our savings at a frightening rate, watching a company grow and flourish from the front row is exciting. It was a real kick when people started to actually buy these treats. As I was wrapping up two years of teaching, Noha and I started talking about how maybe I could chip in to this whole Peeled Snacks thing. Initially I was dubious — work with my wife?

"No, no," she clarified. "You'd be working for me."

Noha and I met in college and couldn't have been more different. We're darn lucky that we were powerfully attracted to each other because our personalities clashed constantly; she was the fiesty tiger, I was the easy-going monkey. It wasn't until a couple years into our relationship that we took a back-packing trip through Mexico and found that our differences made us work really well as a team. I'd do the maps, she'd do the translation; she'd find food, I'd find shelter. 

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Vacation is one thing — and working together sounded like a recipe for marital strife if I'd ever heard one. Yet, there was so much at Peeled Snacks that needed to get done, and there was so much that I knew I could do. So she put me to work.

The first few months were rocky. My wife found it very odd to have me around for the "Peeled Snacks Experience," and I found it odd giving her final say on everything. If a relationship is a constant negotiation, working for a small company is more like a day in court, waiting for the judge to make her decision, and then living with it. Shortly after I began working with, er, for my wife, we had a sales meeting with a major hotel chain. The customer was nice and chatty, so I chatted with him as two chatty people will. When the meeting was over and we'd left the building, Noha exploded, "I can't believe you told him all that! You're not supposed to tell him everything!" 

Much was at stake—we'd invested our savings, my wife had dedicated two years of her life to this company, and now we were investing both of our energies

Plus there was the risk that we'd tear each other's heads off. We were literally throwing our marriage into the pot, betting more than just money — we were now betting love.

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After the hotel meeting, I was eating crow for a week while making a mental note to myself to watch what I say in the future. Meanwhile, my wife realized that sometimes chatty works — we got the sale.

The trickiest thing was figuring out when the work day ended. Entrepreneurs work insane hours no matter what, but here we had the ability to extend work into our breakfast routine, into our shower time, into our wee-hours before sleep.

My wife and I quickly got into the habit of talking about work constantly. Our work day started at breakfast and ended when one of us would fall asleep in the middle of a discussion about this year's cashew harvest. Things came to a head, though, when work wormed its way between the sheets. When kisses are broken up by dialogue about whether or not bananas can be packaged in a green bag (instead of yellow), you know you've got a problem.

So we worked up strict rules dividing where work ended and marriage began:

1. No work talk in the bedroom. If we're in bed and suddenly decide to talk work, we take it to the kitchen. 

2. No bedroom talk at work (it's not good for employee morale). We've had employees who didn't know we were married for months because we just don't show that side of our relationship in the office.

3. If one of us is working at night, the other is taking care of chores or helping out in some way. When we're playing or relaxing, we're both playing or relaxing.

4. We don't take lunch together. What do we talk about at lunch: work? Not work? It's too much of a mess, so it's best if we have lunch with other people.

These guidelines helped us stay professional, loving, sane, and made marriage lovely again.

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After 12 years of living together, my wife and I knew how to work together on double dates, shopping trips, and planning and executing killer vacations. I'd assumed that more than a decade of living together would make us terrible co-workers. In fact, we make a great team. We can communicate quickly and clearly with complete trust, always knowing that we're both working towards the same goal.

Like it or not, people are always betting with relationships. In our case, that bet made us work that much harder towards success. It's a thrill to work on fruit and nuts with my wife. I wouldn't have it any other way.

And, we must be doing something right. With Peeled Snacks now sold in Costco, in 80 airports around the country and on Jet Blue airlines, even the recession's not holding us back from getting healthy snacks into places where they're otherwise scarce.

In addition to doing sales and marketing for Peeled Snacks, Ian writes for Peeled Skinny, the company blog.