5 Rules Couples Who Work Together Should Follow (If You Want To Survive Working With Your Spouse)

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couple sitting on couch working together

For some couples, the idea of being able to work together is their dream. For others, it can be a nightmare.

According to Glenn Muske, North Dakota State University Extension Service’s rural and agribusiness enterprise development specialist and an expert researcher, one in ten American households operates at least one family business, and "co-preneurs" (or family businesses run by couples) account for one third of family businesses.

For example, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter are renowned as a loving couple with a successful, loving marriage. This couple celebrated 71 years as husband and wife in July of 2017.

However, they confessed that attempting to work together on a book was one of the worst experiences of their marriage.

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On the other hand, we have been happily married for over 40 years and have run a growing couples' and relationship counseling practice together for just as long!

If working together is your goal, it is important to know how to pull it off and get the payoff you both are yearning for in your marriage and entrepreneurial venture to create a healthy work-life balance.

Here are 5 rules we've learned about how to successfully — and happily — work together with your spouse.

5 Rules for couples who work together to make working with your spouse doable

1. Remember that you are a team — always working toward the same goals

As a team, you work together to determine your goals and how you will divide responsibilities. It is important to do this as much as possible based on the strengths of each individual. When tasks are not in your wheelhouse, accept the task, and then ask for help if you need support in getting the job done.

Continue to encourage your partner regularly to succeed. When you disagree about something or experience disappointment in each other, decide that you will not resort to blaming and/or shaming.

Instead, remind each other you are on the same team, working toward the same goals. It is time to regroup and push ahead.

We suggest posting rule number one where you both will see it regularly, as a way to remind yourself (and each other!) in a positive way that you are working together on the same team.

2. Flexibility and adaptability are keys to your success.

Hardly any plan is perfect, no matter how hard you worked on it and how much thought was put into it. In our experience, it is rare if a plan goes off without a hitch in some form or another. And if it does, it is time to celebrate!

Accept up front that plans may have to change; schedules will have to be adjusted. Crises will happen and priorities may need to shift when you least expect it and at the most inopportune time.

In our case, things almost always take longer than we thought they would.

When this happens, allow for the expression of disappointment by your teammate, avoid blaming, and revisit rule number one to remind each other that you are a team working toward the same goals.



Keep whining to a minimum, adapt, regroup, make revisions in the plan, and then move on. Do not let setbacks stop you.

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3. Clarify responsibilities and requests.

This will be an ongoing process for as long as you work together, so come to terms with it now. Even with your best effort at communicating responsibilities, there will still be miscommunications and misunderstandings.

When this happens, remember to keep bickering, finger pointing and blaming to a minimum. Fighting about it robs you of energy, is troubling to others in the work environment, sidetracks you from your goals, and shuts down forward progress.



In our 40 years of working together, we have not perfected this. We keep working at refining our process and learning from our most recent episodes.

Come to terms with the notion that conflict will occur occasionally, even despite your best efforts. Focus on clarity; solve the issue quickly; drop it and move on.

You don't need past disappointments taking up space in your head, so resolve it and get back to accomplishing your team goals.

4. Learn to accept and deal with the differences between you.

My wife gets bogged down in the details of completing forms and will avoid it. I tackle these tasks and plow through them quickly, but my writing is so poor that no one can read it. Those are differences between us that have never (and will never) change.



We learned very early on how to work with those differences and turn them into wins — rather than squabbles — every time we have a form to fill out.

So if we have a paper form to complete (and it is surprising how often we do), we make a copy. I complete the copy, and then she completes the original in her very legible handwriting.

She will have to ask me several times what it is that I wrote in the blank. But she asks without attitude because she accepts that I write poorly. And I answer without attitude because I know she can't always read it.

If she were always angry because I am so poor at handwriting, or if I get upset each time because she won't get the paperwork done, we would be stuck — and accomplishing our team goals would be put off that much longer.

To be successful working together as a couple, both of you must come to terms with the differences that exist between you.

If this is a big problem in your working relationship, it will shut down progress, create tons of frustration and cost you profit both now and in the future. If this describes you, then work on it now.

The time and money you invest in counseling and coaching today in order to address and move past this problem will more than pay for itself — both in increased productivity and your profit and loss statements.

It is a given that there are differences between us — that's one of the things that makes us stronger as a couple. But it does not have to be an accepted part of your business that, from time to time, things have to slow down or shut down because of those differences.

There is help available. The sooner you seek it, the more speed you will see in your progress.

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5. Come to terms with and accept as truth that "life happens."

Not one of us has any guarantee about tomorrow. It is a truth (and sometimes a sad truth) about life that "life happens." By that, we mean that things beyond our control can — and will — happen.

Exactly a week before we wrote this article, we received a call at 2 a.m. from our local police department to come to our office. They said there was a "water problem.“ When we arrived, we saw that both levels of our office were flooded with several inches of water.

The next several days of our lives changed completely. The very second we unlocked and opened the office door at 2:15 a.m., and then stepped out of the way of a wave of water rushing at us, a decision was made. The instant determination was not to whine, not to collapse into a heap on the floor. The instantaneous decision was to deal with this problem and to do so immediately.

Life just happened. It was unplanned and unwanted. It was costly on many levels.

We put a good face on right away, and the result was the ability to address the problem and enlist the help of good people in order to get back to business as quickly and efficiently as possible. We worked as a team with the same goal in mind, and it turned out alright.

Life will happen to you too. In fact, it already has. It is happening to you right now. So when you receive your version of our recent 2 a.m. disaster phone call, take a minute, suck in a little air, put your arms around each other in a caring embrace, and then tackle your challenge together.

Working together as a couple is the dream of many. This dream has many challenges. To handle it successfully will take consistent effort and undying loyalty to your "team" and team goals.

When you find that you are getting too bogged down because of your differences, and frustrations with each other are preventing your success, it is time for help.

Learning how to accept and deal with the differences between you is not as hard as it seems if you get the right help. Don't put it off; it will cost you far more than getting the coaching and mentoring you need if you do.

Remember, you're partners in business and partners in life — so putting your teammate first and understanding these rules is critical to your professional success and life-long marital happiness.

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David McFadden, LCPC, LMFT, is a couples counselor and relationship coach.