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Living The Dream or Sleeping With The Enemy?

Written by Simon Tolson on

Running a business with your spouse can be challenging but can also be rewarding and produce a great customer experience.

Basil: Manuel… my wife informs me that you’re… depressed. Let me tell you something. Depression is a very bad thing. It’s like a virus. If you don’t stamp on it, it spreads throughout the mind, and then one day you wake up in the morning and you… you can’t face life any more!

Sybil: And then you open a hotel.

Sybil to wide boy guest: ‘Well you’re only single once’

Basil: ‘Twice can be arranged!’

When the subject of working with your wife every day comes up it’s a subject where there’s no middle ground.  Either we are talking to a couple who harbour the dream of running a pub or a teashop which is keeping them going through the tantrum toddler years or more often it’s a discussion along the lines of ‘that would never work we’d kill each other.’

We all love the Fawlty Towers stereotype of a couple at war all day and I have to confess to frequently playing on this when I am talking to a guest- ‘I can give you that discount but don’t tell my wife’, ‘yes I’m the boss- apart from my wife and all the other women in the office’ but when I think about of it some of the best experiences I have had have been delivered by partners working together.  Just a few steps away from the office here in Porthleven we have Kota and Seadrift both run by couples and delivering some of the best food in Cornwall.  I think of the little French Auberge with husband cooking and wife serving a fantastic menu de jour with no choices- get what you’re given as if you were at their house or the boutique B&B in Dorset where breakfast included cake of the day and muesli home toasted in the Aga.  (Le Chapeau Rouge at Lusignan near Poitiers and Dorset House at Lyme Regis if you’re interested)

Aside from the benefits of giving up a 9-5 job for a 5-9 one there are pros and cons to consider if you think this is a road you want to travel together:

On the positive side when you have a common goal you experience successes and setbacks together.  I think of the times when I’d secure a big software deal and come home carrying champagne to find my wife crushed by warring toddlers and ready for bed (they grew up to be nice lads on the end).  Alternatively after a day of being barbecued in sales meetings I might arrive to an upbeat household ready to play when I just wanted to hide in a corner.

Of course this means that things are magnified- great days are really great and bad ones can be worse but at least you are sharing the experience and can understand how you are each feeling.

Negatives are obvious, if you end up with a disagreement over work it is absolutely impossible to leave it behind at the office.  I’m sure there are many examples of relationships ruined by the strain of being together 24/7 in a struggling business and other things in life can summer.  When having one of those ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ chats my son once said that the most important thing for him was to have a job where he finished and came home as all he’d ever seen is me working evenings and weekends which really made me stop and think.

One of the hardest things for me is not being able to talk about your day at dinner. I hadn’t realised what a staple part of our relationship this was and when the answer to ‘how was your day dear?’ is ‘Well you should know you’ve been sat opposite me for 8 hours!’ it can kill the conversation somewhat. Having said this the very idea that either of us could return to doing a proper job is unthinkable- I’m afraid we are probably both pretty much unemployable now so the only way forward is to make it work.

Simon’s Top Tips for working with your partner

  1. Have a clear division of labour- I am a morning person and my wife isn’t which we use to great advantage with me getting stuff done early and her dealing with things when the football is on.  Try to have one of you as the decision maker for each business issue
  2. Pick your battles.  It really isn’t worth arguing over the colour of a leaflet or a £50 discount.  Don’t jump up every time you’d have chosen to do something differently and even if it is significant don’t make a fuss afterwards, just agree to do it different next time.
  3. Book your breaks in.  A business can be all consuming and there’s always something important that hasn’t been done.  Get your diaries out and put in that weekend away together and especially individual things like a Spa day with friends or fishing trip.  If it’s on the calendar everyone will work round it.
  4. Seize the fish!  This is a family joke from the phrase Carpe Diem meaning sieze the day. For us this usually means sunshine- you don’t have to answer to anyone so pack up and have a long lunch all afternoon just once in a while.  Even if it’s not that often it’s the thing you can tell your wage slave friends about which will make you feel great and them envious of your dream lifestyle.

31 years and we haven’t changed a bit.

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Making great holidays happen in Cornwall