Working For Your Husband Is Tricky Business

Image by Gael Conrad via Corbis.com

My husband is sleeping with his secretary.

Not only do I not care, I actually encourage it.

No, we’re not swingers, or in a dysfunctional marriage. We work together… and I’m his secretary!

The first question I’m asked when people find out that my husband and I own a business together–and that I technically work for him–is, “How do you do it?

The answer I give is the expected mix of joke and half-truth: “Not easily!”

We started working together by accident. My involvement at the outset was more or less that of a doting girlfriend with lots of spare time. We fought frequently in the first couple months, actually, because he seemed to be working all of the time. One night, during an argument, he told me, “I don’t even start working until after 5:00 because I’m in the office all day!” To which I snapped back, “You barely have any work in there in the first place! How in the world do you have so much office work to do?”

Three months after he started the business, I had taken a few days off due to minor surgery and decided to go in to work with him just to get out of the house. One day in his office was all I needed to see that he did have enough work to require help.

Due to my flexible work schedule, I kept helping out in his office when I could. After a couple months of that, I could barely keep up with both jobs, and things weren’t going well at my “real job.” We discussed it and thought it would be worth a try having me come on full-time. That was May 2008. He proposed in June, we were married in August, and I’m still working full-time in the office. The business continued to grow exponentially, and we now employ four full-time guys in addition to ourselves.

So, how do we do it?  To be completely honest, I’m not 100% sure. We’ve had times where I thought it would be the end of our marriage. The issues that play out in any typical marriage are present both at work and at home, and are only amplified by the stress of running the business and managing employees. Staying on the same page is hard. Defining roles is even harder. Despite our early success handling the business as co-owners, over the longer term, that was not working out.

Someone has to be the boss, and even though I still struggle with it at times, that person is him. Some of the standard rules that apply to a successful marriage just don’t apply to a successful business.

We are both assertive control freaks, meaning we had to learn fast to stay out of each other’s “areas.” He doesn’t tell me how to do my work, and I don’t tell him how to do his. Or, at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

We are also an “opposites attract” couple. Sure, we have some common interests, but our personality types are polar opposite. He’s sociable, outgoing and energized–an extrovert to the core. I’m a little shy and reserved, a homebody and mellow–very much an introvert. He’s an eternal optimist, and I typically see the glass as half-empty. Oddly enough, this combination of personalities has helped the business more than anything else, because we balance each other out. Where he’s ready to jump in head over heels and take a a risk, I urge caution. When he takes off running after an idea, I sit back and do the research. In spite of the conflict it can occasionally spark, we’ve seen this pay off more than it’s harmed us.

Probably the hardest part is remembering that while we’re at work, I’m the Office Manager and he’s the Boss before we’re husband and wife. Sure, we occasionally flirt or argue, but if the business is going to succeed, work has to be work.

There are drawbacks to working together. It is virtually impossible to leave our work at work, and we don’t always have so much to talk about over dinner since we not only know how the other’s day went, but what specifically happened. We do have to work harder at making “me time” to ensure that we maintain some semblance of individuality and have new conversation topics.

One of the positive aspects is that we are growing together, every day. Each challenge we meet and face head on brings us closer. Regardless of the times we are pushing against each other, when something does get done, we did it together, and it creates a strong sense of teamwork in our marriage that can only be accomplished by achieving shared goals.

Will this arrangement last forever? Will we be working side by side in thirty years, old and gray and holding hands as we gaze upon our empire? Only time will tell. Because I have played a large role in building the business, I don’t ever want to completely bow out. But I do have dreams of my own that I’d like to get around to some day. Maybe we’ll start a family. Who knows? Because we began working together early in our relationship, I worry that if we stopped it, would affect our relationship negatively. We don’t know each other in a different context, and a large part of what defines our marriage partnership is our business partnership. So as long as it is is working I’d just as soon leave well enough alone.

I just know that, for now, it works. And we love it!

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Jennifer Witt

A native Texan raised in Tenneseee, I'm a Southerner through and through. I believe anything tastes better fried and iced tea should only come sweet. I went to school with intentions of becoming a lobbyist. Then I moved to DC and actually tried it. Now I'm back home in Nashville where I own and operate a hot rod shop with my husband of two and a half years. We live in a very vanilla suburb with our two dog-children. There are few things in the world I love more than a good cup of coffee and my Tempurpedic matress. When I'm not blogging here I enjoy going to hockey games, watching hockey on TV, blogging about hockey...okay, so maybe I'm not 100% Southern after all! I also like to glue glitter to things, read non-fiction, cook and eat, take roadtrips, shoe shop, and sleep (preferably with a dogs snuggled in close). I do a little pin-up style modeling on the side, too.

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26 comments

  • Mad props to you for making this work. I’m sure it has to take a lot of humility on both of your parts. 🙂

    • Thanks! As the business grows it gets easier. Some things become beyond anyone’s control at that point, and that helps! More employees help spread the workload and cash flow becomes less of an issue which reduces the number of money conflicts. I hope it keeps getting easier, instead of the other way around!

  • Hey Jennifer, congrats for your success so far and I wish you even more success, both in your business and in your relation!
    I have a curiosity and I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m being too nosy: how does working together affect the romance in your lives? I ask because if you guys see each other all day long, maybe it diminishes your “appetite” for dating (each other, that is ;))? Or are you working so much that you don’t have the time and/or energy left for dating? Not to mention that is kinda hard to leave the work at the office, and the various issues you confront during working hours might spill over your free time. How do you deal with that?

    • You aren’t being too nosy at all! First, I’d say that neither one of us is all that “romantic” to begin with, so that is beneficial! But yes, we do work pretty much all the time and don’t have much time or energy for “dating.” Our idea of an excellent date is ordering pizza and watching a movie or game from the comfort of our couch. 🙂

      We do go out–to games, concerts, or what have you–at least once every couple of weeks so that we aren’t always at work or on the couch. We also travel alot for our business in the summer and fall, so we try to make the best of those road trips and turn them into mini-vacations” as best we can. There is an annual trade show in Vegas that we attend, as well, and I schedule in a couple’s massage and nice dinner so it’s not all work and no play.

      We also make a point of going somewhere, even if just for the weekend, on our anniversary each year.

      Seeing each other all day every day can get a little old, which is why we try to spend time apart when we can, even if it means I watch TV upstairs, and he watches downstairs, when we are both home. Just the opposite of what most people do–together all day at work, apart at home at night!

      Basically, we just do what we can with what we have to work with!

    • I’d also add that we aren’t together 100% of the time at work. It used to be that way, when it was just the two of us, but now he’s off doing his thing and I’m in the office doing mine. That is something that’s gotten better with time. Having employees now means we have other people to socialize with besides each other and aren’t all up in each others business all day! All-in we probably have 2 hours of actual face time in an average day.

  • Sweet answer! Well it seems you guys are lucky: not only are you compatible (and complementary, based on your article), but you realize that a relation requires working for it, AND you’re actually putting in that effort!
    I hope you’ll choose to share with us your future experiences, because this was a pretty informative article. 🙂

  • Nice article. Words of encouragement for you… my parents have run a business together for 30+ years. Its a similar setup – my dad is “the boss” but my mom “runs the office.” They started the business with sons (7, 5, 3) at home and ran it out of the house for 20+ years. Last summer my parents celebrated 40 years of marriage. It certainly can work if you’re both honest and willing to put in the effort.

    Good Luck!!!

    • That is great to hear! And congrats to your parents on a long, successful marriage! 🙂

      It is somewhat common in our line of work to encounter long-standing husband and wife teams, so that’s also encouraging! I try to look to what they do and how they make it work for inspiration.

  • This article made me feel alot better after having ‘one of those days’. I’ve been working for my husband for the past month and it’s been a struggle. It’s very difficult to accept he’s ‘the boss’ but I guess, I’ll have to swallow my pride. hope you continue sharing your experiences…. lots of luck

  • Hi there,
    Thanks so much to Jennifer for sharing her experience. I also work with/for my husband, and I completely see our relatioship in your words. Unfortunately I come from a totally different background to the nature of the business and I also have to cope with the rejection by employees and deal with the lack of support of a franchise group that see my role as an uncessary asset to the business…I end up working more hours than anybody, feeling guilty for not working more and more, exhausted, desiring to leave but not wanting to leave my husband down and affect the business…. Is it really worth it? How much of swallowing my pride I can take? 🙁

    • I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER

      How many more sacrifices are you will to make before you completely lose your own sense of self?

  • Hey Jennifer,
    I like your style and can relate to a lot of what you and your husband have going on. I’m 24 and my husband and I are working on being married four years, it’s crazy seems like more at times… I started “helping” him with his trucking business when we were dating. He had done well for a single man, but needed a hand and I was just ever so willing to help. We met in a typical way- he was a handsome truck driver and I was the sweet waitress at a diner…..Anyways, fast forward a couple years and I had worked by his side 48 states a couple times over. We have been trucking it across the country now for almost four years, and I am now considering getting my CDL I didn’t think that being a trucker would agree with me at first, but it does… on most the days. My husband and I are together basically 24/7 and sometimes just for honesty sake, I wish we could take little breaks or that I could just take a long walk to you know- get some air. If we didn’t get along and so work well with each other, there is no way that this would work. I had other plans that one day I’d like to get around to, but fear any change now because this is our relationship.We just moved from north Florida to central Tennessee to be able to have more of a home life. Living down there where there is no work, we were gone a month or two at a time and home only a week, it was pointless. Now, we are able to be home more, but I don’t know a soul! Funny how things work!! I am having an issue with figuring out myself I guess, I mean I was barely 21 when we married and I have been doing this since our wedding- seriously we got married in the truck- and it’s like do I get my CDL and take on more responsibility, keep being the paper pusher and loader, or go back to college(again) and try to live with my husband gone a week or two all the time. We would like to have kids one day, but I’m not ready to raise a baby with him gone like that all the time and me by myself. It’s a lot to think about and sometimes it makes me feel crazy… But, for now things work and I do love working with him and the travel. It does get hard on a girl sometimes and I have suffered and still suffering from herniated disc and other problems with my body….I had intentions of contributing to your blog, but wound up ranting and some complaining- I’m sorry.I do have a lot of respect for any couple that can work together and be successful at it. I guess personally, I am coming into an area I need to make decisions that my husband can’t and I have depended on him to much. Oh lord, help me!!!:) I might just need a break- who knows….or a hobby:) Thanks for listening, I do feel a little better! Women, what can I say! Have a good one!

    • I’m working with my husband for 4 months now..oh boy it’s not a walk in the park. I understand your feelings something inside you wanna scream but can’t…

  • I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER

    My husband is self-employed and I’ve been his Business Administrator / Full Charge Bookkeeper for over 20 years. It’s never been easy, and is always emotionally challenging for me, an extrovert, to deal with an introverted husband who is an asshole of a boss. However, working PT for him and being free to set my own hours afforded me the luxury of being a stay-at-home-mom to my kids. Well, I’m empty nesting now, hitting my mid-fifties and sick of him telling me what to do. I like my “job” all right, but I can’t work with him another minute. He’s disorganized and spends a good part of his day distracted from money-producing tasks. He hires morons who can’t be depended on then comes home and rags to me about it. He won’t listen to reason from me or anyone else when it comes to making ANY changes. I desperately want out but don’t have the heart to quit on him. I’m certainly not indispensable in the job, but he is going in so many directions daily he does not “mind the store” and would so easily get ripped off by just anyone in charge of the money. Of course therein lies the problem – being his wife and secretary in charge of his money. He is also unwilling to rationally discuss any issues in the business – it’s successes, failings, employee problems, debt – you name it. He just flat out refuses to talk about any of it. He seems to hate his job and has been a real jerk off at work these past 5-8 years – yells at me if I have to even speak to him on the job and when I try to ask what he needs me to do he replies that I “just don’t understand.” No, I don’t understand, I’ve only been there 20 years trying to help you succeed. He is his own worst enemy.

    • I can so relate to your post – I am 44 and came to work with my husband 2 years ago to run his office after he had a bad employee & had to fire

      I run pretty much all aspects of the business – the one and only in the office. He will not discuss anything with me has never given me any direction. He lies and says hes asked for things when he hasn’t. I have to deal with all his flighty loser employees and he expects me to figure everything out on my own yet hes the “ASSH*L” opps I mean “BOSS”

      Since coming on board business has increased 10 x and continues to grow but I am starting to hate him and I hate myself for saying I hate him – I love him but cant stand to work for him …or us as he puts it – I have no help at home I launder, clean, shuttle to hockey and school and still need to have dinner on the table when he comes in the door & god only know when.
      He loves his job and appreciates what I do – after hes b*tched and screamed all day at me – he is definitely his worst enemy and starting to be mine 🙂 Did you leave ? what did you do ?????

    • I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER

      Thanks for asking. Thanks for caring. Here it is going on year 23 and I’m still working for my husband. Nothing has changed and nothing will ever change unless he does or unless I up and leave, and neither scenario is likely. Guess I’m in it for the long haul. He just turned 57 so no retirement any time soon. I did take an accounting job with a temp agency and got on a good assignment with people who appreciate me and my efforts. I have come to realize I know my husband loves me but he’s not an emotional or communicating type, and so my self worth and happiness lie within me. This is my 2nd marriage – I knew this going in. Arguing with my husband is not worth the effort cause it’s the same old tedious rant. I have two choices: stay, or go. Complaining changes nothing. If I want to stay happy, I can’t let him get to me. If you work for your husband, try to keep emotion out of it! I’ll be turning 55 this year and am actually kinda psyched about that. Might be becoming a first-time grandma soon and so life has so much to look forward to. Both my daughters are healthy & happily living the lives and careers they chose. I’m basically a happy person and not going to let my husband’s negativity and self-centered ways kill my buzzzzzzzzzzzz.

  • Thank you for this blog!!!! My husband and I started our body shop in October last year and I have been working full time at a Insurance Agency. I have been tossing around the idea of leaving my full time job to join him at our shop since I have also been doing all the office work from home after hours and on weekends. This is a scary step and one that I’m not sure I’m ready to make but it just FEELS like the right decision. Also being from the south (Alabama) small business start ups are hard. Especially in a small town. You blog was very encouraging and may just give me the small push I need to make this decision.

    • I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER

      Don’t leave your own job. Work for him part time. Make your own money, and hang on to your own means of self support.

  • I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER

    If you stay at home with your kids and work for your husband, you will be viewing as “non working.”

  • Hey y’all! Thanks for the recent comments, and sorry I’m late jumping in! I’d changed email addresses and didn’t catch every notification I should have transferred to the new account. Thanks to Dennis for alerting me to the activity! 🙂

    I feel like this needs some follow-up because much has changed in the over three years since I wrote it! First and most importantly, my husband and I split up in August of 2012. Did working together contribute to that? Honestly, it’s hard to say. Both he and I both made mistakes, of course I feel some bigger than others 😉 but in the end our problems did not originate at work and stopping working together wouldn’t have saved our marriage. The investment (emotional and financial) in the business probably kept me in the marriage longer than had it not been there. I ended up taking a huge financial hit and walking away from 100% of the business just to be done with all of it and on to the next part of my life.

    I miss the business WAY more than I miss him. I hope to have a business again someday. Looking back on it, I know that our marriage was just terrible and a huge mistake, and that with the right person the experience could be pleasant. Most of my happiest memories from my marriage are from the business, things we did, places we went, things we achieved together. On the other hand, we didn’t really have a life or marriage outside the business, so it makes sense those would be my best memories–the business is ALL of my memories of him, both good and bad.

    I have only dated casually since he and I split, but having had such a contentious marriage has really shaped my perception going into any dating situation (my tolerance for conflict is almost nonexistent, where before I was always looking for a battle). Right now I love having a job that ends at 5:00, and that plays very little role in any other area of my life.

    • I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER

      Thanks for the update. Sorry things did not work out. Men are difficult beings to live with, let alone work with on a daily basis. I see my husband giving 100% to his customers, his friends and his hobbies, and less than 5% to me. If you’re going to just “settle” be prepared to take a back seat and get used to being #3. (He’s #1, his friends and interests are #2 and YOU might be lucky enough to make #3 on the very short list of a man’s priorities). Good luck to you. 🙂

  • That pretty much sums it up! I was tired of being #3, or worse…#4, #5, and so on…

    It was easy to blame things on the business and working together, when in the end we just weren’t ever a good match.

  • I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER

    After 20 years I want to leave but honestly don’t know how to make the break. I’m going to sit down with my accountant and discuss the options and how to segue someone else into my position with the company. The reason I’m so stuck is because even though I have 20+ years of secretarial experience (I worked many jobs before I started working for husband) I have no means of self support. And at 53 years old, I won’t be able to find a job with a deserving starting salary based on my skills & experience. I net only $240/week with my husband. Basically I have worked for him for 20 years as cheap labor and more as a favor to HIM than as something to promote my own self worth in a satisfying career. I gave up a lot and now that I so desperately need change, I’m stuck. I’m empty nesting now and dammit it’s ME time.

    • And that’s why I left when I did. I didn’t want to get to 53 and be in that position. He’d taken away many of the things he’d initially promised, including allowing me to transition someone else into my position so I could do something else. I’d just turned 30, so I got stuck thinking how I’d feel at 40 if I woke up and nothing had changed. No matter how stuck you feel, how much you’ve already sunk into it, how are you going to feel at 63 if you wake up and are in the same place?

    • I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER

      I’m going to feel like whatever good years I had left to make a change are long gone.

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