Yeah, not that kind of safe word.
Daniel and I have been working together for seven years now, and in a romantic relationship for four and a half. As you might imagine, we’ve developed certain patterns of working together. Let’s just say: it’s easy to allow work-conversations to become unprofessional if your business partner is also your spouse.
But, in fact, we count ourselves very lucky: because we have work to argue about, we have had almost zero arguments about personal issues. It’s like the opportunity to express strong feelings regarding work has saved us from having to argue about things that we might take more personally.
Of course, we have our “stories” that we repeat to each other when we argue about work: You’re not practical enough/ you’re not thinking big enough is the basic plot line.
I think it’s healthy for couples to argue a little: negative emotions happen, build up, and need a release. At times it has felt like hmm, an argument is happening, and it’s just on an emotional track that needs to run its course. Like, ride it out for 40 minutes and then it will be done. Since we can always disagree about work (and that feels acceptable, because how often do you agree 100% with all your co-workers?) these work-arguments put little strain on our personal relationship.
Despite all that, we would prefer not have work arguments, because it’s a waste of time and a little beneath us. We’ve gotten better at identifying those storylines that we tell, and thus not having the same argument over and over.
In the beginning, there was one horrendous, multi-day discussion about the shade of blue leather that we were using as button-hole trim on six jackets. That argument has become our touchstone of ludicrous, and in truth, we’ve never sunk anywhere near that low again. The storyline behind it was a discussion about perfectionism. The plot tends to play out like this: he’s too perfectionist, she’ll settle too easily, he’s a big thinker, she’s too focused on today, he’s not practical, she’s not seeing the forest….and so on.
Over the last year we’ve developed a structure to try to prevent stupid-shade-of-blue discussions from wasting our time. It goes like this:
- Need to work on the exact same project (say, website design updates)?- do it outside of the house. Sit in a professional, public environment where you must keep your emotions under control. Stay well-fed and well-caffeinated.
- Divide responsibilities clearly so as NOT to work on the same thing. I manage design and production. He manages sales and marketing.
- Choose safe words to stop an argument. We’re being really effective executives right now works well for me, because neither of us have read the famous book and so it makes me laugh.
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