Tell Me About It

I work with my husband and all we do is bicker

There have been times I’ve been crying into my dinner and he just hides behind the newspaper

PROBLEM: The problem is that we work together. I know that it’s more than that but I think that living and working and parenting together is going to be the end of us.

We got married 12 years ago in a haze of optimism, and it seemed as if we were perfectly matched. We were both passionate about food and decided to open our own business combining food and our other interest, wine. Then the recession hit and things got very stressful, but I think we would have hit serious problems anyway.

The business took over our lives. If we were not talking about the children and their arrangements, we only spoke about the business. If we went out it was to research more for the business rather than any romantic connection, and now it feels like all we do is bicker about everything.

It drives me mad that my partner cannot follow through on emails. It drives him mad that I am a stickler for getting everything done before we finish the day. There have been times when I’ve been crying into my dinner with frustration, and he just hides behind the newspaper.

The agreement was that we would share the work and childcare equally, but in reality he would forget to pick up the kids if I didn’t remind him. Part of me knows that we have a good relationship, but I am spending more and more of my time resentful and angry and this means that there is no sense of love between us. He hates fighting so we don’t even get to talk about what’s happening.

ADVICE: Working and living together gives rise to intense and often unreasonable emotions. In normal working relationships, the rules of engagement are written by the company, and, if there is a dispute, there are guidelines to follow. No such structure is in place for you. We are often most angry with those closest to us, so it no surprise that things can get out of hand.

However, for most of history families have been working and living together, and, with the rise in small businesses, this is set to become far more the norm. The knowledge and experience of others can help.

Conflict and boundaries are two issues that crop up with often disastrous consequences, but the way we manage these are not beyond redemption. Boundaries are now so blurred because of technology – think of a couple in bed at night checking their work emails – and we all need to address this issue. The trick is to take your cue from the person in front of you; if your child is standing asking a question, then you must be a parent. If your business partner is in front of you in the office, then you must be a fellow worker.

For you these boundaries are complicated by bringing work into the kitchen or bedroom. Some rules should be set, such as no work discussions in the bedroom, and the kitchen is for family. Some workplaces make a rule that no work is discussed at breaks. In your situation, your kitchen should be a family place and the bedroom a couple place.

Conflict arises because you both care enormously about the business and the relationship. It is possible to view this as an opportunity to engage about important issues instead of avoiding them. You could both view the ensuing chemistry as a possibility for change.

Can you listen fully to what your partner is saying and make sure he hears what your opinion is, and only then talk about solutions? If no resolution is forthcoming, it would be a good idea to instigating a ritual of going for a walk to discuss difficult issues; it will get you both out of the house and calm you down as you pound the pavement.

For couples working together, it is very important to have a lot of outside friendships and interests; we need mystery in our relationships; if a couple spend no time apart they will have no undiscovered parts and could lose their spark. As the business takes up every spare minute, you both need to support and push each other out the door in the greater interest of both business and the relationship.

You have the makings of a great life together – shared interests, dreams and ambitions – but you clearly need to create space so that you can see how great the other person is. Do not avoid conflict but use it creatively, honour boundaries, be strict about having an outside life and prioritise romance.