When my boyfriend expressed his concern that he had too many projects to handle on his own, I half-jokingly replied, “Just hire me!” I had recently been laid off and was reaching a point where I was going to lose my mind if I didn’t find a job. He decided to take me up on the offer. When I told people I’d be working for him, I got a couple of “good luck” messages with underlying tones of “Yikes, are you sure you want to do this?” But if one of the greatest love stories of our time started at the office (in The Office), can working with your significant other really be so bad?
Like most things in life, the question of “is it good or bad to work with your significant other” doesn’t have a definitive answer. While online dating has taken over as the number one way couples meet, romance can still occur in the workplace, and in today’s climate, there are actual repercussions that could occur. Many companies forbid it, and sensitivity to sexual harassment and abuse makes it risky territory most would try and steer clear from. However, you can’t always control where cupid’s arrow strikes. According to Stanford University study How Couples Meet and Stay Together, 11 percent of couples still do meet in the workplace.
Initially, I was working for my boyfriend’s company on a particular project at home while he was at an office completing a different one. I was extremely motivated to impress our clients because my work reflected directly on him. At the moment, we’re working at our apartment, side-by-side, on multiple projects. I’ve enjoyed spending most of our days together, and if anything, it has given me total assurance in our relationship. However, I wasn’t sure if this situation was sustainable long-term, so I asked several people who have worked with their S.O. about their experiences to find out if it worked out.
Most often, if a romance starts in the workplace, it can be complicated yet rewarding. Laura, who met her now husband on the job says, “There’s something so nice about seeing your person every day and having so much in common.” On the flip side, she tells me, “We are lucky it worked out, but it’s probably not a good idea in general and [it was] nothing I [was ever] looking for.”
I also consulted Tammy Shaklee, LGBTQ relationship expert and founder of H4M Matchmaking, who thinks working with your partner is a good thing, but with many considerations and caveats. She breaks down seven ways to make it a positive situation for your relationship. And she would know—aside from working with clients who have been in this situation, she herself works with her husband, who is the CFO of her matchmaking company.
1Be transparent and learn your communication styles.
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating over and over again. Tammy advises discussing your preferred communication styles with your partner before the two of you work together. Do you prefer chatting over Slack or instant messenger? Or, do you like to have discussions face-to-face? Figure out what areas you and your partner thrive in, and divide and conquer.
Remember to regularly review and revise how you both feel about working together. If you’re not enjoying it, or if it’s impacting your romantic relationship negatively, then it’s important to make that known to your partner.
Also, see if you can separate work from personal matters. If you’re having an issue in either area, it needs to be addressed. If your partner forgot your birthday, will this impact your work? Or, can you leave personal matters outside the workplace and continue to do your job successfully? Sometimes it’s by trial and error and only time will tell.
Alex, who hired his girlfriend to work with him to develop a museum exhibit, shares that being together 24/7 was actually the demise of their relationship. “The problem is, if work is the thing you share, then it’s hard to share other things,” he says. For this reason…
2Remember that your partner cannot be all things.
At the end of the day, you want to have different experiences that you can share with your partner. “If you go your separate ways and come back together, you have twice as much information, new contacts, or ways to approach problem solving,” says Tammy. For example, if you attend a networking event, sit at different tables. Maintaining your own hobbies, interests, and friends will only serve to strengthen your relationship.
3Keep shoptalk to a minimum.
With my boyfriend and I working together, I have found myself waking up with a work-related question on my mind, or bringing it into the discussion after-hours. I personally don’t mind it, but I could see how this could impact our romantic relationship in the long-run.
Lindsay, who works at a small company with her husband, says this is certainly an issue. “The work day never ends,” she tells me. “We try not to talk about it, and [we try] to separate our work world, but it’s hard. We joke that we should expense every meal we have because we always end up talking about work.”
Tammy points out that when you work at an office, you’re able to literally shut off the lights, lock up, and go home. If you work at home, as many professionals do, ending the day doesn’t have such a definitive stop. But it can. Tammy and her husband actually have a code word (Banana? Abracadabra? Tammy wouldn’t say…), and when it’s spoken, it indicates the end of the workday. If nothing else, they have a hard-stop at 7 p.m. At that point, they make an effort to reconnect face-to-face with a neighborhood walk, a glass of wine, or a game of dominos or cards.
While my boyfriend and I have also used a glass of wine to indicate that the workday is done, we haven’t mastered Tammy’s “no devices” rule. Tammy and her husband leave their phones at home when they go for their evening walks or happy hour. The addiction to our devices is real, but leaving them at home for the sake of your relationship is a good enough reason to confront that problem head-on.
4Be aware of your personality types.
If you and your partner differ in that one of you is an introvert and the other is an extrovert, you likely have different needs in the workplace. An introvert may require a peaceful or quiet workplace and need to recharge in silence. An extrovert, on the other hand, may thrive and want constant socialization. Know your partner’s boundaries, and respect them. While you may work differently than your partner it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong or right way of doing things.
5Support and praise each other.
“It’s important to be there for each other when something at work goes awry, so listening is key. But it’s also equally as important to take time to praise, congratulate, and celebrate, when one of you has a win,” says Tammy. She notes that it’s even more significant when you work together, because your partner has a true understanding of what went into your efforts.
When my boyfriend was singing my praises to our friends after our first week working together, I wanted to happy-cry. It feels good to make someone you love proud. Other perks I’ve found from working with your partner from home are being able to have a no-bra attire, a midday kiss, and a newfound respect and understanding for the work they do. Mine treats me like an equal and respects my thoughts while also guiding me in areas of the business I don’t yet know.
6Be mindful of issues that may arise.
The bigger issues that many couples run into come when one partner is a direct superior to the other in the workplace. “I think it [working together] could work if you are equals, but our problem was that he was my superior and would have to excuse himself from voting for my raises and bonuses,” says Ali, who no longer works with her husband at the same law firm.
If your S.O. has other employees they manage, they may believe there’s an unfair bias. Let’s be honest: Who wouldn’t think the boss’s wife is privy to information that the rest of the employees don’t know?
Some of the women I spoke to say when they first started dating a coworker, they had to keep it a secret, and there was an element of excitement to that. Leslie shares how after spending the night together at her apartment, her now-husband, Luke, would get into the elevator with her and make a big show of asking how her weekend was. “It was kind of funny to try and avoid each other, but as a married couple, I prefer us having separate jobs,” she says.
7Be professional if things go array.
Lexi and Max dated for over a year and kept their relationship a secret from their coworkers. They have since broken up, which has made the workplace uncomfortable for both of them. It’s bad enough seeing your ex on social media, but working beside them on a day-to-day basis? Ouch.
While you may want to bash your ex, you’ve got to keep your big-girl pants on, and have a shared message between the two of you. Tammy advises each person to have one positive statement about the other that they keep in their pocket and never go beyond that. “It implies what kind of professional you are,” she says. “If [your ex] leaves the company, are you going to bad mouth them, or have a positive statement?”
At the end of the day, if your relationship is open and you communicate well with each other, you can decide as a couple if working together works for you. I’m still figuring it out, but it helps to have some strategies in place. Kristen and Dax make it work who recently started a new baby product line together, and they’re totally my (and everyone’s) #relationshipgoals.