Page is my S.O.—my significant other. She's a bomb editor and content machine who works mostly from home. As a writer, she sometimes draws from life—which means that I show up in her pieces, usually as the butt-end of her jokes. You’re welcome for the laughs. As for me, I run my family’s seasonal shaved ice business in Austin, Texas. I spend seven to eight months working from home or from our shop or food truck, and four to five months semi-retired, trying to be the best significant other, colleague, and entrepreneur I can be.
When Page and I moved in together three years ago, it never crossed our minds that both of us being “self-employed-mostly-from-home-workers” would be anything other than a positive experience. It meant we’d have extra time together, that meal planning and spontaneous cuddle sessions would be a breeze, and the dishes would always be done. Plus, honestly, there’d be more hanky-panky time.
Ha! That ship didn’t float long. What typical young honeymooners we were.
It turns out that working from home is hard—and it adds to the list of things that cohabitation makes more difficult. We have to balance billing hours or lead generation with omnipresent chores like laundry, dishes, dusting, and petting our adorable foster cats and kittens. And a bonus challenge that we face: the dining table is also the work desk and in clear view of the kitchen counters. Any dishes we were too tired to wash the night prior call our name, tempting us to waste our most productive morning hours.
It’s legitimately hard to cleave work and domesticity when they occupy the same space. And sometimes, it’s a strain on our relationship. We’re lovers and colleagues; we each have to tend to each other’s respective needs in those roles to make both our relationship and professional ventures successful.
We're lovers and colleagues; we each have to tend to each other's respective needs in those roles to make both our relationship and professional ventures successful.
Here’s a few ways I’ve found to minimize the angst and help maximize the fun times.
Make shared goals
In our first year of living together, Page bartered her writing skills with a career coach. Page took a personality test and had a sit down with her client to review the results. Then, after nagging me for six-plus months to do the same, I finally took the test and we met as a couple with the coach. It turned out that we’re driven by pretty much the same things: wealth and economic security, community, and charity. We didn’t need a test to tell us that, but seeing the numbers and hearing it from a third party made it clearer to us both. We have similar if not identical goals, which makes coworking from home a little easier. We’re aligned when it comes to knowing each other’s goals for today, tomorrow, the month, and the year. This helps us to define routines that not only care for and benefit us individually, but also our household and entrepreneurial endeavors.
Our vacations the past two years are great examples. Two years ago, we spent over three months backpacking in Southeast Asia. Last year we spent two-and-a-half months backpacking in Europe, a month of which we spent living in Berlin. Page worked some during each trip, but no more than a quarter of the time. I was completely off except for the occasional email and optional business-related research I chose to do.
To do this, we set goals in January of each year to travel for multiple months later in the year. We made commitments to save: a limit of $50 per week on individual spending, no more than three meals out per month, one movie date per month, and less than $100 per week in groceries. We used apps and regular check-ins to stay accountable to one another. Our friends thought we were crazy, but when we found cheap airline tickets, we had the cash to buy them. When it came time to leave, we had a nest egg for the adventure and remained debt-free.
We made commitments to save: a limit of $50 per week on individual spending, no more than three meals out per month, one movie date per month, and less than $100 per week in groceries.
We had plenty of disagreements about going out and had to find new ways to be romantic, but we always circled back to our goal: being frugal. We had a shared light at the end of the tunnel, and that common goal motivated us to stay true to our dreams.
Bidding: not only at the auction house.
“Bidding” is the sliced bread of our daily interactions. When we want the attention of the other, we say, “May I bid?” Page found the term in the bowels of a blog somewhere early in our relationship and it’s stuck.
Sometimes I bid and am met with a glare of annoyance. (Writers and editors are the mega-buff gym rats of the intellectual world, or, at least I treat them as such as a survival mechanism.) Other times I happen to bid when the task at hand is easily interrupted. Sometimes there’s a curt nod, a brief “gimme five minutes,” or a raised finger to wait.
There is also headphone time. If my headphones are in, it means I don’t want to be disturbed. (Unless it’s about food, then I’m more accepting of the interruption.) If Page’s headphones are in, she’s buckled down to get her work done. I keep my questions to myself unless I’m leaving to go to work or to run an errand.
Headphones are a small sign. We’ve agreed that when they’re in we’re requesting privacy until we take them out. We usually preface headphone time with a notice, “Hey, I’m putting in my headphones. Need anything before I do?”
Together we’ve cultivated a shared lexicon of gestures and tones that denote when we can be interrupted. It’s crucial to the functioning of our shared home/work space. It takes really great communication and time to make a shared language in any couple.
Together we’ve cultivated a shared lexicon of gestures and tones that denote when we can be interrupted. It’s crucial to the functioning of our shared home/work space.
Swap out your hat.
My dad once gave me the metaphor of wearing hats: each hat a person wears is a mode or pattern of thought that affects how you view the world. For example, when I’m at our shaved ice stand, I have on my manager hat. Sometimes I come home from work and forget to switch out my manager hat for my partner hat. But newsflash: S.O.’s aren’t employees you manage. At the same time, Page sometimes forgets to take off her editor hat and treats me like the drivel she’s recently made eloquent. We’re pretty good about changing hats, but we all make mistakes. By having a metaphor for this, Page can easily and inoffensively call me out on my transgression and vice versa.
What time is it? Break time.
Writing is hard. I don’t do it on the reg, and honestly you could probably pour my brain out an ear right now. Creation takes a toll on the mind, yet Page makes it look so easy. She also takes a lot of breaks, like scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, reading a short article, or spending the whole day reading on her Kindle. At first I thought this was her being a lazy writer because, in my business, breaks mean lost sales. But in her business, breaks are essential to keeping her mind churning out tens of thousands of words per week. (Also, in case your S.O. is a creative, never call them lazy. I only used the phrase in the past tense, and still thought I might lose some skin over it. Writers can be scary.)
We both had to work to understand one another’s work, which in our case, took the better part of two years. After coming to understand what we each do on a daily basis, we were better able to function as a couple and as stay-at-home entrepreneurs.
When I first began making this list, I thought, “It’s not hard to couplepreneur. We just do it.” And that’s the final point. Whether you use our tools or build your own, it takes time and practice to incorporate them into your routine. But once you’re jiving with your coworker/colleague/lover, living and working as a couplepreneur only intensifies your relationship, productivity, and collective profit.
Mars Chapman graduated college and immediately went into semi-retirement. During the summer he operates Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs, his family’s shaved ice business. As soon as the cool weather descends upon Austin, Mars enters into the off-season. He travels the world, cooks and does the dishes for his partner Page Grossman, fosters kittens, and reads everything he can get his hands on about business management, personal finance, and entrepreneurship. On his quest to be a Renaissance person, he’s started sharing his knowledge through writing. He struggles with going to the gym and getting through his bottomless pile of reading.