Maintaining Balance When Working with Your Significant Other with Alissa Zimmerman
Working with your significant other isn’t easy. But it can be one of the most rewarding experiences you ever have if you figure out a way to make it work for both of you. I have worked side by side with Sal Cincotta for over seven years, but the relationship didn’t become romantic until October 2017, so we didn’t go into business together as a couple. Instead, we built a solid foundation by first learning how to complement one another at work.
I’m by no means in any kind of professional position to be dishing out relationship advice. But I’ve been looking at the life Sal and I have built in relation to our business together, and I’ve compiled some tips that have helped me find balance in my work/romantic relationship.
Tip #1: Establish Roles and Stay in Your Lane
This is the most important piece of your working relationship. Make it a top priority to ensure you stay on track—together.
Every relationship is about balance and equal parts, each person pulling their own weight. This applies to your business as well. When the ship is not balanced, you get unnecessary tension and resentment, which ultimately leads to explosions between you and your partner.
The beauty of running your own business is that you get to create the life you want. So what do you want your roles to be? Take a step back and look at your business in terms of departments. Don’t go into the minutia of tasks; just list every division of your business at a high-level view so you can start assigning roles. Our departments include finances, overall vision, photography/creative, sales, client experience and order management.
We operate off of 100% ownership when we assign roles and tasks. That means there is no piece of the business that is 75% my role and 25% Sal’s role. It’s all or nothing. I own the sales process for our studio 100% and Sal owns the photography and creative part of the business 100%. This is where staying in your lane comes in. There’s no scenario where I will be the one photographing a session or handling the images with Evolve, our outsourcing company. There’s no scenario where Sal will be the one running the sales session or ordering products. We have our roles and we function in parallel every day, marching to the same beat at all times. Staying in your lane also allows you to keep everything black and white (no gray areas allowed), and hold each other accountable if things get off track.
It’s vital to establish the most crucial role that dictates almost everything in your lives together: Who is the alpha? Who is your quarterback? Who is the one making sure you are both staying focused on mission-critical tasks each and every day? Some may think this is ridiculous or politically incorrect, but here’s the harsh reality: Every relationship needs an alpha. Every relationship needs a dominant force and a complementary supporting actor. This is the essence of balance in a relationship. Equality comes in the form of pulling your weight evenly, not in splitting the responsibility of vision and decision-making. Your business and your life together as a couple must be consistent.
Tip #2: Own Your Mistakes
Accountability to each other and to yourself is key to maintaining a sense of harmony in life. You can’t run from your mistakes, and you are going to make so many mistakes along your empire-building journey. You both will, and that’s okay as long as you own them.
Life is too short to waste your precious time fighting with your significant other, especially when it’s tied to something avoidable. Here’s how these stories usually pan out: Let’s say I make a mistake in the studio (I’m not talking about forgetting to put the toilet seat down, though this is a major pain point for a lot of couples). I’m talking about royally screwing something up, like scheduling a photo session and forgetting to add it to the calendar.
My pride would have me say to my partner: “Well, if you would have listened to me a month ago when I told you I needed a system that creates calendar appointments and sends out automated emails, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
What your partner hears: “This all happened because of you. This is your fault.”
If there is one thing to take away from this tip, it’s that projection and deflection will destroy your relationship.
Instead, try this: “If I would have made that studio management system more of a priority a month ago, this would have never happened. I am going to carve out a few days next week to map this out so we can start using it and don’t end up in this situation again.”
Your partner hears: “I understand this was my mistake and I will take corrective action to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
It’s simple: Problem, acknowledgement of problem, solution. Rinse and repeat. And get used to sucking up your pride, because this won’t be the last time you’ll have to follow this formula.
Tip #3: Speak Your Mind and Don’t Hold Grudges
This one is a doozy if you’re the type of person who hates conflict and avoids difficult conversations at all cost (I’m raising my hand high in the air as I write this).
Back to pride—it’s time to suck it up again. Maybe you’re seeing the trend here, maybe you’re not; but in relationships, time is the most valuable thing you have. Protect it. Stop wasting it on petty arguments that are nonsensical and tied to a simple miscommunication 99% of the time.
Two people are never completely in sync, especially if there’s a female in the mix (again, harsh reality that’s politically incorrect—sorry, not sorry). All logic goes out the window once a month for the majority of women, and we spend a lot of time twisting your words and actions in our heads into something blown completely out of proportion. This is when communication and understanding need to be at a critically high level for your relationship.
Frankly, communication (or lack thereof) is the reason most relationships fail. Whether it’s a marriage, friendship, family or another type of relationship, poor communication does not discriminate when it decides to wreak havoc on your life.
I don’t always practice what I preach here, but am thankful to have an Italian New Yorker as a partner who doesn’t understand how to live life any other way. Speak up. That’s all you have to do. When something is bothering you, say something to your partner. Most people can’t read minds, so if you choose to go an entire day, a week or longer without telling someone that what they did to you (or how you perceived something they did) was hurtful or impacted you in a negative way, that’s on you. By speaking up, you’re giving the other person a chance to acknowledge their action and how it made you feel. It also allows the other person to address your perception and set it straight by clearing up any miscommunication.
Once you lay it all out on the table and clear the air, move on. It’s a waste of time to dwell on issues in the past and hold grudges. Just don’t.
Tip #4: Listen to Understand, Not to Respond
We live in a fast-paced world with an incessant need for instant gratification. You have to slow down with your significant other and take the time to understand each other.
Not everyone is a good communicator. Some of us don’t know how to articulate our feelings. Instead of rushing through conversations with your partner, trying to finish each other’s sentences, be a good listener.
If your partner is coming to you for advice, instead of jumping the gun as if you have all the answers to all of life’s problems, listen to your partner’s issues or concerns. Figure out where they are coming from. Don’t wait impatiently for your turn to speak. That’s not listening.
Tip #5: Celebrate Your Wins and Never Lose Perspective
Success feels so good, especially when you get to share it with the person you love the most. When you are both laser-focused on the mission of building an empire together, the pace of everything tends to take control. Resist it.
When you have a win, celebrate it. Your version of celebrating could be as small as a high-five or as extravagant as a weekend escape to another city. Whatever celebrating means to you, don’t forget to do it. Celebrate your wins so you know what they feel like in the darkness of all the failures (which, sadly, occur way more often than wins when you are building a company).
Always remember where you came from. Perspective can slip away when you’re overwhelmed with business and everyday life. That’s when you need to lean on each other and make sure you’re both mentally on track. Understand that it’s just short-term pain on your way to your goal. Never lose sight of that goal along your journey together.
Tip #6: Steal as Many Moments as You Can
Sal and I spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week together. That is not an exaggeration. There are countless blog posts and articles on the web advising us on how much time we should spend with our partner. It’s all nonsense. There is no right answer when it comes to you and your time.
Time is the most precious asset you own, especially your time together as a couple. Value it. Fight to protect it. Never take it for granted. Steal a 30-second window for a long hug in the hallway.
It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind of running a business together, but you have to remember to make time for each other. My desk is right next to Sal’s at our studio, but most nights when we finally get home from work, it feels like we’ve spent all day in different countries.
The work will always be there. Your inbox and to-do list won’t nag you any more or less because you shut your laptop for a few hours to sneak away to the movies at midday.
Take advantage of moments like these. Cherish them. They give you the fuel you need to stay connected when it’s nothing but chaos all around you.
Tip #7: Above All Else, Be Each Other’s Biggest Fan
Always remember that you are in this together. Your business and relationship are only as strong as the weakest one of you. The support and encouragement you give each other makes it all worth it. Be each other’s cheerleader every step of the way.
No two people will ever get along perfectly 100% of the time. The sooner you accept that and stop fantasizing about the perfect—and unrealistic—partnership, the better your lives together will be. Through all of the bad days, disconnected days, petty fights, wanting to give up and uncertainties about where this journey may be taking you, just remember that you need each other more than you need anyone else.
Life is all about the yin and the yang, chaos and order. The ebb and flow of life as both business and romantic partners is all part of the path that will get you to where you want to be. You control your own destiny, and having someone you love by your side to enjoy it with you is priceless.