Sunday 25 February 2018

The perils of working with your partner

What's it like sharing your office and your home with someone?

Healthy tension: Nelly Furtado and her husband Demacio Castellon. Photo: Getty Images
Healthy tension: Nelly Furtado and her husband Demacio Castellon. Photo: Getty Images
Sonia and Padraic Deasy. Photo by Ronan Lang
Bubbling over: Husband and wife team Martie Deegan and Sinead O’Connell, the couple behind Carrig Brewing Company. Photo by James Connolly

Geraldine Lynagh

Singer Nelly Furtado didn't sugarcoat her reply when she was asked what it's like working professionally with her husband, sound engineer Demacio Castellon.

"It's a healthy tension working together," she told People magazine. "It doesn't always go smoothly, of course, and it can be really challenging when there are differences of opinion, which of course happens. But good things always tend to come out of it, and that's the whole point."

Good things for Furtado equate to selling 12 million albums and winning a Latin Grammy. Good things for the rest of us might mean being able to pay the bills and put food on the table. But there's evidence that however lofty the goal, working with a spouse can throw up similar issues and feelings for everyone.

Bernadette Ryan, a psychotherapist and counsellor with Relationships Ireland, says she sees many couples who find it difficult to work together. The problem has worsened since the recession.

"I've certainly had couples coming to me as a direct result of their business struggling financially," she says. "That can cause a huge strain on any relationship. If there were cracks there beforehand, they've really widened now."

But even when a company is ticking along nicely, Bernadette says working side-by-side can be hard for some couples. "They're together all the time, at home and in the office", she says. "They might drive to work and back together. After a while couples can suffer burnout if all they do is talk shop.

"Wise couples define the boundaries in the early stages. It should almost be part of a business plan. How are we going to be professionals and how are we going to be intimate partners?"

Bernadette believes it's very important to keep work and home life separate. "If there's been a row at home, that could impact the next day in the office or on the factory floor," she says.

"It's important to clearly define each other's role in the business and see what needs to change. Couples also need to factor romance in and make sure that outside the workplace they're paying attention to that too.

"Many couples work together very successfully, but it's not for everyone and there are some who need to reassess things for the sake of their relationship. But when it works, it can be very rewarding," Bernadette adds.

Sonia Deasy agrees with this theory. She and her husband Padraic run their own portrait photography studio in Newbridge, Co Kildare.

"I know couples who just shouldn't work together. I see it all the time," she says. "I see it especially in our line of business, as photographers generally work with their partners. Some just shouldn't.

"A lot of photographers are artistic people, and have big egos. It's all about them and their work. Padraic is a photographer, but luckily he doesn't have a big ego, so we get on very well," she laughs.

The Deasys have been married for 10 years and have five children together ranging in age from three to nine. Sonia joined Padraic in the business in 2006.

"When we got married, we knew we wanted a nice lifestyle and a large family. We thought by running a portrait studio, we could achieve both," Sonia remembers. "We also knew we wanted to work together and that we'd get on.

"We share an office and we're always together. But we don't work on the same things. He's the photographer and I do all the selling and run the day to day business."

Having clearly defined roles is important. "We know what our strengths are and we complement each other. If a customer comes in to collect a portrait, Padraic might not even ask them for money. He'd want to talk about the image and the style, whereas I'd be thinking, okay, let's settle up."

Sonia says they couldn't separate home life from work if they tried. "Our work is what we're passionate about and we love what we do," she says.

"We would talk about work at home lot and so what? With five kids, it's a very busy household, so we wouldn't have time to chat about anything until they go to bed anyway," she laughs.

"Both of us would have strong opinions, but we're not fighters by nature. If he really feels that his opinion is right, then so be it. Let him. Life's too short.

'If we're going to fight about something, we'll have the fight, and maybe the decision won't be made straight away. We'll put it on hold to think about it and make the decision later."

Sonia and Padraic also give keynote presentations at photography conferences. She says it's especially easy to spot couples who clash in this environment.

"When a couple is on stage speaking, you can see when there's conflict. Maybe he won't let her speak as he doesn't want her sharing the limelight with him. It can be very obvious.

"Working together has made us closer," adds Sonia. "We know every aspect of each other's life.

"A lot of my friends would ask 'how do you work together? I'd kill him', but I couldn't imagine not working with Padraic. If I felt I could kill him all the time, I just wouldn't work with him any more!"

Irish Independent

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