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When your relationship really works

Stephanie Bell finds out how three couples manage to combine their working and domestic lives

Richard and Judy are perhaps most famous for it in the UK and our own Eammon Holmes and fiancee Ruth Langsford thrive on it.

It may not be everyone’s idea of wedded bliss but more and more couples are opting not only to live together but work together too.

Cynics may still see this 24/7 approach to coupledom as a direct path to relationship disaster.

But an ever-growing number of people are finding that working alongside someone they trust, respect and love really offers the best of both worlds.

In fact so popular has it become to make your life partner your business partner too, that it is now being seen as a discernable trend.

Dozens of websites spell out the pitfalls and benefits and there is even a job vacancy site devoted to it — www.workingcouples.com

We caught up with three local couples who share their first hand experience of running successful businesses together.

‘We keep business and personal life separate’

Denise Scott, (52) and partner Les Allen (56) run the Dietcare weight loss programme, which they launched in Northern Ireland last year. Denise says:

Les and I have been together for three-and-a-half years. Les runs a couple of businesses and I was self-employed as a weight loss consultant.

Early last year Les came across Dietcare, which is based in England, and suggested that we bring the franchise over to Northern Ireland.

It was a different and more personal approach to weight loss and there was nothing like it in Northern Ireland.

I liked the fact that it offered a one-to-one counselling programme, to suit the individual.

Initially we bought the franchise for Belfast city centre down to Carrickfergus and it went so well, we decided to buy a second one covering the rest of Belfast and out to Bangor.

Because Les has been in business on his own for sometime, he immediately saw the potential in Dietcare and saw it as an investment in our future.

Even though I knew it would put our relationship on a whole new footing, I really had no hesitation going into business with Les.

We work great as a team. I do the day-to-day running of the business, meeting the clients and organising appointments, while Les takes care of the admin and accounts.

We don’t spend a lot of time together during our working day, but it does mean that we are discussing work in the evenings as this is our time to catch up.

I think as long as you know where to draw the line and don’t let it completely take up all your free time, then it can work very well.

I have the security of knowing Les is behind me and I enjoy being able to share my working day with him, knowing he has a real interest in it.

We can bounce ideas off each other and build the business together. If anything, working together has really strengthened our relationship.”

Les says: “I suppose it had been in my mind that we could work well as a team and I was looking for the right business for us.

Denise had a lot of satisfaction and success from her work at that time and had achieved a great deal through her commitment and expertise.

I thought it would be great if we could combine our business experience and her hard work to continue in the same field and at the same time build a business and reap the benefits in the future.

When I came across Dietcare I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for us.

Neither of us were in 9-5 jobs, so it was not going to be a massive change to our routine.

We realised from the start that we would have to make a conscious effort to keep the business and our personal life as separate as possible.

If there are issues that need sorted, we simply plan to set time aside to deal with them, whether it is in the morning over breakfast for an hour or in the evening.

I think it has brought us closer as a couple and as long as you do make the effort to switch off from work I don’t see any reason why it should be an issue.”

‘It has made our relationship far, far stronger’

Robert Herdman (43) runs Belfast Hypnosis Centre on the Lisburn Road with his wife Jo (25), who takes care of admin and marketing. Robert says:

We have a great rapport together, both in and outside of work. Jo knows what I have to do and I get on with it. We are in different rooms working, so even though we are in the same building we don’t see that much of each other during the day. I think it is important to switch off from work when you get home. I’ve been teaching Jo self-hypnosis so we both can completely relax when outside of work.

“I think in our case it has made our relationship far, far better. In my job you do see tangible results.

“Most people do come to see me as a last resort and when they leave feeling better and smiling, it makes the job very rewarding.

“Jo gets to share in this as well. She will have built up a rapport with clients prior to their appointment and then they usually have a cup of tea with her after their session.

“We are not people for going home and sitting down to discuss business 24/7.

“We know how important it is to have quality time together and we make time to go to the cinema or the theatre and leave work behind.”

Jo says: “I worked as a retail manager before I joined Robert in the business and I would have had many stressful days when I came home and didn’t want to talk about work.

“Working together has meant we understand the pressures that are involved in the business and so it is much easier to talk about it and share our feelings. We each have different strengths which we bring to the business.

“Robert is so passionate about it and after a successful weekend of seminars when he should be exhausted, he would be buzzing and I find myself feeding off his positivity too. I work part-time so I have lots of time off to myself and we both will talk about work but we know how to put it to the side and chill out and forget about it.

“Working together has certainly brought us closer. We were always close as a couple but now we understand each other better.”

‘The work life balance is important to both of us’

Jenny Grainger (41), from Belfast is a life coach who runs the Irish School of Life with partner, Eoin Scolard (52), a personal development teacher from Dublin. Jenny says:

I was running my own company in Belfast called Freshstart Coaching when I met Eoin during a holiday in Italy last June. He was in a similar line of business to me and we hit it off immediately. Eoin was in the process of setting up the Irish School of Life and it seemed natural that I would join the company. I became the director of coaching, although I still run my Belfast business and divide my time between the two.

We both work from our beautiful home in Dublin. We have different offices, mine is in the basement and Eoin’s is upstairs. It gives us a bit of breathing space. Work life balance is important to both of us and I think especially so when you work together.

We take at least an hour out of every day to go for long walks during which talk about work is banned. We do have rules about working together. We don’t talk about work at the weekends and we don’t talk about work over dinner.

Work can be all consuming, especially if you are very passionate about what you do and so it is important to have strict boundaries. We are very lucky in that we have similar values and outlooks on life and it is lovely to be with someone who understands what you do and supports you. Working with your partner is not for everyone, but it works well for us.”

Eoin says: “Having been used to doing things on my own it is great to have the support which comes with working with Jenny. We compliment each other and play to our strengths. Having separate offices I think it is very important as you need to have your own space. I retreat into my den and Jenny does the same and it is a nice mixture, it works very well.

We try to limit the time we talk about work and keep the whole relationship healthy. We make time everyday to get out of the house and away from it. We might take 10 minutes before our walk to bounce ideas off each other and get it out of our system but once we are out there, work is left behind.

We have space in our working relationship as well as in our personal relationship.

There are certain aspects of our work which separates us and I think that too is healthy as for two people to be constantly together, 24/7, it could be a drain.

We are very fortunate in that we can share both aspects of our lives.”

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