Between family and work commitments and maintaining physical and mental health, work-life balance gets plenty of consideration among small-business owners—especially in an era of remote work. Less considered, though, is work-love balance. Your romantic life, at any stage, needs as much nurturing as your business. Without prioritizing it, a pillar of your life could collapse, impacting all your personal and professional commitments.
I spoke with two busy SBOs and an expert in dual-career couples about making room for all of it.
Compatibility and Compromise
“He gets up at 5 a.m., and I get home at 5 a.m.,” says Rashida Jackson, co-owner of Sayra’s Wine Bar & Bier Garden in New York City’s Rockaway Beach, where bars can stay open until nearly sunrise. Meanwhile, her husband, Christopher Voorhies, gets up early to teach kids with disabilities.
Years ago, he was a regular at the bar, always sitting in the same spot. Over time, he sent flowers, and one day he worked up the courage to ask her out. Now they’ve been married three years. Jackson describes him as “super supportive and patient … a great communicator with a strong work ethic.” It helps, she says, that this is his second marriage—he learned to prioritize compromising.
The dilemma dual-career couples face today is that we want to thrive in both love and work, yet one of those endeavors—work—is overvalued by the external world, and the other—love—is immensely powerful, yet often undervalued by that world.
—Jennifer Petriglieri, author, Couples That Work: How Dual-Career Couples Can Thrive in Love and Work
This summer, Jackson, who is pregnant, took a step back from the physically demanding wine bar. Voorhies ran it during his summer “off” from teaching, and she worked at a more mellow pace at Ship to Shore, her wine shop down the street. (Jackson co-owns Sayra’s and Ship to Shore with business partner Patrick Flibotte, who focuses more on design, less on day-to-day operations.)
Of her husband, whose family owned a few NYC restaurants, Jackson says, “He knows the headache and tried to stay away from the industry. He knows that a 12-hour day is standard, and that helps.” While Jackson and Voorhies invest energy in their work-love balance (date night every Friday is a given), their organic compatibility has empowered Jackson to keep growing her businesses, even during the challenges of COVID-19.
Finding Value in Love and Work
For couples with a bumpier road on the journey of entrepreneurship, Jennifer Petriglieri’s Couples That Work: How Dual-Career Couples Can Thrive in Love and Work provides a roadmap for navigating dual-career challenges—like the demands of child-rearing and personal and mutual fulfillment. She includes PDF conversation guides for “Survival Series,” her free videos for couples working at home, and other tools for deliberate communication.
“Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” This quote, largely attributed to Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, comes up in Petriglieri’s book. “Freud’s view was prescient,” she writes. “The dilemma dual-career couples face today is that we want to thrive in both love and work, yet one of those endeavors—work—is overvalued by the external world, and the other—love—is immensely powerful, yet often undervalued by that world.”
American work culture can be “very full-on,” Petriglieri says. “The expectation to work long, sometimes antisocial hours creates a pressure-cooker,” she adds, noting that she observes much more guilt in U.S.-based partnerships than in the European, Asian and Middle Eastern couples she’s studied.
This general American tendency—“If I’m not dedicating myself 100% to work, I feel guilty; I also feel guilty if I’m not fully dedicated to my children, church, community or aging parents”—is the shadow to a much brighter aspect of American work culture: “It’s much easier to claim ambition in the U.S.,” as Petriglieri frames it. That high level of seeking applies to both love and work.
Celebrating Strengths and Differences
Husband and wife Vance and Kim Roush, co-founders of Vive—Silicon Valley’s “hippest church”—embody this drive. They also work together at Overflow, an online donation platform that helps charities accept online donations of publicly-traded stock. As general manager for the startup, Kim reports directly to Vance, its founder, and they are both pastors at Vive. They are also raising three children under age five, with a fourth on the way.
Vance and Kim were both raised first generation Asian-American in a Seattle suburb, and he attributes the work ethic they share to an “appreciation for our parents, the distance that they traveled and their immigration story.”
Along with the positive legacy of that story, there can also be negative imprints, says Vance, especially around money: “We both grew up with a scarcity mindset around spending and saving, which is often not the right mindset for growing a business.” Over the past year, through marriage counseling—or marriage “coaching,” as they call it—the couple has prioritized self-awareness. As a company, Overflow contributes $300 per month for each employee to spend on therapy or other mental health support.
“Reflection doesn’t always come naturally for me and my personality type,” says Vance, who describes himself a big-picture “achiever” in contrast to Kim’s tendency toward detail-oriented perfection. “But now that we’re realizing our strengths, and how we're wired, we can actually celebrate our differences. There’s a productivity and a partnership to it that has become really powerful.”
The Roushes also made very concrete accommodations. During the pandemic pivot to work-from-home, they enclosed some unused space adjacent to their family room by adding barn doors. Above the doors, Vance says, Kim added "a clever light system" inspired by the red "On Air" light typical of recording studios. "If I turn it on, our kids know that I'm in an important meeting and won't barge in. Anytime it's not on, they're free to come in and out. It's fluid in that way."
Like Jackson and Voorhies in New York, Kim and Vance Roush also protect their romantic time with a weekly date, scheduling extra childcare into Tuesday nights. In both cases, on different coasts, this time together allows for the deliberate communication celebrated in Petriglieri’s Couples That Work. “I make sure that I can date my wife, and we can maintain that intimacy,” says Vance. “We’ve learned to make it work through healthy rhythms and really planning. Our boundaries produce freedom.”
Photos from top: Getty Images, Courtesy of Rashida Jackson and Christopher Voorhies, Courtesy of Kim and Vance Roush