Working with Your Spouse When You Both Are Creatives

Anyone who is married for more than 2 weeks past the honeymoon knows that marriage is hard work. You can’t sail along to a life-long marital relationship just off the fuel of “true love.” The difficulty level is geometrically increased when you add to the mix entrepreneurship. They say having a business partner is like having a spouse. Much of the same kind of dynamics you find in a marriage you’ll find in a business partnership. But when your business partner IS your spouse, then you’ve essentially doubled all the issues that are marriage-like. You have to deal with your real marriage dynamics, AND the business “marriage” dynamics.

But, in my humble opinion, nothing is quite like having your spouse as your business partner AND having you BOTH be artists. The whole marriage-business dynamics thing goes off the charts! We’re talking exponential. Don’t get me wrong, if you pick the right life/business partner, the connection and relationship can literally be like heaven on earth. But, I don’t care if you’re Mr. & Mrs. Brady themselves, you WILL run into issues, and if you’re both creatives, well, then heaven help you.

This point could not have been better illustrated than last week when the love of my life, the beautiful and incredibly talented photographer Tasra Dawson and I got into a huge, emotionally shaking, toe-toe, I’m-not-gonna-back-down-first, argument over….a drop shadow. In retrospect it’s freaking hilarious even writing about it. But, I can assure you. When we were in the middle of this tiff, comedy was the furthest from our minds. But, as usual, out of that “discussion” came some valuable life and marital lessons. And some great lessons for all you married couples in business together—particularly if you are both professional creatives.

The Back Story

It all started with the fantasy-themed photo and film shoot we did for our photography company Teen Identity. (I blogged about the film on Monday). I was under the impression I had final say on the complete look of the film, while Tasra would have it over the photo shoot portion. Um…yeah, I was wrong. You see, normally, the way we work is this: I’m the “CEO” of the video business Dare Dreamer Media, and Tasra is the CEO for Teen Identity. We do a lot of video productions for Teen Identity, and usually, I treat it as a client relationship, giving Tasra final say on any video productions for the business.

On this particular shoot, Tasra and the team of girls spent about three weeks planning, prepping, choosing a location, etc. I was brought in at the 11th hour to kick it up a notch by adding an original short film. But for some reason, I got it in my noggin that this project was different from the other Teen Identity videos. That with respect to the film, I would get to have the final say. On top of that, I got really emotionally connected and invested in this project (no doubt due to the fact that I’m a huge sci-fi/fantasy geek).

So, I had created this title sequence I was really proud of. So much so that I made a demo video about how I did it. One of the things I really loved about this amazing drop shadow was how it tracked with the movement of the sun in the background video. It was really, really cool. (Dramatic pause). I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt (pun intended) that Tasra would LOVE my uber-cool title sequence and drop shadow.

So, imagine my dismay when after viewing the final edit, one of her suggested changes was to drop the drop shadow. Surely, she was kidding. She HAD to be joking, right? It took all that was in me not to break out in Dr. McCoy fashion and say “Are you out of your vulcan mind?! Do you know how long it took me to make that drop shadow? Can’t you see how it’s tracking with the sun?”

Sun up and to the right. Shadow cast down to the left. See. Cool. Right? 🙂

Well, let me tell you, within five minutes we were at it. She thought it was not consistent with Teen Identity’s brand (and the whole tracking of the shadow thing was not that apparent. <Sigh>). I thought it took the video to another level (Please, for the sake of my marriage and my ego, do NOT give me your opinion one way or another. 🙂 ) We both were in full artistic expression protection mode. The escalation of the argument was so far out of proportion to the significance of the subject, it is totally comical. I even considered making it “An Alan Smithee Film” (a directorial credit used when a director wants to take his name off a project), and for a brief while,  I actually DID take my name off the credits. (Yeah, I know. I need help. Just being real.) I can’t help but think of that scene in When Harry Met Sally. You know the one. Where Jess and Marie are fighting over that stupid, wagon wheel coffee table.

Five Key Take-Aways

The spectre of that argument lasted a few days. But, eventually, as normal, all was made up. But, some very important lessons were learned (or, in some cases, re-learned). Get out your pens folks. You need to write these down if you’re a married couple in business together:

  1. 50/50, but not equal. Technically, Tasra and I are equal partners in the business. 50/50. But, it’s important that we establish a “boss.” We need to acknowledge ahead of time who gets the last say. A key reason this argument escalated was because I was feeling like this film was equally mine and I should have the last say about what stays. Trust me on this: determine who will have the last say, and respect the decision. It all goes back to setting expectations.
  2. Know your strengths and weaknesses. I should point out that there were aspects of the film that Tasra wanted to change that she didn’t because she trusted my judgment as a filmmaker/storyteller. However, we both know that her eye for design, font selection and color are better than mine. For the most part, she will always have the last say in areas of photos or videos where that comes into play. Understand where each of your strengths lie, and respect and trust in your partner’s ability in that area. I must admit that I think one of the reasons we make such a great creative team is because we fill each others’ creative and business gaps so well.
  3. Specify the feedback. Another area where married professional creatives need to be wary is asking for feedback. Tasra and I try to remember to ask what kind of feedback we want when we go to the other person to look at our work. If she wants to share with her husband and best friend the latest set of photos she’s labored on for hours, things can get touchy if I revert to business partner mode and start giving critiques and suggested changes first. At some point, if your spouse is the only person giving feedback, you will need to be professional about it and eventually get to what needs to be done to improve the work. But leave room to be a fan and supporter first. Better yet, ask for the kind of feedback you want, just so there’s no misunderstanding.
  4. Your marriage comes first. It goes without saying that your marriage is far more valuable than the business. It would be better to have one of you drop out of the business if it meant saving your marriage. Tasra and I are working to find others who can help us in the business and take over some of the roles that historically lead to disagreements. That ranges from sales & marketing to quality control. Ultimately, she is my wife first, and that relationship means more to me than anything, especially more than a stupid, sun-tracking drop shadow.
  5. Fall back on something bigger than you. I would be remiss not to mention the role our faith plays in both our business and our relationship. If that’s something you two share, fall back on that to set the guidelines in how you work, live and love one another.

I know a lot of my readers are creative couples in business together. Please share in the comments any tips you have for having a successful marital business relationship.

25 thoughts on “Working with Your Spouse When You Both Are Creatives

  1. Ron, great story. I wanted to tell you that you were right, i thought the drop shadows were great. But you did the right thing by removing them.

    I am a Christian as well and have been married to the sweetest woman on earth for just over 36 years. She is not an artist, but a Christian Counselor (mostly marriage and women’s issues), so I guess you could say I have been in therapy for over 36 years. 🙂 But for those of you who have a Christian faith, and live by Christian principles, as men, we are to love our wives like Christ loved the church, which means you put her first and make the necessary sacrifices. I believe it is our responsibility to be the peace keepers.

    And like you said, we can easily get all worked up over little things that in the end just don’t matter.

    As a general rule, even though my wife is not an artist, she provides me with all kinds of great feedback. For example, I recently put a video together and removed several clips after she reviewed it, simply because she “knew” that some of the women in the video would hate the way they looked at a certain angle…ie…don’t use that side profile or full shot, but use that high level frontal view instead….I would go “really? Oh, yah, really, trust me”. My wife is the wisest person I know when it comes to those kind of issues.

    I’m sure having an artist wife definitely adds to the fun of creating something you both can agree on.


    1. Thanks for sharing Clint. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned over the years about how to shoot and/or edit women in video based on advice from Tasra. I think if you’re a male wedding videographer who’s not married, ti behooves you to find some woman you can run your videos by for feedback.

  2. Ron, I’m sure this post will help save many marriages!! My wife and I don’t work together on my business, but I can only imagine how difficult it can be to separate spouse and business partner. My hats off to you for being able to do it and for admitting that it’s not an easy road.

  3. Ron, hilarious Prince reference. My wife is a natural artist. Though she doesn’t work in any artistic field. However, she is the go to person for hair, makeup, banquet displays, arts &crafts for Vacation Bible School, pastries, and creative cupcakes (I’m trying to convince her into starting her own biz in that). Everyone values her opinion…Even though I’m the one doing the creating. I’m believe I’m quasi-semi-wannabe-layer artist. I know what I would like to see and try to get there.
    I direct plays at my church, and everyone always asks, “what does your wife think?” So naturally I do defer to her especially while I’m editing– similar to Clint. I actually think if she doesn’t give me any constructive (destructive at times) criticism then she doesn’t care about said project. Great article.

    1. Glad you like the article. And I’m glad you got the Prince reference. There are so many young filmmakers out there nowadays, I thought it would be lost on most readers. Maybe I’m not that old after all. Now Steve on the other hand… 😉

          1. Hey Ron, both you and Steve are just “pups”….wait until you get to be my age.

            In fact, I am so old, I remember when the Dead Sea was just sick……

  4. Working as a married couple in the same business has been quite a challenge for me. It can be super taxing some days to the point of wanting to quit and do something else just to avoid all of it (at least in that first moment… that soon subsides). When it comes down to it though, each hurdle we get over we are learning tons about each other and how we can be better people. Not only in our marriage, but to our clients, and everyone else in our life. Keeping an open mind, striving to not be a perfectionist, and knowing that fantastic wisdom is just on the other side of the mole hill always helps.

  5. This article hit home. I love working with my wife, but it can be tough. I think it’s worth it though. Big picture.

    They say “Choose your battles wisely.” I agree, and also say “Choose your feedback wisely”. If being persistent over one point loses you a half day in stress, it’s not worth it.

  6. Great stuff as usual Ron!

    My wife and I have have had numerous ‘animated discussions’ on seemingly benign and trivial points on projects over the years. The good news is, as you stated, the take-away is generally positive and usually illuminates the reality that two heads are always better than one and more-often-than-not compromise is a good thing..

    I won’t even try to wade in on the whole drop-shadow thing, but believe me when I tell you, I can relate. I feel your pain Ron. In the end, making the ‘customer’ happy is job #1. And when that customer is your wife… let’s get real here, you’re eventually left with only one final answer: “Yes Dear” On to bigger and better things, right?

    1. “Yes dear.” Classic! 🙂 So true Michael.

      In all seriousness though. I do respect her opinion tremendously. So, when I do say “yes, dear” 99.99% of the time she’s right. (But, oh, how I love that 0.01% when I GET to be right. 😉

  7. This story sounds like it came right out of our lives! A drop shadow, too funny! We love working together and couldn’t imagine it any other way. Great points, especially the Feedback; being a creative person it can be difficult to watch something your spouse has done and immediately resist the urge to say; “well if you do this or remove that it would be better” it’s not that i’m attacking you personally, I just see how it can be even better, learning how to not take things personal has been an experience and definitely one we laugh about often. At the end of the day we love each other and we are the best of friends and always will be. Our relationship is our #1 and at our core is our faith, which I believe has gotten us through everything. We’ve definitely put these take aways into practice. For us, we do have a lot of the same ideas and normally they are in right in line with the other, but we’ve accepted the fact that we will argue and go toe-to-toe and that’s ok as long as we know that no matter what at the end of the day we will always be the best of friends. Totally love this post 😉

    1. Thanks Toni. That’s a great point at the end of your comment. At the end of the day, know that we’re on the same team. We’ll frequently say something to that affect. “I’m on your team sweetheart.” Thanks for sharing.

  8. Ron,
    Thanks for your great post and sharing an insight into your marriage and business. I do work with my spouse but I’m the creative and he is the “former builder” turned web guy/mindset blogger. I’ve found it particularly helpful having him around the office to get the male perspective on things before I send them to clients. He’s saved my butt many a time. But establishing clear roles in the business, like it sounds like you and Tasra have done is critically to the success of your business and sanctity of your marriage.

    1. Thanks Ally. We’re by no means experts. As this funny story can attest, we still have our moments. But having ultimate priorities set helps a great deal.

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