Work together, love together

Updated: Oct 21, 2019, 07:43 IST | Anindita Paul | Mumbai

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo's Nobel Prize had us inspired to discuss if working in the same industry as your partner can be challenging but also rewarding. Experts tell you how to make it work

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, the couple who won this year's Nobel Prize for Economics. Pic/Getty Images
Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, the couple who won this year's Nobel Prize for Economics. Pic/Getty Images

Last week, Indian-American economist Abhijit Banerjee and wife Esther Duflo became the first couple in history to win the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences for their ground-breaking research to alleviate poverty. The couple, who teach at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and have been married for four years, are also the sixth couple to jointly win the Nobel — you may recognise some of the other famous couples on the list, including Marie and Pierre Curie, and biochemists Gerty and Carl Cori.

If the lives and accomplishments of these feted couples are any indication, building your career and ambitions in the same stream as your partner does come with its fair share of benefits. But then, you only need to look a little further to realise that falling in love with someone who shares the same professional dreams as you do could easily go wrong — take, for instance, one of English literature's most controversial marriages (and most talented but troubled couples), namely Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, whose relationship was mired by professional rivalry, jealousy, infidelity and even domestic abuse. This raises the very pertinent question of what distinguishes successful professional and personal partnerships from the ones that fall apart.

Rishi Piparaiya
Rishi Piparaiya

Don't fight it
According to Rishi Piparaiya, mentor to several entrepreneurial couples, "when partners work together in the same company or on the same project, it is practically impossible to completely split your personal and professional lives. In most cases, the project or business is what brought couples together in the first place or is the glue holding their relationship together." Couples working in the same organisation may also face increased scrutiny and pressure from other employees and key stakeholders who may accuse them of nepotism and biases. He points to the recent WeWork debacle, where a lack of transparency led CEO Adam Neumann and his wife, the firm's chief brand and impact officer, Rebekah to be accused of unfair and unethical business practices.

On the personal front too, working in the same industry can lead to less quality "couple time", a 2012 study by the British Psychological Society found. Relationships counsellor Priyanka Bajaria adds, "On many occasions, conflict between couples working in similar professions is compounded; they tend to carry the baggage of their marital as well as professional woes. These unresolved conflicts can easily lead to a power struggle, which can cause considerable strain on the relationship and sexual life." However, this doesn't necessarily mean that you must find another job (or partner) to enjoy a healthy, successful relationship. "Rather than fight the situation, couples should accept it and learn to build on their combined strengths," Piparaiya adds.

Priyanka Bajaria
Priyanka Bajaria

Stronger together
Interestingly, the same study also found that a partner who does similar work can help enhance mutual understanding of working conditions and increase support during stressful times. Bajaria explains, "While we are often conditioned to look for 'red flags' in a relationship, in the context of couples working together, it becomes important to redirect our attention to the 'green flags' that arise as an outcome of this arrangement." These include:

. Empathy: While working in similar fields, both are — to a large extent — aware about what the other is experiencing at the workplace. Hence, you are more attuned to their aspirations, needs, and challenges. This can be used to infuse empathy.

. Synergy: This scenario also ensures you are equipped with the right tools to help one another. The correct vocabulary and understanding can prove helpful. This can create a powerful synergy in your overall relationship as it eliminates the "me v/s you" mindset.

. Respect: Working in a similar profession makes you cognizant of both your partner's personal and professional strengths and weaknesses. This holistic view of your partner can be used to facilitate more respect.

The ground rules
1. Communicate: Trust is a cornerstone of healthy personal and professional relationships. Open and frequent communication can help avoid complications, including competition and rivalry.

2. Separate: To prevent your workplace stress from spilling over into your marital life, consciously work on cultivating the right working and living conditions. For this, delineate physical spaces in which you will not engage in shoptalk, inside and outside of home. This could be your bedroom, dining table or even the drive to or from work. "I often use the Wi-Fi analogy. While at work, mindfully tune in to the 'work network' [tasks, challenges, conflicts and wins]. Switch off as soon as you step out. When you enter your living space, connect to your 'home network' [family, friends and self]," Bajaria suggests.

3. Conflicts can be good: Understand that conflicts are an opportunity for growth in relationships. Share your feelings respectfully and hear them out without judgment. During fights, ask yourself: "Am I saying this to resolve the issue or prove a point?" Try to connect in small ways — the extra kisses, hugs and cuddles count.

4. Have some down time: It is important for all couples to have down time individually. Engage in activities outside of work with those who spark joy in you, suggests Bajaria.

Rikhil Bahadur, 32, creative head and Shachi Sharma, 30, production head of Aexor Entertainment
Rikhil Bahadur, 32, creative head and Shachi Sharma, 30, production head of Aexor Entertainment

Higher risks, higher rewards

My wife Shachi and I first connected for professional reasons, when we decided to set up our own entrepreneurial venture. When we became romantically involved, we were initially apprehensive about the impact it would have on our working relationship. For instance, when it comes to work-related disagreements, I am sometimes unable to be as vocal or expressive as I would with an employee or partner who wasn't also a family member. Initially, we were worried about our clients (existing and potential) being wary that we were married and hence our personal lives could possibly interfere with the ability to meet our professional commitments. However, over the years, I've found that having a few ground rules lets us strengthen our positives and overcome the negatives.

At work, my wife and I have the ultimate say in our areas of expertise — neither of us will overstep our boundaries when it comes to making decisions. Although our social circles have merged post marriage and a lot of our socialising is for professional purpose, we do take some time out to hang out with our friends separately. While the benefits of working in the same company as your partner are higher — we are well-adjusted to each other and this takes a lot of the stress away from both the home and work front — the risks are higher too. If a project goes south, both of us are in the doldrums. We both have the same fears and insecurities, especially in terms of finances. For us, the key is to keep talking to each other, through the good times and the bad, and to never take an argument to bed.

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