The realities of working with a loved one: Couples discuss the pros and cons
Working with your partner – an absolute nightmare or the perfect equation for a fruitful career? Here, several creative couples, and a life coach, weigh in on the topic.
It can be tempting to want to spend every minute of every day with the one you love. But sometimes a healthy relationship requires a bit of space and independence in order for it to thrive. Spare a thought then for the creative couples who work together and use every waking moment immersed in projects; how do they make their love last – do they not risk losing both their relationships and their careers by merging the two?
Most couples who work together have similar interests and possibly even share the same academic references. In some cases, this explains how they met. Such is the case with Spanish directing duo Los Pérez, made up of Adrian Pérez and Tania Verduzco, who got together at film school. It wasn’t long after their first meeting that they started dating, fusing their inspirations, learnings and skillsets. Transitioning then from a normal relationship dynamic into a working one occurred pretty seamlessly.
“It happened very naturally while we were at school,” the pair says. “We realised we had much more fun sharing the pain and glory of creative projects together rather than tackling them separately.”
The pair now writes scripts and direct short films and music videos, as well as edit and compose music, and is represented in the UK by Caviar production company. For Adrian and Tania, co-directing and collaborating is inseparable from honing their individual crafts – their name was even inspired by their union.
“We thought it would be funny to call ourselves Los Pérez – which is a very common surname in Spain,” they add. “That said, we wanted our work to have the opposite effect and not be classed as mainstream, so we thought that it could be an interesting contrast.”
Similarly, it was Australian duo, Alex Cardy and Tali Polichtuk’s mutual interest in the LGBTQ+ community that inspired their soon-to-launch queer screen culture magazine Sissy Screens. Run by queer and gender diverse artists, the platform – which is due to launch on 16 February – is a curated space for queer writing, photography, reviews, interviews and original videos and was borne out of an event screening series under the same name.
“It was an accident and slowly evolved,” says Alex. “The project was Tali’s idea, then I started helping and got more involved. I stayed on because I enjoyed the creative freedom.”
“We’re lesbians; we do everything together!” jokes Tali, although she has a point – Sissy Screens is fulfilling a much-needed gap in the market and working together as partners to bring it to the fore seemed inevitable.
All work and no play?
Naturally, working intensely with a loved one means spending many hours in one another’s company and not relying on each other in the traditional relationship sense. Things can get ugly at work and stress mixed with tight deadlines can present a lover in a less than favourable light. However, there are many positives to be gleaned from doing it together – according to Caterina Bianchini and Joe Osborne of Studio Nari.
“It’s great to have someone to truly lean on and support you through the difficult and more stressful patches,” says Joe. “You don’t really have to go home and try to explain ‘today was the most terrible day ever’ because they were there, so that mutual and unspoken understanding of what each other has been through on a particular day is really quite special.” Likewise, building the studio together and working on every project from the bottom up is “exciting” and “rewarding.” “It’s great and fairly unique to be able to be work in tandem on something that directly shapes both of your futures,” he adds.
Los Pérez agrees – by working as a pair, there’s a shared passion and mutual understanding of each other’s goals: “You get to enjoy the whole process together.” For Adrian and Tania, they live their work and even treat their date nights and time away from the job as opportunities to further their learning and fuel their inspiration. “We go to the cinema to find a good movie, which we discuss afterwards over a good beer,” the duo says. “Just like we did when we were cinema students and first dating.” For Los Pérez, it’s an essential part of the creative process and useful for bouncing ideas around.
Sissy Screen’s founders find that working together helps to enhance their relationship as they’re seeing each other at their most creative and passionate – qualities that attracted them in the first place. “It’s hot seeing how smart Tali is,” says Alex, “she’s like an encyclopaedia of queer cinema knowledge and I always learn from her. I get to see her doing what she does best and it makes me fall more in love with her. We are both really passionate about the project so it’s fun having someone just as into it to brainstorm with over a wine.”
Equally, a romantic partner will spot opportunities that may be overlooked otherwise. Hermeti Balarin – partner at London-based agency Mother – actually brought his wife, Ana, into the advertising world after splitting from his previous copywriting partner. “I knew she was a brilliant writer and wasn’t happy at her job,” he says. “Luckily she said yes when I proposed for the second time and we’ve now been working together for 15 years.”
As Ana Balarin puts it, working with someone who knows you so well, is unquestionably convenient.
Figuring out the ground rules
The trick to making it work according to life coach Kitty Waters – who also runs a property business with her partner – is to establish a solid communication base and be aware of how adding a professional dynamic may change things. “Living and working together blurs traditional boundaries and can often put added strain on a relationship,” she says. “The trick is to become conscious of the change before it has a chance to impact you.” She suggests couples figure out what their individual strengths are so that each person has a clearly-defined job role to work towards. Kitty also thinks it’s necessary to implement specific rules to protect each individual’s personal and professional identities. “Agree when you are going to stop talking about work and make sure you stick to it,” she says. “Don’t bring it into dinner conversations or weekends unless it’s absolutely necessary. And if you do, be conscious about it and call it out.”
The Balarins have a couple of strategies they try to live by, including leaving the office at six. They also try not to bring work home, accept that the inbox is unlikely to ever be empty and aren’t sensitive if work sometimes spills over onto the weekend. Ana also cites the freedom to have “fierce arguments” underlined with “total respect” as an important antidote for resolving conflicts.
“There’s no way of separating [the professional from the personal],” she says. “When work takes over, our relationship's survival instinct kicks in and we need to work on redressing the balance.”
In contrast, Caterina and Joe seem to have mastered the art of controlled communication – at least in public – because they’ve been caught quibbling or using pet names in the past. “It still happens from time to time,” says Caterina. “But we both try and adopt a fairly professional demeanour when in front of other people now – to the point that many of our clients wouldn't know we’re together.”
Ultimately, it’s about establishing what works for the couple. But recognising that it’s unlikely that the pair will be able to completely switch off from either identity in either personal or professional contexts is important. Alex of Sissy Screens suggests that tricks like time allocation “and taking electronics away like people do with little children” can help to create some order at home. The “no laptops after dinner” (Alex and Tali) or “no work chat at the dinner table or over drinks” (Caterina and Joe) rules establish clear guidelines for couples to follow and call each other out on if they’re not met.
Having different skillsets from one another also helps in distinguishing each individual’s role. In the case of Caterina and Joe, there isn’t much overlap between what they do – Joe handles operational and strategic logistics, while Caterina looks after the more visual side of things. This means that together they can offer a more rounded perspective and can soundboard ideas between them.
However, if couples do have similar capabilities, then additional planning may be required. Los Pérez, for example, assigns roles on a job-by-job basis. “Sometimes one of us is more focused on wardrobe and the art department, while the other is on camera and lighting,” it says of its co-directing style. “It really depends on the project.”
Riding the wave
Inevitably, there will be times when couples are confronted by the job at hand which can be testing for both their relationship and their careers. While it can sometimes be impossible to disconnect their personal and professional entities when they’re so closely intertwined, Kitty suggests couples regularly step away from the job and back into the real world – the one that they share together. “Keep the romance alive by planning weekly dates,” she says. “These should be about the two of you and not work.”
Though Los Pérez uses dates as a way of seeking out new inspiration, its grounding and time away from work comes through its shared responsibility as parents. “Working both as directors can be quite intense,” it says. “After shooting a project it’s important to have a mental refresh. This doesn’t mean we completely stop talking about the job we’ve just shot or other upcoming projects, but it means finding space to disconnect and spend quality time with our one-year-old baby. That’s the most valuable time; when we forget about being directors and can be proud parents.”
As the adage goes: two brains are better than one. With that in mind, working with a partner can be a fantastic experience so long as both individuals are aware of the stakes and can overcome their individualism to invest in their shared vision for their business. The cut throat and competitive nature of the creative industry is tough for any individual to master but having a partner to support and share the journey with can be a huge morale booster. As Hermeti puts it: “Our job is already quite stressful and we’re always under enormous pressure. So, we try to be each other’s cheerleaders whenever possible.”
If their worlds align and a couple can create an open dialogue about their future with space for honest and respectful feedback, then why not enter into business together? “Creative projects are about sharing, and that’s what we like the most,” says Los Pérez. “Even though we could direct projects independently, we will always help each other creatively.”