Working with Your Spouse…Partners 24-7
by Dr. Jennifer Davis
We've already decided that we cannot work together!" I can't tell you how many times I'd made that comment. At least one year prior to the start of dental school, all of our friends and family knew that I was going to take the big step and tackle dental school. My fiancé had already been practicing dentistry for years as a solo practitioner. We would constantly receive remarks like the following: "Oh, that will be so nice, you can work together!" We both emphatically denied what was such an obvious collaboration of efforts to all our friends and family.
Obviously, as time passed, I finished dental school. My husband had just bought another gentleman's practice and was anxious to bring in an associate to help with his workload. Simultaneously, I was interviewing for my first position as a general practitioner. It didn't take us too long – a handful of bad interviews apiece – to come to the realization that maybe we should give it a try. Some partners can work together during the workday; others cannot. How would we know unless we tried?
So, here we are, one year after our merger and very pleased that we took the chance. Is every day a walk in the park? Not even close! But as time has passed we have slowly learned that the more we communicate, the better off we are. We've become more productive and more efficient at doing our best dentistry and running the office.
We have found the following important points to be very helpful:
Be honest. Always tell it like it is, nicely of course. This is your career and each of you has specific, sometimes different, viewpoints. An understanding of the other person's perspective can only occur after thorough conversation about the matter at hand.
Try to compliment each other, both verbally and with your individual strengths and skills. For example, my husband excels at crown and bridge. I prefer endo. Also, when examining hygiene patients, or at any other time, when you see an example of good dentistry compliment the other person. Patients love to hear these comments, and I like to hear them also. It's something to deposit in the "bank of compliments" when a withdrawal, or criticism, is needed. Remember, it's always desirable to have a positive balance!
Speaking of criticism…constructive criticism can be hard to take from your spouse. It also takes time to learn how to get the best response from your partner while still making a point. This has been an especially hard obstacle for me to overcome. Since day one, my husband has been 95 percent business with me in the office. I'm more like 75 percent business with him. It can be hard for me to shake the "warm fuzzies" of home life for the focus and high energies that are demanded during a day of work. The realization that made me adapt? I do much better dentistry when I switch gears during the workday and see my spouse as another dentist.
Try to leave it at the office. We have a conversation at the end of the workday that starts like this…"Is there anything we need to talk about before we leave the office?" This does not preclude conversations about work at home. However, it does make it easier to relax and enjoy one another at home. Remember, you do have interests that you enjoy together that do not involve teeth and gums.
Drive to work separately. Yes, I know this is not economically and environmentally friendly, but think of this as an investment in you. Time spent preparing for the workday, and the change of your role within the work place, is a great preparation for the day ahead. Also, driving home alone allows for necessary wind-down time, time to relive the workday and clear your mind before the evening hours begin.
Make time for individual interests that do not include your spouse. My husband and I have dinner together three nights during the workweek. The other two nights of the week he eats on his own and joins a group of friends to work out. On these two nights I make time for myself. I attend a book club that meets each month in addition to exercising individually. I also use these nights to run errands, get my hair done and just have quiet time on my own.
Give of your time. You cannot have a relationship unless you are there to participate in the relationship. Since this is your spouse you are working with, this is especially important. You can reap big rewards from your other half if you take the time to communicate and help each other with the daily tasks. It really can make each of your lives tremendously easier if you take an extra moment and communicate.
Working with your spouse is definitely not for everyone. But if you have the ability to communicate with each other and share a common goal, you can really simplify your daily life. Together, you can help each other achieve your goals inside and outside the office.