Monte Levin never gets upset with his partner, Gary Lazarus, for working too much, nor does Gary get mad when Monty spends weekend time at the office. The couple understands the demands of each other’s jobs because they work together as a team selling homes in South Florida.
Living and working together for 20 years could be a formula for disaster, but the two have a method for surviving the togetherness: “You have to negotiate your own space and know what each person needs to do to decompress,” Levin says.
Levin and Lazarus are among many couples who once had separate careers but have created a work and home life together. Like other couples, they have discovered that working with your spouse or partner can be a monumental fiasco, or the ideal marriage of work and life.
While every couple is different, same-sex couples have an advantage in blending their two spheres successfully. A 2015 survey by the Families and Work Institute of 225 dual-earner couples found that, for the most part, same-sex couples share household duties and financial management based on preference and split child care equally. They tend to be happier with the division of labor because they communicate about it more often. “It is much more consciously discussed and negotiated,” says Jennifer Allyn, managing director of diversity for PricewaterhouseCoopers, which commissioned the survey. In contrast, straight couples tend to slip into roles at home based on gender, income, hours worked or power position in the relationship — which sometimes can lead to resentment.
“Perhaps because they can’t default to gender, people in same-sex couples are in more of a position to have these conversations. That can carry over and become an advantage in the workplace, too,” says Ken Matos, senior researcher at the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit that studies and advocates for families.
Indeed, Levin and Lazarus say they communicate well, and often, at home and work. “You know how they say men are from Mars and women are from Venus and they are on totally different pages? We don’t have that hurdle,” Levin says.
Levin, formerly a Boston eye doctor, and Lazarus, a Manhattan divorce lawyer, spent a decade in South Africa, where they launched their successful career in real estate selling residential properties. The duo eventually moved back to the U.S. and recently became the new directors of sales and business development for Fortune International in Miami, where they orchestrated an affiliation with Savills, an international real-estate firm. The couple says their relationship endures because they know each other’s strengths at home and work and use it to their advantage. At home, Gary needs more time to himself to cook, paint and powerwalk. Monty gives it to him and now sees it as down time to pull back from office talk.
At work, the couple sells homes as a team. They let the person who clicks best with the client take the lead in a sale. “Each of us has learned a quiet way of stepping back and letting the other move forward,” Lazarus explains. “It’s a matter of making compromises that strengthen the relationship and doing what we are each good at. We are conscious that the team is stronger than the individual parts.”
Same-sex couples still represent a small portion of all couples nationwide. There are approximately 390,000 married same-sex couples in the country and 600,000 domestic partnership couples out of a total of more than 56 million married couples living in the U.S., according to the latest Gallup survey data. However, the number of same-sex couples is steadily increasing, as is its portion of the 8 percent of small businesses co-owned by spouses, identified by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which focuses on entrepreneurship.
Like straight couples, same-sex couples say surviving as work and life partners requires learning when to cut off business conversation, scheduling getaways and keeping a sense of mutual respect. They also understand that stresses at home or work easily can undermine the relationship. The key becomes not allowing issues to fester, explains John Tamayo, who co-owns MacCity on Miami Beach with his spouse, Alvaro. John says that when work or personal issues pop up at inappropriate times, rather than try to set boundaries, he and Alvaro dispense with them quickly. “As soon as we have a free moment, we sit down and talk because we don’t have that time to ourselves like most couples do to get over it. Our communication has become better and swifter.”
Some couples say being in business together allows them to become closer and spend time together when they otherwise would spend 10-hour work days apart. Jorge Garcia co-owns Sunset Cobbler, a leather repair and restoration shop in South Miami, with his partner, Javier Acosta. The couple has run the shop together for 36 years. Garcia says spending long work days with his partner and building communication in the workplace has helped their relationship. “We love what we do and it’s a small shop, so we are interacting all day long,” Garcia says. “Our customers see the love and respect between us. I think that is important to success as partners, no matter what type of couple you are.”
Connect with Cindy Krischer Goodman @balancegal, firstname.lastname@example.org or worklifebalancingact.com.