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The coach: Should I go into practice with my husband?

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Teaming up with your spouse works well for many, but what if your personal relationship goes wrong? And how, as an incomer, do I win the trust of my firm’s partners? Matthew Turner advises

My husband and I are both architects, and he has been talking more and more about us setting up together. In the past, it was always a little abstract, and we only talked about it as a joke, but now he seems more keen. I don’t want to let him down, but I am really not sure it would be a good idea.

The coach I suggest there are two ways forward. One is to try and work at how to come together professionally in a way that minimises problematic issues. The other is to work out how best to communicate your misgivings diplomatically.

There are plenty of successful husband-and-wife teams out there, and a little bit of research might be a good way to move your thoughts on, to understand how they have made it work. Speak to people in this boat about what you are worried about, and they might give you helpful tips about how to anticipate issues.

There is perhaps a lot to be said for you both having the same overall goal in mind; building the same business.  The challenges will most likely be around boundaries and decisions.

I do know a great many people who say their professional partner is in a way more entrenched in their lives than their life partner, to the extent that splitting a practice can cause a great deal of complication. So, though it is painful, you may also need to consider the risks: what if something goes badly wrong in your personal relationship? How this would affect your professional world and finances?

While life is for taking risks, ultimately you are best placed to know how to communicate in your relationship, and only you can decide this.

The office I work in has no room for me. The partners have been there from the outset and have a few long-standing people who seem to be the only ones they trust. It is galling, as I really like working for this practice. But it doesn’t feel as if they will ever really trust or nurture me, or let me develop.  

The coach You are up against a real downside of being an employee in the architecture world, where so many offices are made up to reflect the person or people who founded the practice. Often they are not run democratically, nor even meritocratically.  That could work in your favour if you arrive at a time when there is an opening for trusted aides. On the other hand, it could result in the sense that, no matter what you do, you are shut out, which is your position.

The workplace can be full of preconceptions, and it can be hard – sometimes impossible – to change someone’s perception if you feel the cards are stacked against you. Your choice is between whether you can live with that, or whether you really feel your career is compromised.

If you really can’t get more from this office then my hunch is that you are right to consider moving on.

I have always dreamt of working internationally, but much international work is about delivering could-be-anywhere buildings for questionable clients. How do I develop my career in an international direction?

The coach The key here is that you have a dream, which is great. I suggest you now move towards realising it, rather than observe it as some nirvana of the perfect state of work that you might never achieve.

The best place to start is to ask yourself what it is about working internationally that you are specifically attracted to? Being a nomad? Learning different construction techniques? Working with a wide range of people with a different approach? Doing good? It is important to pinpoint your motivations.

Then I suggest doing some research into what it is that the offices on your radar actually do.

You will know that something like 90 per cent of buildings around the world do not go near an architect. So, if you are attracted by rehabilitating the slums of Mumbai, though all well and good, you will not find many architectural practices commissioned to do this. Even if you did, the era of  Westerners jetting in to do this kind of work is long gone – thankfully, many would say. So, if this were what you were interested in, you would not be looking at a traditional architectural career.

Alternatively, you may be interested in settling in a particular place, and wish to get to know a particular culture.

Of course, international work can increasingly be done from home. Remember that many people based in London have a very international workload that allows them much of the excitement of learning about practice overseas.

Whatever your dream is based around, it is good to know what exists out there. Then think through the lens of what others might need from someone like you, rather than what you might want.  That will make the fit of your dream to your career much easier.

  • AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com
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