Practicing with your spouse

We struck a nerve with our article in the January issue of Woman Dentist Journal® entitled “Ten Marital Musts for Partnering with Your Spouse.

We struck a nerve with our article in the January issue of Woman Dentist Journal® entitled “Ten Marital Musts for Partnering with Your Spouse.” The day the article hit - before our consultants could get their morning coffee - the phones started ringing. Sobbing dentists and spouses were saying, “I work with my spouse, and I have to kick the cat when I get home. Save me!”

Suddenly, we felt like Dr. Phil. We know this issue is widespread, so we’re taking it co-ed. If you and your spouse are dentist-partners, this Bud’s for you! These guidelines also apply if your spouse works in any other job in the practice. (Incidentally, I work with my spouse - and live to tell about it.)

Answer “Yes” or “No” to the following questions to see how well you work with your spouse and where you can improve. We don’t want you to end up in the Ladies Home Journal column, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”

1. Do you and your spouse share the same practice vision and philosophy? It’s OK to have differences, provided you share the same core values, as in the case of a pedodontist and a cosmetic dentist who work well together because they share the same ethics, commitment to quality care, desire to be excellent leaders, etc. Serious disagreements, however, need to be resolved, such as one partner’s spending money freely on practice improvements, while the other worries about not saving enough for retirement.

2. Have you and your partner set ground rules for working together? This includes: who is responsible for what aspects of the practice, how decisions are made, how the couple will communicate, how many days each partner will work, who will take care of the children, etc. Reaching an agreement on each other’s responsibilities staves off problems.

3. Do you each have clearly defined roles in the practice? Each partner should have a job description, creating a flow chart for the management of the office and alerting the staff on whom to see for permission to buy supplies, take a day off, and other matters. This understanding prevents conflicts over whether a partner is doing what was promised.

4. Do you communicate with each other regularly and address potential conflicts early? At Pride, we have the “24-Hour Rule” for addressing conflicts, which means discussing them within 24 hours. Don’t ignore issues that bother you, because they will fester and cause resentment. Conversely, don’t discuss issues immediately in the heat of anger. Calm down first. When practicing with your spouse, remain professional by airing issues in a respectful, nonblameful way. (And address work issues in the office; don’t bring them home!)

5. Do you maintain your professionalism in front of the staff and present a united front? You need to refrain from making snide remarks about each other, or getting irritable with each other. It is important to show mutual respect and unity by saying to the team, “We want . . . ,” not “I want . . . .” If one partner questions a decision made by the other, it must be done privately. Successful spouse-partners have the self-control and the established ground rules to maintain their professional decorum in the office.

6. Do you keep family matters out of the office and vice versa? You’re in a business and you must treat it as such. This means not allowing family issues to interfere with work, or allowing work issues to intrude on family life.

7. Do you enjoy the benefits of your family business? Do you like bouncing ideas off each other, discussing a challenging case with your spouse for a second opinion, and sharing a passion for the same profession?

If you’re unhappy with your responses, don’t despair. Do something to improve how you feel. If you’re pleased with your responses, congratulations! You’re ready to replace Dr. Phil!

For the dates and locations of Pride’s informative and lively seminars, see the ad in this issue or call Pride Institute toll-free at (800) 925-2600. And yes, by all means, bring your spouse.

Amy Morgan is chief executive officer and lead trainer of Pride Institute, a national dental-management company which provides consulting services, educational seminars, patient charting, and staff training materials. To ask Amy a question for this column, visit “Ask Pride” at or call Pride Institute toll-free at (800) 925-2600.

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