The InterAction Love Story: Tips on Leading a Healthy Work-Spouseship

Hello, this is Taeyin!

There’s a lot of advice and self-help books on relationships – from finding the love of your life to how to keep your marriage afloat. I’m surprised that there isn’t as much writing on how to find your lifelong work partner. I think of lifelong work partners as those who 1) share a common mission in life, 2) choose each other to strive for that mission, and 3) commit to working together to achieve that mission in the long haul.

Deandra and I are driven to creating inclusive communities through social entrepreneurship. We have committed to a co-leadership model, sharing responsibilities of being co-founders, and growing InterAction as the Executive Director and theCreative Director respectively.

Let’s take a step back. I actually don’t know how to find your life’s partner in your work. But if you’re lucky enough to have come across that human-being, I think I know how to keep that work partnership going (and at least, we’ve been at it for three years). From my point of view, the InterAction Love (Partnership) Story of our Co-foundership goes like this:

Taeyin is the seasoned upperclasswoman Director who is three years into building up ND Show Some Skin from a concept around taking preemtive action around social justice issues since her first year in college. Deandra is the passionate second-year student and actor-to-be. Taeyin first meets Deandra at the second production. Deandra excels at basically everything she does, so, of course, she gets cast, and of course, one of the monologues she is assigned is the closer of the show. Taeyin is smitten by Deandra’s eloquence and competency and keeps this in the back of her mind. A year later, Taeyin courts Deandra who has returned from her study abroad in Chile to be the Executive Producer. Deandra shoulders the responsibility of continuing ND Show Some Skin with utmost grace. (Previous to Deandra, Taeyin has tried and failed six times at handing off the leadership. So this is a big deal.)

A year later, Taeyin commutes back and forth from Bloomington to South Bend after work in order to convince anyone (ANYONE!) to believe in the cause of going further with the social justice theatre work – and here, Deandra takes the bait. Actually, she more than takes the bait. Deandra decides to use her entrepreneurship class to pitch this idea of going the next step. The response is highly positive all around which surprises both Deandra and Taeyin. Simultaneously, an ND Show Some Skinner gets Deandra and Taeyin to go on tedxND. And ultimately, the two of them convince their mentor (Hi, Cec!) to join them in filing for the nonprofit, Stage for Change. Stage for Change is created, and later becomes InterAction. Happily ever after. The end.

I call Deandra my work spouse. When we started Stage for Change (later known as InterAction), I was building my relationship with my life partner toward marriage. It made sense to me that my work partnership would need as much effort as my life partnership to remain healthy and to help each other grow.

If there is a difference between my life-partnership and work-partnership, it’s that we, Deandra and I, have InterAction between us. InterAction is our baby. InterAction is our utmost priority. And InterAction is our dream. For InterAction, we, the parents, have to have a long-lasting, healthy relationship that allows InterAction to grow into its full fruition. We, the co-founders, need to be in tip-top shape in all spheres of our lives, but especially our work-spouse partnership, in order for InterAction to have any chance of surviving in this world.

So how do we stay in good shape as work-spouses? It goes back to what I learned from my life-partner relationship. Communication is overstated and undertaken. When I say “work on communication with your work-spouse,” it doesn’t mean simply talk at each other. Rather, be aware of yourself. What are your bad habits? Or how do you deal with conflict and stress? People deal with conflict and stress in various ways. It is important that you become conscious of your own behavior patterns. Only after that are you able to discuss this with your work partner.

One aspect I want to emphasize is communicating what you need. As women of color, we’ve been socialized to be in tune to others’ needs and not our own. However, we know the dangers of burning out. So we had to work (and still are working) on communicating our needs. It is difficult to talk to your partner about your needs. Your needs could be anything from stepping away for some time from a project, recognition from your team, to small bits of affirmations from your partner.

I feel comfortable communicating to Deandra what I need because I know that it won’t affect what she thinks of me on a fundamental level. I don’t feel shame or guilt because we are on the same page in terms each of our dedication to InterAction and each of our competency in raising InterAction to the next stage. Either of us needing help on one part of our job doesn’t make a mark on our competency or hard work. It’s important to both of us that we will listen deeply to the other when we are communicating what is going on. When you’re raising a kid like InterAction, you can’t afford to have your communication breakdown between the parents.

While I’d say we have excelled in communication, one thing we’ve struggled as work-spouses is workaholism. We’re talking about the culture of overworking and the obsession of working that the two of us had in our relationship.

A while ago, Deandra and I were on our first “fun” trip to Chicago. My mentor had offered us free tickets to see a play. The first thing Deandra and I texted each other was that it was great that we could spend the whole Sunday on the bus working. I remember texting Deandra after our conversation, “oh don’t forget your laptop.”

Then, the plot twist.

Enter: my mother.

When my mother found out about Deandra and our “fun” Sunday plan, she did not mask her disapproval, “If one of you is an uncontrollable workaholic, then the other should know better!”

Until then, I don’t think we realized what was wrong with the situation. We’re a start-up. We are supposed to work ourselves to ends of exhaustion.

Deandra and my relationship began with our shared passion around creatively problem-solve the issues of social justice. At that time, the longest time I spent with Deandra was at conferences and traveling to train students, which was also work. My mother and my life-spouse teamed up on me to text Deandra: “we’re banned from doing work this Sunday.”

And so it was. Laptop-less, the two of us boarded the bus with no work to do in our hands for a full day. And we drove into the sunset. The end.

Just kidding. That’s not the end. I like to tell that story because it illustrates the hilarious yet “extreme” intervention (it felt extreme at theof my family to halt the two of our shared bad habit. Our workaholism fed each other. There was no end in sight.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then. Deandra and I no longer text 24/7 about work. The biggest step of all has been taking 2 hours a week to do our intentional Catch-Up Outings.

Our Catch-Up Outings consist of filling in each other on our lives; how we are each doing, what we’re struggling with, and how we can lean on each other. The important aspect of our catch up is that we don’t hold it in our office. Even if it’s as boring as one of our homes, we get out of our work space. Sometimes, we go beyond. We go to the community pool and float around in the hot tub. Other times, we go on a short hike at the forested park nearby. Sketching and journaling will be in our near future. Whatever our catch-up looks like, it’s ultimately centered around the fact that the two of us, as work-spouses, need down time together. We’re limited to keeping the outings at $0. And we’ll continually be in our search for non-colonial and non-capitalistic activities for enjoying each other’s company.

Deandra and I have a long way to go. I feel like we’ve just started on this journey as work-spouses. We’ll keep you all updated on the hills and valleys we come across.

More soon!


Sending many thanks to C.C., C.R., J.C., N.M., and R.K.

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