When you work on something really hard together and enjoy the successes and challenges with each other, and then get through it not just whole but stronger—you realize how blessed you are, how much love you have together.

That sentence could describe my feelings about working with Rob on Social Signal. People are often amazed that I’m able to work with my husband, and ask us how we do it all: the business, the kids, the marriage. I’m amazed at all the people who can hold those threads separately. If Rob and I didn’t work together, I’d never get to talk to him about anything other than our daughter’s report card, our son’s potty training, or our menu for Friday’s dinner.

We’ve been fortunate to create a business that doesn’t just ride alongside our relationship, but reflects and nourishes it. As anybody who reads our late-night Tweets now knows, social media is at the heart of how Rob and I relate to one another. When we go out on date night, we typically come up with two or three ideas for new online communities, four or five ideas for upgrades or approaches to our favourite social networks, and a handful of prospective blog post topics. Thank god we only have one night of babysitting a week, or we’d never keep up with the work we generate over a nice dinner!

If our date night sounds a lot like the backchannel at SXSW, it’s not because we’re such workaholics that we can’t leave the office at the office. On the contrary, it’s because we’re such webaholics that we were brave, stupid and smart enough to start our own social media company.  (Of course, it wasn’t called social media back then. Back then, kids, we just said “we only do web projects that have some kind of participatory dimension.” “Social media” sure is a more efficient way of saying that.)

It’s now fifteen years since Rob and I first met online (on the chat network for Queen’s Park political staff), eleven years since our first kiss (while searching for domain names), and four years since I started measuring our relationship health in terms of Technorati rankings (I have so lost that battle). Our collaborations have moved from listserv (1994) to HTML sites (1998) to home-brewed social bookmarking (2002). And then on to the world of blogs, RSS, social networks and online communities.

The web — and especially the social web — has been our muse, our mirror, and our playground. While we’ve also turned it into our livelihood, I think that it’s social media, rather than the business per se, that has created such a synergistic relationship between our work online and our love life offline. (And yes, we still do keep THAT part of our relationship offline.)

The process of strengthening a relationship by working hard together; by facing, nurturing and celebrating your successes and challenges together — that’s an experience that’s open to any couple, or indeed any relationship, that integrates the creative and communicative possibilities of the social web. You can use the social web to bring the energy of creative collaboration into your relationship in many different ways:

  • create a blog, video or photo project that engages you in a common hobby or passion
  • follow each other on Twitter so you understand the texture of each other’s day
  • set up Technorati and Google search feeds on your sweetie, her business or his hobbies, so you’re up-to-date on his or her world
  • set up a virtual “memory box” of your relationship on Tumblr, to gather up the mementos of your relationship
  • create a Facebook group for your shared circle of friends, and actually nourish it with posts, activities and events

The key thing: work hard at it, even when it’s challenging. In fact, it’s working through those challenges that will lead to the most profound deepening of your connection.

That applies no matter how great the challenge, and to people who work separately as well as to those of us who have a business together. After all, that opening quote did not come from a mom-and-pop business, and it reflected a marriage that’s undergone pressures the rest of us can never imagine. The quote was from Oprah’s interview with Michelle Obama, and I’ll give Michelle Obama the last word on the importance of creative collaboration in a relationship:

I don’t lose sight of the fact that he’s the president, but first and foremost he’s my husband, my friend, and the father of my children. That didn’t change with his hand on the Lincoln Bible. But it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the gravity of what he’s doing.  That’s my part in this. That’s why I’m out there trying to be an aid and a support to his vision and his values. I am supporting the president of the United States.