There are approximately 5.5 million family-owned businesses in the U.S. Of these, about a third are owned and operated by husband-and-wife teams.
These partnerships can form a powerful force and winning strategy for many entrepreneurial ventures. However, managing a relationship that becomes 24/7 isn’t all romance. It can have its challenges. We know. We have been married for 12 years and have worked together in different roles for over 20 years. We would never presume that we have the one and only formula for a successful partnership. However, we have found that the five traits listed below make our time together more joy than job.
1. Compatible strengths, goals and the “ambition factor.” Polly’s strengths are human resources, people management and organizational effectiveness. Doug’s are strategy, operations and finance. We joke that, taken together, we almost make a complete executive. Having different strengths makes us more compatible. Goal alignment is critical. You can’t be a team with different goals. Ours are written and we see them every day. The willingness to work hard and sacrifice is what we call the “ambition factor.” It’s essential to have similar levels of ambition. Without it, partners can become resentful. The partner with more ambition may feel that the other isn’t carrying his or her weight, while the less ambitious partner may find it difficult to support the long hours of his or her mate.
2. Respect for and trust in each other. We have tremendous respect for each other’s skills, knowledge and work ethic -- but perhaps more importantly we respect each other as human beings. Because of this, we trust that the other is working in the best interest of the firm and our family. We are willing to give our partner the benefit of the doubt, even if we don’t completely understand their actions. We assume positive intent.
3. Humor. We have a good time. We laugh often. We try not to take ourselves too seriously. Humor makes good times better and bad times bearable.
4. Consideration. Each of us is considerate of the other. We know each other’s hot buttons. Consideration means not doing those things that trigger irritation. It also means doing little things that the other appreciates. Doug often brings Polly a much-needed cup of coffee in the afternoon. Polly listens to Doug’s articles and emails for content, structure and tone. He reciprocates. Consideration also means doing things you don’t enjoy. Polly does the filing and handles the difficult communications with clients. Doug pays the bills and does the taxes.
5. Honest communication and conflict management. Being considerate does not mean avoiding difficult discussions. Conflict occurs. It’s normal. Avoiding conflict allows issues to fester. Left long enough, these unaddressed issues can poison a relationship. We find that it is much better to get disagreements out in the open and clear the air before this happens. Of course, when we discuss tough issues, we’re honest, but also polite, considerate and respectful. Because we know we love and are loved by the other, we can discuss shortcomings, hurt feelings, irritations, needs, wishes, etc. without demoralizing and hurting our partner. This can take practice, but is worth the effort.
Working with your spouse can be rewarding, but being together 24/7 can be challenging. We’ve found that the traits above can ease the stress.