Every family business is as unique as every individual, so the roles spouses play will be different for each. Here are a few that spouses might shoulder:
- Listener. While it's important to be an active listener, "keep in mind that people tend to talk about what doesn't feel OK. They don't talk about relationships that are going well," says Gage. "So in many instances, just hearing someone vent and not taking it too seriously is the way to go-unless your spouse asks for your honest reaction or ideas."
- Supporter. Loyalty is important, of course. "But you don't want to make your spouse's battles yours," says Gage. "You might have opinions, but ultimately it's your spouse who's in charge of his or her working life . . . and it's his or her family."
- Mediator. "If there's a problem between your spouse and another family member," says Kliska, "you could serve as a goodwill ambassador. While still remaining sympathetic to your spouse, you might say something like, 'Well, think of it this way...' or 'If you were in his shoes, what do you think you'd do?' These interjections prompt more expansive thinking."
If family members have any doubt about how important spouses are to the business, Kliska points out that these are the people who are helping raise the potential successors. If your spouse doesn't communicate enthusiasm for and support of your family and the business, how likely is it that your kids will take control of the reins one day?