How to Ask Your Spouse for Business Advice, According to This Divorce Lawyer
Have each other's backs, no matter what.
While having a spouse who is also an entrepreneur definitely has its perks, it can create some really problematic situations, especially around risk-taking, work-life balance and the inevitable competition. My husband and I are definitely a work in progress when it comes to running businesses, parenting and adulting. But as far as when and how to seek feedback from each other, we’ve got that down.
My husband and I, between the two of us, have started five businesses in the last 10 years. These days we are dividing our time between my law firm and two startups -- Hello Divorce, a humane break-up service for couples who don’t want divorce to be war, and a company I’m launching with my best friend to educate women about the financial consequences and opportunities of marriage. My husband began as a “filmpreneur” but with the birth of our kids he’s running a distribution company for his locally-made craft soda.
Ten years later, there’s still a point in every week when we look at each other and say, “I don’t know what the (expletive) I’m doing.” In these moments we rely on each other to help sort things out. If you too are navigating life with an entrepreneur spouse, here’s a list of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
Determine individual ideas of acceptable risk.
Making critical business decisions that may financially impact your spouse warrants a serious discussion. Especially if it’s a trigger for one or both of you. Have a conversation around your level of acceptable risk. Are you or your spouse willing to invest or leverage personal assets to fund a business venture? Or are some assets off limits?
Understand each other’s threshold for risk prior to seeking advice about any issue that might trigger the other spouse. For example, you risk a serious breakdown in communication if you don't recognize that leveraging your home triggers fear for your spouse. The question becomes how do you honor one person’s willingness for more risk while protecting yourself from living with the terror that everything is going to come crumbling down if the business fails?
Bottom line: don’t blindly ask for something that is going to scare or anger your spouse. Be prepared with solutions or start the conversation with a disclaimer -- “I know this is a challenging topic for you and I have no desire to take a leap forward without both of us being on the same page.” This way, you are more likely to have a productive discussion about what you want and you’ll be more likely to forge a path to get there.
Advice or empathy? Be clear about what you want.
Sometimes we want real advice. But other times we are simply looking for a sympathetic ear to vent our struggles. Be transparent and clear about whether you want solutions or empathy, and be mindful when asking your spouse for advice. Don’t ask for it unless you really want it. You may get advice that is very different from what you expected. And when it comes to unsolicited business advice, feel okay with rejecting it. If you patronize or ignore your spouse, it will lead to resentment. It’s perfectly okay to reject the advice, especially if it goes against your values or business model.
Be okay with your spouse not having the answer.
Sometimes (uh, maybe most times) you don’t know how to help each other. And that’s okay.
You can’t force insights. They come when they come. But having the conversation in place may prepare you both for when insights do come and the conversation just may lead to a solution later. In fact, you might need to sit with something for a while, which requires learning to be comfortable with not having the answer at that moment in time.
Be honest but supportive.
Honesty is the best policy when asking your spouse for advice. He or she may disagree with the way you are handling a situation and may tell you exactly that. But (hopefully) there’s no one you trust more than your spouse and therefore you expect him or her to lay the truth on you.
Listen to why he or she thinks you are off base and use it as an opportunity to see something from a new angle. Better yet, your spouse might be able to penetrate a blind spot. Conversely, if you’ve done the same with your spouse, be supportive. Give her or him space to feel or process what you’ve said, then find a way to build them back up. Make your feedback about how he or she runs their business versus how he or she walks through the world.
Align your long-term goals.
What are your long-term goals for your business? What about for your relationship? You’ll get better advice if you’re on the same page or at least have an understanding of what you both want for the future. If your spouse’s goal is to sell the business in 10 years and move to a beach in Mexico, that could conflict with your desire to grow your business locally. How does your spouse’s goal impact where you live, your lifestyle or how many hours you work? By talking these issues out, it will help you to figure out together how your businesses will best fit into your lives over time.
Communication is the key to seeking business advice from your spouse. The more you communicate, the more likely you are to balance the ups and downs that come with running a business. But remember, don’t limit your shop talk to your spouse. Others may also offer valuable insights. And unless you are prepared to end the romance, don’t limit what you and your spouse discuss to shop talk.
If you lose perspective you risk making the business more important than your relationship. No matter what, have each other’s backs and be on the same team.