Married to Your Business Partner? Here's How to Navigate Both Relationships.
Married couples who run their businesses together face unique challenges, but they can also be extraordinarily successful.
Marriage is tough. It’s more difficult than anyone realizes from the outside looking in. No matter how perfect your dating relationship is, marriage takes things to a whole new level. Couples find out what their marriage is really made of when challenges arise. For some, pressure and friction strengthen their relationship. For others, small fractures that were previously hidden transform into active fault lines that cause irreparable damage.
Likewise, starting and managing a business is tough. It’s not nearly as sleek or sexy as they make it look in glossy business magazines. The work is gritty, the hours are long, and failure is plentiful. Few entrepreneurs make it past the first couple of years. Of those that do, there’s a long uphill battle ahead.
Marriage is tough enough on its own. So is business. When you combine the two, everything is ratcheted up a couple of notches. Emotions run rampant, the intensity is magnified, and the boiling point is significantly reduced. One little spark, and everything can go up in flames.
If you're a married team that also happens to run a business together, this probably isn't the optimistic anecdote you were looking for. However, it's just reality. A lot of married co-founders don’t make it. Either the business crumbles, the marriage falls apart, or both. However — and this is the hopeful aspect that you should cling to — many married partners thrive.
How do they do it?
Being married to your business partner is actually a pretty neat experience. It has the potential to make your relationship more rewarding than the average marriage. Here are some helpful tips and truths you can use to increase your chances of success in both areas of your life.
Identify and leverage each other’s strengths
You might be married, but you aren’t the same person. In fact, many marriages work because of the way differences in strengths balance out the weaknesses. It’s imperative that you work together to identify and leverage each other’s strengths.
Begin by aligning on core principles. On a different note, there are various factors that neither of you can compromise on if you want to run a successful business. Get very clear on what these are.
The next step is to identify each other’s strengths. The good thing about being married is that this exercise doesn’t require a significant amount of digging. It should be pretty apparent. The more challenging part is being honest about weaknesses. You and your spouse have to get comfortable calling out each other's weaknesses without making one another feel dumb or unworthy.
Bring in other strategic leaders
Have you ever noticed how many husbands and wives start to look alike after a while? It's an interesting and peculiar phenomenon. But it’s not just looks. As you grow in marriage, your thoughts often become one another’s thoughts. This can be good in some areas of life, but isn’t ideal for leading a business.
As your business grows, it’s wise to bring in other strategic leaders to ensure your company doesn’t get stuck on a singular path. Whether it’s a board, a set of advisors or a new CEO, outside influence is a good thing for all companies. It’s even better when the business is led by a husband and wife.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst
It’s possible to want one thing, yet plan for the possibility of something far less desirable. Take buying a car, for example. When you purchase a new vehicle for your family, you look at safety ratings and purchase something that’s supposed to withstand crashes. You buy car seats for your young children and take the time to strap them in. You go through the extra step of putting on a seatbelt before backing out of the driveway. You do a lot of things just in case something bad happens. Yet you never get into your car and think about the possibility of being involved in a car accident. You hope for the best, despite planning for the worst.
The same goes for health insurance. You buy health insurance as a hedge against serious illness, disease, injury or cancer. Yet most people don't spend their waking hours fearful of contracting some awful medical condition. Again, you hope for the best, while planning for the worst.
We adopt this line of thinking in multiple areas of our lives, yet most people are hesitant to carry it over into how they view marriage. Most people completely shy away from thinking about the possibility of separation or divorce. They feel like it’s inappropriate and self-destructive to assume anything but the best. A common refrain is, “Why would we want to start our marriage thinking about failure as an option?” But why would we not?
Divorce rates have hovered around 40 or 50% for decades. People always think they’re the exceptions to this rule, but the statistics don’t lie. And if you’re running a business together, you’re actually far likelier to part ways. Thus, it’s imperative that you hope for the best, even as you plan for the worst.
Planning for the worst could include things like establishing separation, making sure each spouse has a distinct title with specific roles. It’s also good if each spouse takes his or her own salary, as opposed to lumping it all together.
You should also have frank conversations about how the business is to be managed in the absence of one partner. You don’t have to talk in terms of divorce. The absence of one partner could be brought on by sickness, death or sudden disinterest in the business.
Finally, consider signing a pre- or post-nuptial agreement that explicitly states how the business will be handled if there ever is a split.
Maintaining a healthy and thriving marriage is difficult. Running a business is tough. Doing both at the same time is next-level challenging. You can do it, but it’s helpful to have a game plan.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor