3 Tips for Running a Business With Your Spouse Without Divorcing or Going Broke
When marriage and business are intertwined, agreed-upon boundaries are essential.
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I met my husband using an online dating service. He was in Alaska and I was in Atlanta. One of the things that convinced me that our relationship had potential was the fact that his parents owned and operated a cattle ranch.They spent long hours together. His mom nursed calves in the kitchen in between making meals. They would talk all night long about the day's work. It all sounded romantic.
I have spoken with several wives about their marriage and business lives. I learned from them and from my own experience that owning a business with your spouse is not all romance. It is an adventure though. I asked them about the secrets to growing a family business that doesn't destroy the marriage.
Here's what I heard over and over again:
Separate your roles and responsibilities. My friend marked the death of her husband a few weeks ago. They ran and operated a restaurant for over 40 years. She explained that the only way to not drive each other crazy was to clearly delineate tasks and roles. He was the public face of the business. If a reporter called to do a profile on an upcoming cooking seminar, she would get her husband on the phone to handle it. If an accountant called to discuss the books, then he would give her the phone to discuss it. When one person needed help to accomplish an assigned task, they would submit to whoever was responsible. She explained they did not have a perfect marriage, but it did last over 50 years despite running a family business in an industry notorious for high failure rates.
Identify your strengths in the areas of leadership and business. Your spouse should do the same. Compare your lists and assign your roles and responsibilities according to those strengths. Plan to hire contractors or employees to assist you with your weak areas.
Silent treatments don't work. Giving your spouse the silent treatment destroys productivity. I would give my husband the silent treatment for days after an argument in the early stages of our family business. I learned that there is no faster way to miss deadlines and lose customers. I spoke with a wife married for 60 years. Her husband is an architect and speaker and she manages the finances and books his speaking engagements. They spend almost all of their time together. She told me to learn to be more tolerant than right and be more patient. She also advised building up my network of girlfriends and other support. She did not advise airing my dirty marriage laundry with them. I just needed to have other opportunities to express my creativity beyond the realm of family business.
The strength of your relationship does impact the success of your business. A weekly o r monthly counseling session for couples may be one of the best business investments you make. Opportunities to serve alongside others or be creative outside of the family business may help.
Be your own leader. The top frustration shared by many wives was that they had to take charge of their husbands' lives in addition to their own and their children. One wife who launched a family business with her second husband complained that she acted more like a personal assistant than a business partner. He would expect her to manage all aspects of the home alone in addition to her business obligations. She resented him for it. I asked her what would improve the relationship and business. The one thing that would make her happy was if her husband took responsibility for himself. That would free up her time to devote to running a business and pursuing her passion.
Don't neglect the work of self-leadership. It impacts all areas of your life including your family and business. Learn how to manage your life, time and projects well so as not to be a burden on your family.
Lay a proper foundation for a harmonious relationship and a great family business with these tips so that you too can experience long-term success.