One of the hardest things is working with your spouse as a business partner. Many years ago, I tested this with my wife, Sara, and it lasted exactly one day. Unlike me, many couples are very successful in happily running a business together; it even strengthens their marriage.
So, what is their secret?
This week, on the Small Business Radio Show, I interviewed Dr. Ellyn Bader and Dr. Peter Pearson, of The Couples Institute in Silicon Valley. They specialize in helping entrepreneurial couples transform their relationships while managing their business and marriage simultaneously. For many spouses, it becomes difficult because running the company becomes a priority and the marriage can get lost in the process. This is because there are more points of contention and overlapping of role boundaries. Patterns established in the marital relationship also can get played out at work.
Ellyn and Peter believe that business and marriages fail for the same reasons:
- Failure to learn from experience. They state that many couples have the same fight repeatedly. Similarly, this happens in business when the same problems consistently happened without focusing on a solution.
- Inability to adapt to changing conditions. Many companies and marriages have a hard time learning to approach problems differently as the environment changes for a better chance at success.
- Failure to anticipate future problems and then take action. Many companies and marriages fail to focus on what the next issues may be like after they have children or hire their first employees (and what to do about it).
- Failure to have the same level of commitment. Many times, one partner drags the other one into the business. In addition, Peter says that a promise is not the same thing as a commitment. He believes commitments are stated as “I agree to do ___________, no matter what!”.
- Lack of role understanding. In business and marriage, people sometimes don’t understand their role clearly. They are not agreed to in advance, so people get confused on how to do their job or what function they play in the partnership.
Ellyn and Peter's outline skills that couples need to have to succeed in business together and strengthen their marriage. These include an ongoing appreciation and acknowledgment of each other. Peter believes if you never do this, partners can become numb to their involvement in the company and their marriage. Ellyn suggests using a technique called the “Daily Double” where each spouse mentions two things they can appreciate about each other. This can be done through texting or in front of other people.