Opinion

Running a business with your spouse: The good, the bad, and the beautiful

6 min read

23 April 2019

Running a business with your romantic partner can be an enjoyable and deeply rewarding experience. However, it also means that when things get tough, it's easy to blame the other person. Here's how you can keep it cool, calm and democratic when running a business with your spouse.

Running a business with your spouse might seem scary at first, but it doesn’t have to be. The following tips can help. ‘Conflict Resolution’ is one of those words that always strikes fear into the hearts of people, especially those in relationships, where it’s always easier to avoid conflict because many people feel uncomfortable or ill-equipped to handle those types of situations.

So, when you’re running a business with your partner, you can do your best to avoid conflict, but it’s still bound to happen every so often. In my experience, most conflicts happen because of a lack of clarity, when a point was not communicated clearly which can then lead to mistakes being made.

Communication is everything

By understanding the fact that errors are human-nature and that no one makes an error willingly, it’s important during times of conflict for business partners to communicate clearly and to not place blame.

Instead, you should be asking the right questions to identify where the problems lie and how best to move forward. It’s important to remember in any situation of conflict that both partners want what’s best for the business.

However, it can be difficult to think clearly and impartially at times, especially in times of great pressure that involve financial decisions and so at some point, it may be wise to look for advice from a mentor who can help to mitigate the conflict and bring in a neutral perspective. It’s a valuable skill to be able to identify when you need help and to be courageous enough to ask for it.

Don’t allow conflict to affect your personal relationship

I learned early on that it’s very important, whenever a conflict scenario comes up between your significant other, who is also your business partner, to make sure that the conflict is not misinterpreted and taken personally but is rather an external commercial challenge. In this way, your personal relationship with one another comes first and is therefore sheltered from external circumstances relating to the business.

Taking it from that angle, my wife and I would analyse any situation of conflict to try and understand why it happened and to evaluate any cost associated with remedying the issues. Admittedly, this is occasionally more difficult when I am the one who made the mistake, as my ego has a habit of stepping in the way because I feel ashamed, knowing that I let down my business partner and my best friend.

Fear cloaked in anger: Who do you take it out on? The person you’re closest to…

To cover the fear, I would sometimes say things that were not necessarily helpful but what I noticed was that my wife realised that I was feeling vulnerable, and she would allow me space and time to calm down. I would always find the strength and courage to apologise for my behaviour because it’s important to keep humility at the forefront of conflict.

It helps to understand one another’s weaknesses and strengths, and how you like to be spoken to and to make sure that you both take time to deal with any emotional residue that could end up affecting your relationship.

‘Separating Your Home Life’: John Maxwell, a leadership teacher, said that it’s almost impossible to have the perfect balance between work and home life for those who run home-based businesses.

His advice was that your family should always be a priority before running your business. The business can be built around family, but this depends heavily on individual value systems. If not well respected, neglecting your family will result in more pain in the long run.

So, using his advice, my wife and I have always made sure that we have as much order as possible in our house, even though it may look chaotic from the outside. Play to your strengths and do everything you can to find time for work and time for your family.

Balancing business with family obligations

Communicate the message that you’re working parents to your clients so that they understand your need for flexibility, and seek help if you need it. The Lessons/Losses A few years ago, we decided to invest in a new business venture, a place where we had theoretical facts but lacked experience.

We arranged the necessary finances, sought professional assistance and off we went. Six months into the project, my wife realised that we were running at a loss and bleeding valuable cash. I had to call a meeting. I am generally the visionary, and my wife deals with the financial aspect, so we decided to let the project go, and that it was not worth the strain on our marriage.

Delegate roles that suit your differing abilities and strengths

To conclude, if you have clear channels of communication, learn to separate your personal and business relationships, make your family a priority, and play to your individual strengths, running a business with your spouse can be a successful partnership.