After working together for more than a dozen years – and being a happily married duo for nearly a decade – we’ve learned a lot about ourselves as both life partners and business partners.
Some of our biggest insights have come from the never-ending stream of people who ask us some variation of this question: How in the world do you work with your spouse without going crazy – or without killing one another?
The question is almost invariably followed by an assertion that the individual could “NEVER” work with his or her own spouse.
At first we would chuckle at hearing this, especially because most people would ask the question in a half-joking, half-serious kind of way, and often right in front of their mate.
But over the years, as we’ve grown in intimacy as a couple, in maturity as individuals, and in deeper partnership in business, we’ve come to realize how truly serious this question is, even if it is frequently masked in a morose kind of humor.
The fact is: Five out of 10 marriages in America end in divorce.
Half of all small businesses in the U.S. fail within the first five years.
So what happens when a married couple tries their hand at going into business together? Could it be the start of something beautiful – or is it a recipe for disaster?
For us, mixing business and pleasure has been a blessing that has enriched our marriage and strengthened the financial education company we co-own.
(Related Reading: The Joy of Entrepreneurship With My Spouse)
That’s not to suggest that working together doesn’t pose various challenges. It does.
Marriage is hard enough on its own. When you add the stress of running a business into the mix, things can get especially tricky.
For instance: While marriage is theoretically a partnership of equals, who’s actually the boss when it comes down to business?
And how does an entrepreneurial couple deal with inevitable business disagreements – and manage to keep those conflicts from spilling over into their personal relationship?
For husbands and wives who mix love and work, gender roles can get muddied too. After all, when both parties have spent all day working hard on the business, who’s responsible for cooking, cleaning or tending to the kids at home?
These issues, and many more, confront all spouses who operate a company, whether it’s a newly minted startup or an entity that one or both of you has run for years.
So if you’re contemplating whether to become “copreneurs” – an entrepreneurial couple who operate a business with one another – you need to take special precautions to make sure your business venture doesn’t ruin your relationship.
Here are 12 issues that drive couples crazy when they work together in business – and how you can avoid or fix these problems.
A spark of jealousy now and again may add passion to a personal relationship. But a jealous mate can sabotage or even destroy a business.
A jealous husband may not want his wife to have any one-on-one meetings with other men – even though those interactions are purely professional. Or maybe a green-eyed wife balks any time her man has to take a phone call from a female business associate.
In either of these scenarios, valuable business could be lost. So a jealous mate must learn to check that jealousy at the door. Likewise, the other spouse needs to establish and maintain healthy boundaries with others.
Most of us would love to have a supportive mate, one who enjoys seeing us soar – personally and professionally. But what should you do if your spouse is acting like a hater – and practically seems to want to undermine your career growth or business success?
Instead of throwing out accusations or ultimatums, take the time to have a calm conversation, or even a series of heart-to-heart talks, to find out what why you or your spouse feel that surge of professional envy.
A man might be jealous of his wife’s career success because he was raised to believe that the male should always be the main breadwinner in the family. Or maybe a spouse’s jealousy is rooted in fear. He or she may secretly fear that if you excel as a business owner you won’t need him or her.
Whatever the case, if your partner seems jealous of your success, you need to bring it up and get to the root of the issue. Even small grains of jealousy can fester, grow and threaten to weaken or completely unravel your relationship and your business.
When spouses opt to go work side by side, the smart ones very quickly learn that in business, as in marriage, it’s unhealthy and unnecessary to quibble over every little thing. So don’t drive each other crazy arguing about relatively minor issues.
For major business decisions, establish a decision-making process that each of you can agree upon. If you find that you’re fighting over every little thing about work, that’s likely a sign that something else is amiss. It could be something petty or something serious that’s unresolved.
Surface arguments about trivial matters are often really about something else. And the worst enemy to any relationship – whether business or personal – is an unresolved issue that hasn’t been addressed, talked through and fixed.
The boardroom-bedroom link
You may hear some entrepreneurs who are spouses say that they “leave business at the office.” If they can do that, God bless them. Frankly, we don’t know any married folks who are entrepreneurs who can truly pull off that feat, including us.
So accept the fact that, to some extent, personal and business is all wrapped together for co-preneurs.
You can’t have a boardroom battle with each other during the day and then go to bed that night expecting sex and romance as if the heated words that were exchanged just hours ago were never said. Eventually, there’s bound to be spillover affect, including potential damage to your love life.
That’s just one reason why only 1% of co-preneurs say their sex life has improved since starting their business, according to a Manta Small Business survey.
A better strategy to try to “turn off” the business, is to learn to strike a balance between your professional world, and your lives as lovers and spouses.
No matter where you work, whether an office, a home-based business, a retail store or someplace else, the way you talk to your co-workers, customers, employees or others at the job should typically be different than the way you talk to your spouse.
We’re not suggesting that you have to use pet names and get all mushy with one another at work. But don’t forget that you are lovers as well as professionals.
Most spouses like for their significant others to speak to them with kindness, respect and affection – even if one spouse is the boss. So for the health and preservation of the personal side of your relationship, it doesn’t hurt to soften the private communications you share with one another and to have your own special, secret code words that represent your love and affection for one another.
To maintain happiness in your marriage and in business, you must learn to communicate on the work front without alienating each on the personal front (and vice versa). Otherwise, you run the risk of your inadvertently hurting your spouse’s feelings or having unnecessary miscommunications and misunderstandings.
Household and family responsibilities
Household responsibilities and childcare duties don’t stop just because the two of you have decided to run a business. So talk through what will work best for your marriage and your family. Also understand that each of you will likely have to make certain sacrifices.
In our case, we promote shared household and family responsibilities, with Earl managing the home and schedule and Lynnette tackling the bulk of educational and social activities with our three children.
Power and control
Some couples in business together, especially those starting out, grapple with issues of power and control. Often, the unspoken question many couples face is: Whose business is it anyway – mine, yours or ours?
If the two of you can’t have rational conversations about ownership and how you’ll split everything from profits to work responsibilities, then you’re probably not going to be well-suited to work together.
(Related Reading: 6 Reasons You Are Not Cut Out to Be An Entrepreneur)
In our relationship, when we met, Lynnette was a former television reporter, first-time author and budding speaker. Earl had just left a career in book selling and had started his own publishing service and literary agency. We each had our own businesses. But over the years, we’ve combined our companies because our work is complimentary, our skills balance one another, and we enjoy working together.
Our articles of incorporation define our business as 51% owned by Lynnette and 49% owned by Earl and we’re both happy with that, as it reflects our spirit of shared ownership and gives us the benefit of being a majority woman-owned firm.
Nonetheless, since Lynnette is the CEO and face of the company, some people mistakenly think that she single-handedly runs our firm, TheMoneyCoach.net LLC.
We like to say that’s like thinking that Beyonce not only sang on stage for two hours during a sold-out concert, but she also booked the venue; negotiated the contract; made sure all the backup artists showed up; arranged for security; tested the lighting and special effects – plus made sure she got paid for her performance.
As incredible a performer as Beyonce is, we highly doubt that she could pull off all of that. In reality, Beyonce has had a squad of skilled business partners, managers and advisors over the years – including her father, mother and husband, Jay Z.
Likewise, we have collectively built Lynnette’s brand as a nationally recognized personal finance expert known as The Money Coach.
As a television personality, Lynnette is front and center. She does media interviews, writes financial books and articles, gives speeches, and coaches individuals, couples, and business owners. Earl manages the behinds the scenes action. He negotiates contracts, runs the websites, and handles all the logistics. Together, we make it work.
A TV photographer once called Lynnette “the wow” and Earl “the how” in describing how we operate. That pretty much sums it up.
At some point all couples in business confront philosophical differences related to their enterprise. It might be about a hiring decision, when to launch a new product or service, or what direction to take the company.
We’ve had our share of disagreements over new projects and collaborations. Some of those same projects eventually paid off big time, while others were total disasters.
Understand that the two of you aren’t mirror images of each other. You’re going to disagree from time to time. The key is to be civil, willing to learn and explore, as well as open-minded. Getting an informal board of directors, or a team of trusted people you can bounce ideas off, also helps.
Unresolved personal and emotional issues
All of your personal issues get magnified in business, just as in marriage. So if you have mommy or daddy issues, abandonment issues, weight issues, confidence issues (over or under), money issues, a Napolean complex – or any other psychological issues, expect those things to come to the surface.
To say something like “Well, he’s a glass half-full person and she’s a glass half-empty type,” is merely scratching the surface.
To really know your spouse and partner, your business partner especially, you need to understand why he perceives the glass to always be half full and why she perceives the glass to be half empty. The reasons will definitely pre-date your relationship and may even be a generational issue extending back your significant other’s upbringing, or even their parents’ upbringing.
When you worked for some one else, or in Corporate America, it’s very possible that all your issues never surfaced. But as business owners, unresolved issues will pop out like a Jack-in-the-Box when you’re least willing to deal with them.
The solution: share your issues openly with your spouse so they don’t think you’re crazy or irrational. You want your spouse to perceive you as being smart, capable and dependable – not as some lunatic that gets easily unhinged and goes nuts about the smallest thing. So share what’s on your mind frequently. It’s going to be painful at times, but necessary and ultimately helpful – in business and for your marriage.
Too much togetherness
Some people contemplating co-ownership of a business with a spouse wonder if working together all day long wouldn’t make for too much togetherness. It’s true that 24-7 time with a spouse can be “too much of a good thing” for some people.
But other couples, like us, are best friends. So we prefer being around one another more than any one else.
We have together time and alone time as well, though. And we think that’s healthy.
So if either of you needs it, do have personal time for yourself. Schedule it if necessary. And if your spouse wants a little less togetherness after working together all day, don’t fall into the trap of thinking: Since you don’t want to be with me, you don’t love me. That just ties back into personal insecurities (see issue #9).
Commitment to the business
What happens if one party really isn’t “all in” and 100% committed to the path of entrepreneurship?
It could very well be that the individual loves his or her spouse, wants to be helpful and supportive and wants their mate to excel in business. But he or she may simply prefer to not be in the business, or perhaps just likes working for someone else or doing something else.
What then? It’s vital to understand from the get-go if you both really want to be business owners.
Showing your mate that running a business together can be exciting, profitable and freedom-giving is one thing. But twisting his or her arm is another matter altogether.
The best partnerships, in marriage and in business, result when two people are committed to the effort, and they agree upon each party’s level of engagement.
Inevitably, there are also money worries and cash flow problems that take a toll on spouses running a joint business. In this case, with everything so intertwined, if the business fails, does that mean the relationship is doomed as well?
But to avoid that fate, you need a personal plan – well before you need a business plan.
Before launching, have an honest discussion – maybe several – about the corporate vision and what you want the business to become. Discuss your financial expectations and be realistic in your economic forecasts.
Don’t automatically think that you both have to “give 100% to the business” right away.
In some cases, maybe a better strategy is for one person to keep a 9-to-5 gig as a way to have an outside income stream and health benefits – at least until the business is self-supporting.
Talk in advance about how you’ll deal with money droughts, which will definitely come at various phases. And lastly, identify the financial circumstances, if any, that would cause either of you to call it quits on the business.
This is crucial because throwing in the towel will be very hard for a person who feels like a die-hard entrepreneur at heart.
A Surge in Entrepreneurship
If you do decide to make the leap to entrepreneurship, know that you won’t be alone.
America is experiencing a surge in the number of individuals who are launching their own businesses. Nearly 550,000 new businesses are started in the U.S. every month, according to the 2015 Kauffman Index.
And out of the 28 million small businesses enterprises currently in the U.S., nearly 1 in 4 of them, about 6.5 million, are run by couples.
From the cities to the suburbs, and the heartland to the hood, the U.S. is filled with entrepreneurial mates pursuing the American dream of being their own boss.
Should you become a small business owner with your spouse, at least now you’ll be better prepared to do it successfully – and without driving each other crazy in the process.