What is the definition of hell? Working with your spouse when it’s not working.
Tom came to me many years go stressed out, burnt out and thrown out. After what seemed to be a great marriage and growing business Tom was looking at divorce and dissolving their business. His wife Ann had more or less thrown Tom out of the house. Because according to her he was a huge pain in the ass.
Tom admitted he did get stressed out and overly insistent about how the business should be run. As Tom declared, “I’m a detail man and the details weren’t looking good.”
I started asking Tom questions about what occurred and what was the structure of the business. It became clear that their hobby of making dog toys and paraphernalia gradually evolved into a business without any planning. Or better said, their relationship evolved into a business.
After allowing Tom to rant then grieve, I explained that the problem was a critical mistake they made that many make. It wasn’t that they didn’t have a business plan; they didn’t have a relationship plan. No one teaches us how to have a successful relationship, we learn on the job. No one teaches us how to take a relationship and have it thrive as a business.
As I laid out my model for having both a successful business and relationship Tom began to relax. He saw that he wasn’t bad; he was ignorant because he didn’t know any better. Neither did his wife. He saw hope for reviving both his business and his relationship.
I gave him a detail plan on what to do. I told him they could do it on their own, but suggested particularly because they were in trouble that they get help. I offered myself and suggested other options.
Tom and Ann did use me. It was hard at first because they had to deal with the past feelings and mistakes. As they began to communicate they relaxed. As they relaxed the joy and love they once had showed up. In getting honest about what they didn’t like about work they saw that a lot of their anger projected on the other was from doing what they didn’t want to do and not feeling appreciated.
It is amazing what a simple plan and communication can do. After six months Tom and Ann were rocking. They were enjoying each other and their business. There business was taking off because their joy was contagious.
A powerful model
A while ago I dated a CPA and attorney who developed a successful mediation practice. Debra told me how the worse divorces were always the ones where the couple was in business together. When it got bad… it got very bad.
What was once a person’s partner becomes his or her saboteur. Work evolved to be another way to get back at each other through spreading hurtful rumors, making embarrassing remarks in front of the employees, and doing anything to make the other look bad even at the risk of hurting the company.
Relationships end. Business partnerships end. Sometimes you can prevent both from occurring. If endings do occur you can minimize the collateral damage. Any breakup is difficult; yet aiming for it workout will at least lessen the pain and damage if a breakup occurs.
Additionally, doing these simple steps will take a good relationship and partnership and make it great. Following a plan that starts with creating clarity gives you ways to support each other and yourself while reducing the stress. It will enhance your relationship and your business in ways that might be difficult to imagine now.
The reason more don’t do this is that these concepts and methods aren’t taught. Who was taught how to have a good relationship? Who had a course in their MBA program that taught how to develop a successful partnership with your spouse? Not only can many of the problems we see couples develop be prevented, these couples can have more fun than they thought possible.
Start with a plan
Your values are the foundation for everything you do. When is that last time you described them to anyone, let alone your partner? Could you right now succinctly describe what is important to you? What values or principles are you not willing to compromise?
Start writing. Go beyond asking yourself. Look for patterns in your life where your values showed themselves even when you weren’t aware. For example I value telling the truth. I have a history of opening my mouth even at the cost of my future.
Ask old friends what they perceive are your values. You may be surprised to hear what others see as your operating system. If one person comes up with one outlandish value don’t count it. Yet of several of your friends come up with a similar value – it’s you.
As you are doing yours, have your partner do his or hers. Once done, meet to discuss them. Where you don’t share the same value discuss how that value is importance and how you could support your partner in that value. Realize this whole process is meant to be an exploration and bonding and relationship deepening experience. So, take your time. Have fun doing this!
Get honest with yourselves about what are the possible consequences of working together. What is the worst case scenario? Feel and discuss how your business and relationship could fall apart. Put it all out on the table.
Bottom line: Are you willing to put your relationship at risk or under additional stress to have a business?Vision
From your values and what you want to go for, create a vision of what you want individually and jointly. Not just what you want for your business, but for your relationship. The business vision is the what. The relationship vision is the how.
If you need help in creating a business vision you will have no problem finding it. Let me give you some suggestions about creating a ‘how vision’ of your relationship.
Imagine what it would feel and look like to be having fun with your partner at work. How would the two of you be relating so both of you look forward to going to work? At this stage don’t be concern about how you are going to create – just get clear on what you want your interactions to feel and look like.
As you continue your discussions start writing out individually and collectively what you want and how you plan to create it. This is your business/relationship plan done from the prospective of your business partner is your lover.
Just as some marriages have a prenup, your business needs one. A buyout clause in your partnership agreement describes how you end the partnership with one person leaving and the other staying. Treat your business as a relationship and a business. Deal with the emotional aspects as well as the legal and financial aspects.
Write up how you dismantle the partnership under several different circumstances? From the death of a partner to the divorce of the marriage needs addressing. Also look at what occurs when one person wants to leave how the other and the business would help him or her get another job…
Realize the unexpected happens. In the state of loving your partner and wanting the best for him or her, design an exit strategy that serves him or her. Trust that by treating the other with love and respect you will be best served in the long run. If you have kids, they will be best served by your having a fair and easy plan up front.
Also write out who is the boss. There might be one boss or bosses for particular functions. As part of each person job description describe who has the final say. You can rotate who is the boss. You can have a clause where this is reviewed after a certain period of time. Go beyond gender roles and look at what are each person’s skills and passions. Speak about where you are threatened from an ego and gender perspective. Speaking about it brings it out in the open thereby lessens likely to come back and bite you in the ass. It also deepens the trust between both of you.
Now you know what you want, start creating a plan. How would you know you are achieving these goals? How would you know something is wrong? The goal is not only to notice problem early, it is to have a structure to deal with it. As we all know, the bigger the stress, the harder it is to be sane. If you have a plan to fall back on it will be easier and less stressful.
The better you two work together, the better the employees will work together. Realize your employees are like your kids only in that they will pick up unconsciously what you aren’t aware of. You know how kids act out their parents emotions. So do the employees of a couple. This works well for you when you two are doing well.
Have at least an annual meeting to discuss the meta issues. These are the issues concerning how the two of you are relating. How is the business affecting you relationship and your family. Do you need to admen your agreement? You may want to bring outside help to facilitate this meeting even if you are doing great.
By knowing there is a meeting on the books to discuss the how of your business both of you can relax. Without a plan to resolve even a little problem people will start getting crazy. If you know that you have a meeting coming up and on the agenda are standard questions of how are we doing, what needs to be said that is not being said, and what do you need that your not getting – you have a means to an easy resolution.
I would suggest at least a monthly check in meeting to discuss business operational concerns. During these meetings and at other times – listen. This might not be the default for many men. Breathe and listen. Don’t go to immediately solving the problem. Let the other person speak. We all need to express our thought, feelings and wants. Often that is all that is needed.
Expand beyond being the other’s spouse. Don’t go to judging them just has your relationship partner. Listen as a concern person who shares the same desire to succeed.
Create your own way to acknowledge the other in front of your employees and the public. Honor your partner. Not only will that go deep for him or her, it will send out a huge message to others. Don’t be trite. Fine something that moved you about your partner. It is much better that is little and sincere than large and superficial.
Building a successful business and relationship
Now that you have plan and some business related actions let’s discover what you can do to guarantee your success.
Time and energy
It all comes down to our two most precious resources. If there is an imbalance or a significant lack in one of these you have a problem. In most cases the symptoms will not immediately point you to the cause. So, let’s do a little prevention… in fact let’s do some enhancing.
Each of you need time and space together and apart. As part of your business planning discuss specifically what you need to renew yourself. What do you need to do away from your partner to feel happy, and refreshed?
Also discuss how you want to relate to each other while at work. How to you want to show affection? Be clear. One might hold back in deference to the employees while the other may feeling ignored. If it is just the two of you at work it can be tough being together 24/7 – plan how you are going to deal with it. Know that no matter how much you love each other and how well you get along at some point you will need time away.
As you acquire more employees it could get easier. You have more people to interact with.
Separate but equal
At work you both need separate spaces. If not, then one of you needs to be out of the office regularly. Familiarity will breed contempt while distance breads longing. How you achieve this will vary over time, yet if you are regularly discussing this you can make minor changes easily.
In the best case each of you need your own separate support. Some of it is fun stuff other could be emotional. From teaching other men to lead men’s groups then watching their groups succeed I have seen that something as simple as meeting with a group of committed men weekly can transform a man, his relationship and his business. Men’s and women’s groups aren’t therapy even though they may have a therapeutic effect. They are for each person to learn what they didn’t get to learn growing up. These groups also act as a resource to solving problems and being accountable to following though.Together
Mutual support will enhance your success. Having the regular time to discuss how you are doing will take a lot of the stress away. You avoid little situations from developing into big issues. To improve upon this I would recommend finding a coach or consultant to help you draw out what neither of you can see. A coach can be the advocate of your relationship. He or she can take what we discussed and help you implement it.
Combining individual support with joint support allows you to relax. You know if only unconsciously that you have a time and space to get what you need. If you don’t have those opportunities you will find indirect ways to get it from your business. If you do that your business will suffer.
Nourishing yourself and your relationship will allow you to experience the benefits of your relationship. Take advantage of this by planning times together when all you do is have fun. You don’t discuss work, you play. It might be doing a sport together. It might be traveling. Whatever you do, do it weekly. Then every quarter take a trip or do something special. It could be as simple as going for a hike.
Here’s a secret. If your unconscious doesn’t have a positive ritual (say a weekly dinner date) it will focus on a negative ritual. Create a ritual by doing something pleasurable on regular bases. Expand out to monthly, quarterly and annual activities. You want to day dream about something fun.
Create a no business zone where business issues don’t intrude. Be firm about your boundaries, if you don’t work will seep into all of our life. Create a time span when you won’t answer the phone concerning work and a time when you won’t do work.
The more you give to your relationship the less it or you will try to get your needs met indirectly through work. If you go to work feeling loved and filled from your relationship, then work will be easy.
Doing this upfront planning and work will be the best investment you could make for your relationship and your business. If you are already in a business with your partner, it’s not too late to use these suggestions. As you saw with Tom and Ann, using these suggestions can even revive a failing business and marriage.
I have worked with many entrepreneurs over the years who worked with their partner. When it is bad, it is very bad. When it is good, it is very good. Planning, implementing, getting support and having fun together will make the difference.
What are your experiences working together? What do you do to have it work?
Photo by JOE-3PO