10 Tactics to Survive Business with Your Spouse
More than often, spouses get the entrepreneurship bug together and decide: “Let’s start a business together!”
Well I’m here to tell you: “STOP. DON’T DO IT!”
Unless you know how to survive and navigate that very special balance between a business and personal relationship. Otherwise, you will create a rift in your marriage that can often lead to something serious.
We all know that starting a business is no easy feat. Most businesses fail within their first years. Others don’t make it beyond three. So again, going through all of this with your spouse, and your livelihoods are at stake, it’s not easy.
I’m an expert in spousal business relationships since my husband and I had the bug 12 years ago, and started our company Invesp. The interesting thing about going into business with your spouse is getting to know your spouse at an entirely different level. The person you married can be different than the person in the office.
Because of the nature of our business, we actually had to do a lot of collaboration with each other. This made it very often difficult to create separation between the marriage and the business, especially when we were first starting out.
Interestingly enough, we went into business together at the beginning of our marriage, so not only we were we getting to know each other professionally, but personally as well. In retrospect, although we survived it, it did cause us some stress. I would recommend being married for atleast a couple of years before deciding to start a business together.
Additionally, in the beginning, business trumped marriage; but slowly we both developed survival mechanisms that helped us achieve a blissful marriage, as well as a happy office life and thriving business.
Here are some of the survival tactics we “try” and stick to:
1. The wife is always the boss.
Kidding aside, identifying the roles of each spouse in the business is very important. Clearly there must be someone in charge, and both spouses need to be honest and reflective on where they can be the most beneficial in order for success. This controversy of who is in charge or the “CEO” can happen in any start-up when spouses aren’t even at play. So it’s most important that spouses are clear on this from the very beginning. That clarity involves what being in that role will entail, and what each spouse should expect from each other in their respective roles.
There should never be an assumption of: “oh, well she’ll be okay with that.” Or “he’d be fine if I did that.” Of course there should be a level of trust in each other, but there should also be transparency. These tactics are the primary building blocks of any successful business, but oftentimes spouses think their partner can take it.
Treat it like a regular business relationship.
Contracts, clarity of shares, clarity of roles, as you would with a business partner who isn’t a spouse is fair and meaningful to what you are working towards.
2. Separate but equal.
Surviving spousal business relationships means separating between business and personal. This was an area I struggled with at the beginning. How could I not be mad at him when he ticked me off at work? Or when things were difficult and stressful at home, how can I leave that baggage outside the office parameter. I found that in order to maintain my sanity, my kids sanity, a strong spousal relationship, and a healthy work environment; separating the two like an on and off switch, was vital.
But let’s be realistic, it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes we are annoyed with each other at work and that comes home too. So communication becomes a key component to maintaining sanity.
3. Divide and conquer.
We’ve already divvied the roles, but with any start-up, everyone involved wears a number of hats. Understanding how to compliment one another will help you become a lot more productive and precise in your work. For example, I am the creative one so writing and design were my forte. My husband is more of the project management and software development type. So we would work on the tasks we could best master and compliment each other’s work in doing so.
The nice thing about building your own business, is the opportunity to do other things and step outside of your comfort zone. Having that flexibility and understanding with your spouse is critical. Oftentimes I’d tell him, I’d want to manage a certain aspect in order to grow and learn, and vice versa. We know what we are good at, but we allow each other to grow in other areas.
4. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.
A regular spousal relationship means work hours away from each other. But when you’re working with your spouse, you are seeing that person 24 hours a day. So just like sometimes you need a break from work, you may need a break from your spouse as well. Having some time alone is important to keep the relationship strong and the business relationship more fruitful.
Girls nights out become a nice break, or sometimes datenights with your child alone. Those types of activities help both spouses and also are a good way to grow relationships with friends and kids.
5. Everyone needs some R&R.
Take time out of the busy schedules to spend time with each other. Date nights and vacations are important, but only successful when work is not part of the agenda. Travel and do other non work related activities with each other to keep the relationship exciting.
From experience, this often needs to get on the calendar and have special preparations for babysitters, reservations, etc. Don’t put it off and make sure to get it in there atleast once every couple of months.
We may be successful at finally making it out, but the date night becomes a work discussion. This is a failed attempt at trying to focus on the relationship. That’s why date nights with activities allow for some fun and action, forcing both spouses to focus on each other and the date and not some dinner talk about work.
6. Trust your spouse.
Like any business relationship, if you don’t fully trust your partner, you’re in for a tumultuous business experience. If your spouse makes a business decision, don’t assume it’s a move against you, or to spite you. There has to be an understanding and trust that everything each of you do is for the betterment and growth of the business. Also, trusting means going to your spouse with issues and criticisms without feeling like the other person will not appreciate what you have to say.
We never had an issue with this until we took on a partner. The dynamic became so different and we had to relearn how to do it all with this added person. But that makes it extremely important to bring on partners you trust and like. If one or both have a problem with the partner, it’ll cause further rifts and difficulties down the road.
7. Don’t be naive.
It’s no secret that being in business with your spouse has it’s challenges. So making sure you aren’t going into business blindly is very important. You should be well aware of what this will mean for you, for your family, for your relationship, and for your future. Put a list of pros and cons together, discuss what happens if the business grows, doesn’t take off, if one person isn’t pulling their weight, etc.
I’m going to be honest. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I had my first child a bit before the business was launched, and after just one year of being married. So it was all new, being a wife, a mom, and add on top all of that, a business partner.
If I think about what could have made things smoother, it would definitely be this, make sure you’re well aware of what a business takes. It’s hard work. And going into business with your spouse is that added layer of complexity. If you can’t handle that stress, and your marriage can’t survive it, don’t do it.
8. Enjoy the benefits that come along with being in business together.
Being in business with your spouse has great advantages as well. You obviously are in control of your schedule (especially after the startup years). Take time out for the kids and split those home responsibilities.
If you have a spouse who throws all responsibilities, home and otherwise, on you, you aren’t in business with the best partner.
Another great advantage of being in business with each other is seeing each other grow. Look, let’s be realistic, every business has ups and downs. Seeing your spouse through those times, and living those stresses together only makes the relationship stronger.
9. Believers in the Business
The last thing you want is to go into business with your spouse but they don’t actually share or believe in the vision of the business. This won’t result in great success for your business. Make sure you are upfront and clear from the very beginning, discuss the vision and the future of the business. Make sure you’re both on the same page.
10. Respect each other
Nobody is perfect. Spouses will make mistakes in business. But what’s important is to maintain respect of that individual and handle business blunders with class. Take ownership of the mistakes you make and grow from them.
Being in business with your spouse can be wonderful. But if handled poorly, can lead to damaging not only the business, but the family unit as well. Trudge carefully and know what you are doing before beginning.
Through the span and life of our business, we managed to have 4 amazing children (which is another full-time job by the way). We also managed to bootstrap our own growth-hacking software, Figpii, and create a new startup together.
I don’t remember what my relationship with my husband was like pre business, but I do know that we are ready for any challenge and whatever life throws at us.
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