In business and in health: Commandments for working alongside your significant other

In theory, working with a significant other may sound like a great idea. Who wouldn’t enjoy spending extra time with their loved one? For those seeking greater balance in life and to spend more time with a spouse, working together may seem like a perfect solution.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve mentored many entrepreneurial couples that have launched and operated successful businesses together from the ground up. Many of these couples made it seem easy, but they’d be the first to tell you that like all relationships and business endeavors, it took a lot of hard work, patience, and dedication to work alongside their life partner in a business setting.

When it comes to successfully working alongside a significant other, it’s often much easier said than done, and it’s certainly not a pathway paved for all. It can be high risk but also high reward.

Based on my experience, there are a handful of commandments that must be followed for those considering a professional pursuit with their partners.

Understand what you're getting into

Just like marriage, entrepreneurship isn’t a 9-to-5 job — it’s a lifestyle choice. A couple who wants to go into business together needs to realize what this entails and must prepare to devote themselves to it. It’s important to truly know yourself and your spouse before taking the plunge into entrepreneurship as partners.

In my role as a franchise consultant, I always make sure prospective owners include the partner/spouse from the initial discussions about starting a business all the way through the final decision, ensuring the conversations we have collectively cover each of their interests and concerns. We go deep into the financial investment, impact of the business on lifestyle, management skills and preferences, how it might impact any household family members, and long-term financial goals.

Some couples work very well together, and know and respect their boundaries and complimentary skills. Others work together, not necessarily happily, and are at odds about aspects of running the business. A rule of thumb? The health of the personal partnership should always come before the business.

Respect each person’s individuality

While there might not be an “I” in team, there certainly is in “business” and “marriage.” Appreciate your significant other’s experience and approach when working together. Just as you would in a relationship or romantic partnership, understand each other for who you are and what you bring to the table, and embrace each other’s skillsets, strengths, and weaknesses.

Another important element of running a business alongside your spouse is to respect each other’s need for engagement. Some people are introverts who tolerate outside activity, while some are extroverts who can’t get enough outside stimulation. Some people thrive in networking situations and need external opportunities to feel engaged, respected, and successful as a professional. On the flip side, networking scenarios aren’t fulfilling to everyone, and although some people adapt, the other partner may thrive more in an environment where they can be engaged behind the scenes.

Respect the past, as the business may have been built before you arrived on the scene. For example, my husband owns businesses from prior to when we met and were married. The employees know my husband but they did not know my business background — or me — and were suspicious of my intentions to engage with them. Be aware that employees may develop a sense of nepotism when the life partner/spouse arrives in the office. We have had to take a slow and steady approach with the staff so that they can get to know me personally, and that has allowed for discussions that involve business decisions.

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Eliminate all competition

Similar to a relationship or marriage, you should enter into any type of business venture with a loved one under the expectation that you will carry equal weight and put in equal time, energy, and effort, especially as things evolve.

Any deep-rooted power struggles or control issues must be addressed and eliminated prior to working alongside one another. Create a partnership where all wins and losses as individuals are shared as a team, and work to support one another when needed. Do not compete with one another. You each have your areas of expertise, so appreciate each other’s strengths and talents. Establishing this type of empowering dynamic all stems from effective communication, which is at the core of every good relationship and business partnership. Life is ever-changing, so also expect that time and effort are going to shift as kids and aging parents require attention.

Set boundaries and stick to them

When your partner in life becomes your partner in business, clear boundaries must be set between work time and personal/family time. It’s extremely important to not let personal problems translate into your shared business/work setting and vice versa. Drawing those boundaries tends to be one of the biggest struggles for couples in business. It’s up to the two of you to hold yourselves — and each other — accountable for sticking to those boundaries. Without drawing a line of differentiation, you’re creating a recipe for disaster and ultimately, disappointment.

It’s important to realize that not all couples were made to work together, and that’s completely okay. At the end of the day, it’s most important for couples to preserve and prioritize their commitment to each other above all because without a strong foundation, neither the relationship nor business pursuit will be able sustain and be successful.

Meg Schmitz is a senior franchise consultant at FranChoice.

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