While this can be an exciting part of the relationship at first, it comes with the same challenges and pitfalls as any family business, only potentially more extreme. That frustration two brothers in business together may feel when every family get-together devolves into shop-talk? Imagine that issue, but seven days a week! Upset at your adult son for a management decision they made that you didn’t agree with? Now imagine that this decision was made by your husband, and you have to sleep beside him that night. And of course, if one spouse joined the business to help the other, then often the couple will need to navigate that unique power dynamic.
Business-running couples need to pay special attention to maintaining their work-life balance in order to not only keep their relationship healthy, but keep the business afloat as well. We like to give couples the same basic advice we give most business families, but knowing that they’ll have a stronger need to practice, but also have more opportunities to practice as well.
- Create a communication plan. It’s important to set emotional boundaries and rules for communicating about work before the need arises. If you have a conflict at work, how will you agree to address it so it doesn’t come home with you? If one of you is stressed about work, do you have other people than each other to whom you can vent? Business couples that feel comfortable discussing work casually are often the ones who can benefit the most from more rigid structure.
- Set Physical Boundaries. Often, business families (and especially business couples) can find great benefit in setting physical boundaries as well. A “no work talk at home; save it for the office” rule is common, but takes practice to maintain. This is especially tough during the time of COVID, with so many people working from home. It may sound like a TV-sitcom solution, but we’ve seen couples find great success by setting a (metaphorical) “do not cross” line for work talk between their home office and the rest of their house.
- Make Time (Intentionally). This one is easier said than done, as lots of couples say “yeah, of course we spend time with each other” without fully reflecting on the quality or amount of that time. It’s worth sitting down and planning date nights, dinner times, or other moments where you can carve out time to intentionally spend time focused purely on the relationship, and not the business. This also comes with the added benefit of keeping the office open for just work--with regular, high-quality “couples time” outside of work then you aren’t using your time at the office to maintain the relationship.
When Your Spouse Isn’t Involved
As much time is spent focusing on business couples, we must also recognize the challenges that come from being a spouse married to a family business that doesn’t involve them. When someone’s spouse and seemingly their entire family are part of a business and the spouse isn’t, it’s incredibly easy for them to feel left out, separated, and like they can’t connect. All the same rules outlined above (communicating effectively, setting boundaries, and planning intentional family time) will help prevent these feelings of exclusion and help maintain a happy, healthy dynamic for both those involved in the family business and the family members outside of it.
Family businesses can be incredibly successful, incredibly fulfilling, and a huge part of the personal identities of everyone involved. But this same deep commitment and involvement can make for more stressful family or spousal dynamics than those who can simply leave work at the office. For more advice on managing these unique challenges, pick up The Soul of the Family Business by Tom Hubler. Through personal anecdotes, real-world case studies, useful tools and frameworks, and more, Hubler offers an in-depth look at the challenges faced, strategies employed, and successes achieved by all sorts of family businesses. You can pick up The Soul of the Family Business, available in hardcover form on Amazon.com, directly through Itasca Books, or at a bookstore near you. And of course, if you’re ready to take the next steps, you can always contact Hubler for Business Families today.