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5 Ways to Foster A Good Business Relationship With Your Spouse
by Colleen Kowalski on January 26, 2023
Small family businesses have become synonymous with “Mom and Pop shops.” These businesses could have passed through generation upon generation of family members, but “Mom and Pop” are at the forefront.
According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 43% of small businesses are family businesses with 53% of managers and owners in these businesses identifying their spouse as their co-manager.
As we celebrate National Spouses Day, we thought we would share some tips to ensure your professional relationship with your spouse is as strong as your personal relationship.
Open Lines of Communication
In a business, nothing is more important than open and effective lines of communication between the owners and their teams. While working with your spouse can provide some benefits to communication, namely, you already know their preferred communication style, it can be a hindrance as well.
For example, how many times have you and your spouse sat in bed and discussed your day at the office? You might bring up an issue that you faced and decide needs to be improved. However, your spouse took this as simply venting about your day and not a work issue that needs to be corrected. Without clearly defining when and where you discuss work matters, the lines can be blurred as to what is a specific work request and what is personal communication.
Keys to Effective Communication:
- Schedule weekly meetings to go over Big Rocks for the quarter, what changes must be made to reach those Big Rocks, and who will take the lead on each task.
- Make a habit of only discussing work while at work. Clearly defining work and personal time will limit confusion.
Respect Their Authority in the Workplace
When working with your spouse, maintaining a respectful work environment is paramount to the success of your working relationship and your personal relationship. While strides have been made toward gender parity in the workplace, working with your spouse could result in an unequal balance of responsibilities.
According to a research paper from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “Gender inequality in the distribution of control was more likely to occur within spousal teams. Additionally, women have reduced chances to be in charge if they co-found new businesses with their husbands.”
Entrepreneur continues to say, “Their theory comes from noting the expectations involving gender-typical work. For example, men are expected to be the ‘breadwinner’ while women are the ‘homemaker.’”
To improve respect in the workplace, clearly define every job description in your organization. With a detailed organizational chart, each spouse is not only aware of the other spouse’s job duties but understands who directly reports to each spouse.
CEO Today shares, “Agree on specific roles and responsibilities for each of you. Division of labor will create order and structure for your business. Also, it will ensure that you will not step on each other’s toes. Assign the designated tasks by playing up to your strengths.”
Keys to Respecting Authority:
- A detailed organizational chart limits miscommunication between partners.
- Go into every situation with respect and a strong sense of trust in your spouse.
Align Your Business Goals
Some spouses may feel they would make good business partners simply because they make good life partners. However, think of how absurd this would sound in reverse: “My business partner is excellent at their job, they would make a great spouse.” While your spouse is perfect for your personal life, they might not have aligned business goals and values which can negatively impact your business.
Aligning business goals and objectives is important for any business, especially when spouses work together. A partner dispute between two owners can cause rifts in the business, but when the owners are married, the rifts extend beyond the confines of the company.
Wharton Management professor, Laura Huang shares that many couples, “ haven’t necessarily talked about what happens when they need to make changes to the business model, or what the right exit strategy is.” She continues, “They make an assumption because they think they already know and understand the other person, and they assume they already know his or her perspective.”
Keys To Aligning Business Goals:
- Before going into business with your spouse, have a meeting to go over what you hope to achieve out of your potential business.
- Ask yourselves, “Do I want to work with my spouse because they are my spouse or because they are best suited for the job?”
Invest Time In Your Personal Relationship
The average person works 8-12 hours a day. As a business owner, it is likely more like 12-14. The time spent working on your business is time spent away from your spouse and family in most cases. However, if you work with your spouse, you can typically expect to spend the entire day with them. Laura Huang calls this the “painful proximity” phenomenon. She says, “Issues arise in business; they always do. When you’re married to your business partner, you don’t have the opportunity to separate and decompress.”
If you are spending the majority of your day on business-related topics and issues, do you prioritize the health of your personal relationship? This is an issue that impacts all business owners. By spending so much time in your business, you can often neglect one of the Three Legs of the Stool: your personal goals.
Keys To Investing Time In Your Personal Relationship:
- Work with your spouse to detail your personal relationship goals in a bucket list of sorts.
- When you and your spouse are not at work, do not discuss work, spend that working on your personal relationship.
Protect Yourself Legally
If you and your spouse were to separate, the negative impact on your business could be widespread. According to Forbes, “What if your spouse has held a pivotal role in the day-to-day workings of the business but decides to quit in light of the divorce? Now, others may have to pick up the slack”.
Additionally, if your former spouse decides to stay at the company, how will you manage the unavoidable tension between the two of you? Business.com says, “Suppose your spouse is currently or was ever involved in the business, especially in a senior capacity. In that case, the situation gets even more complicated, as they still have a say in the day-to-day operations. They may have received a portion of your stock, as well, increasing their position”. How will you ensure that your employees do not choose sides and negatively impact the working environment?
A prenuptial agreement is one of your first lines of defense in protecting your business from being split in two. Business.com says that two things to consider while drafting a prenup are whether the company should be considered as joint marital property or an individual’s property and the company’s agreed value at the time of divorce and whether any appreciation of assets gets passed on. If both spouses have an ownership interest in the business, Forbes suggests asking, “would one spouse buy the other out in the case of divorce, would the business be sold and the proceeds distributed, or would you maintain the business partnership in spite of the dissolution of the marital partnership?”
Keys to Legal Protection:
- Work with an attorney to ensure the legal ownership of the business is clearly defined.
- The creation of a legally binding prenuptial agreement will protect your business assets should you and your spouse get a divorce.
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