Couples Who Made it Work

  • Even though Charlene started the real estate company five years before Ted joined her in the business, she found herself deferring to Ted more and more as the two of them worked together. As a traditional couple with two grown children, they were used to Ted being the “head of the household.” When they started to work together, they assumed the same roles at the workplace. The problem was that Charlene had nowhere to go with her entrepreneurial spirit and leadership skills. The solution was to redesign the business so that each had a division to lead and operate.

  • Frank and Louise had a difficult transition. Although they had a traditional marriage, they operated as equals in the career world, as long as they worked for different companies. When they started their entrepreneurial venture, conflicts arose because they had not discussed expectations at work. Frank continued to operate as the “head of the house” at work, while Louise designed her work schedule according to the former egalitarian arrangement. Frank started to complain that Louise did not work as hard as he did and that she didn’t care about the success of the business. Louise felt unappreciated because she was working very hard on projects that she felt were important.

    The problems were: (1) that the couple was not talking about work priorities, nor coordinating those priorities; and (2) that they were using two conflicting models to operate as partners at work. Eventually, the couple decided to maintain the separation of work lives that had worked so well for them in the past. Louise left the business and pursued other interests.

  • Elise and Aaron were extremely puzzled by the marital conflicts that arose when they decided to move their respective businesses into the same building. They had had a warm and respectful marriage for ten years, and each had built a thriving professional practice during that period. However, when they moved into the same office suite — now seeing each other every day at work as well as at home — conflicts were happening more often. The tools that the couple had used in the past to resolve problems weren’t working anymore. What was needed was a new set of tools for the changes in the marital and business partnership.

Designing Your Own Model

Entrepreneurial couples must do a lot of work today to balance the competing demands of home and work. Whatever your style of couple entrepreneurship (a solo proprietorship, co-entrepreneurial couple or dual-entrepreneurs), there are few models to guide you in maintaining a loving marriage and a thriving business simultaneously. There are myriad variables to consider. So my advice is to design a model unique to the two of you.

Begin by talking with your spouse and business partner about the goals each of you has for yourself individually in life. Then go on to discuss marital goals, family goals and, finally, business goals. (I have a more comprehensive outline of how to do this in my book, ENTREPRENEURIAL COUPLES: Making it Work at Work and at Home.) If you need help working out these goals, seek the guidance of a marriage therapist, preferably one who works with entrepreneurs. Ultimately, you are searching for a flexible system of relating that can change with the circumstances of your life, your lives together, and the changing marketplace of your business.