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Some couples say to me “I could never work with my spouse”, we would kill each other”. Yet over 80% of UK small to medium-sized businesses are family-owned, and most involve both life partners working together. For some, it may have been a deliberate choice to take a skill and work for yourself, rather than have a boss. Alternatively, redundancy, corporate bureaucracy or forced location moves are just a few reasons why people decide to start their own businesses.

Understanding why, and what your ‘dream’ was can heavily influence how the business is organised, the work distributed and the alignment to natural talents.  In fear of stereotyping, it used to be that the man would have the core skill the business was built around and the wife would fill in where needed.

Thankfully, that model is changing, and so is the assumption that the business is built around the man’s skills and interests, e.g. Kate and Andy Spade: Founders of the designer brand Kate Spade New York and Lynda Weinman and Bruce Heavin of The danger is whether the spouse ends up in roles that mean she (or he) is not in their natural ‘flow’. This ultimately leads eventually to boredom, stress, resentment, frustration and potentially manifests itself in physical ailments or worse still, separation and divorce.

According to Nancy Miriam Hawley and Jeffrey R. McIntyre who are co-founders of Enlignment®, Inc. and have been successful business (and life) partners for 30 years, there are three types of business couples.

Co-preneurs – couples partnering in self-employment ventures

Co-executive – couples who hold c-suite positions (CEO, CFO, CTO, COO etc.)

Co-professional – Professional couples (Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, Technologists) who own their own practice or work in different practices but do the same work.

Nancy Miriam Hawley and Jeffrey R. McIntyre have identified five key factors that enable life partners to succeed in business AND maintain a healthy happy and close relationship:

1)     Friendship as a base. Being each other’s best friend means enjoying spending time together and respecting each other’s contributions. This also means the relationship is more important than the business itself.

2)     Essential engagement and conflict management. It’s all about communication, including handling the differences and conflicts. If you engage you can solve anything. Keeping in check the boundaries between personal and professional feelings is important. Successful couples DO NOT discuss work in the bedroom.

3)     Defining flexible roles. Successful business couples have to be flexible to achieve their goals. They spend time clarifying their roles and expectations. They pride themselves on having organisational and role flexibility. Each role must encompass the individual’s strengths.

4)     Passion and work ethic.  To be successful at working together both must be passionate about the business and what it stands for. Being committed to common goals keeps the passion alive and influences work ethics. When the direction is lost productivity, passion and focus die.

5)     Customer and Community Service. Whilst couples are in business to make profits and build their nest egg, successful couples have identified a cause bigger than themselves. Some call this their purpose, but at least they can see it is something that has a greater benefit that will serve humanity in some way.

No matter who the couple are or what business they are in, a partnership that goes beyond meeting their immediate family needs will have a greater level of success. The power comes from the core of the relationship and the way they treat each other reflects on the culture of the workplace and their home environment. The ability to integrate, balance, and simultaneously pay attention to the relationship and business is essential. The relationship itself then fuels the fires of creativity, profitability and success.

If you work on who you both are, what your North Star is (where you want to go) and you have your ‘lanes’ worked out, you are setting a solid foundation for a great culture, leading to a successful business that you both want to work in.

Can you remember why you decided to work together in your business, what your plans were, and if so, can you answer in the comments below whether you are still on track?

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