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Spousal Business Partnerships - Turning Problems into Profit

The demands of business ownership add another level of stress and complexity in spousal relationships that can, in some circumstances, create issues for the whole business.

When a couple operates a business together, their individual roles are generally clearly defined. What may not be so clearly defined is how to manage conflict when it arises. A working relationship, that is also a life partnership, has different dynamics than that of a normal business partnership. In the former you are dealing with individuals who know each other at an intimate level. As such, are likely to be more open with their feelings and in the way they express their thoughts.

We know that people have different strengths, weaknesses, and personality types and therefore approach issues and opportunities in various ways. In a business relationship that is also a spousal relationship, these differences can lead to conflict and be harder to resolve. This is because couples are more likely to express and hold their opinions in a way that is not consistent with normal conflict resolution processes.

One common source of conflict is when you have a Spouse who is focused on the financial security of the business and the other who is focused on growth and opportunity. The financed focused Spouse may view their partner as reckless with little regard for their business finances or personal security. The growth focused Spouse may view their partner as a handbrake who just cannot see the big picture. With conflict they hold their point of view without really listening or understanding what the other person is saying or is concerned about. They view each other almost as business liabilities and long term this can take its toll on not only the business but also the relationship.

To complicate things even further you have the issues of trying to separate your personal relationship with your business relationship. This can be extremely hard to do at times and almost impossible on occasions! In short spouses may view their differences in how they look at their business as a handicap, but the opposite is more likely to be the truth. Differences are potentially a wonderful asset for their business if the Spouses can just learn how to use those differences effectively.

In short, In any business partnership, it is the differences that create strengths, it is the differences that turn opportunity into reality, and it is differences that keep a business financially and legally safe. In my own business partnership, the directors are consciously cognisant of each other’s differences, the value of those differences and understanding those differences can also result in divergent opinions.

For some business partners that are also in spousal relationships, it maybe be harder to understand the value of a partner’s attributes. It can appear, for some reason, less obvious how that potential can be harnessed to improve the business. Although to an outsider looking in such as a business advisor, it can be blatantly obvious.

Where a couple listen, respect and value what each brings to the business relationship the business itself will benefit as will the relationship in general.

Using the original example above instead of the Spouses viewing each other’s differences and opinions negatively, a different approach can product a markedly different result.

  1. The financed focused spouse respects their partner’s entrepreneurial spirit and their ability to create opportunities and growth for the business.
  2. The growth focused spouse understands their partner’s ability to be aware of where the business is financially and how this provides the security needed for long term sustainable profit and value.
  3. They are each acutely aware of the strengths they individually bring to the business
  4. They respect and take time to listen to each other’s opinions and thoughts

In a spousal business partnership, being able to listen to each other without an agenda is the first step. Openly listening encourages understanding and respect of each other’s strengths and fosters awareness of the opportunities to leverage those strengths to improve the business.

If you are in a spousal business partnership, ask yourself if you are realising the best parts of each other’s skill set. Is conflict getting in the way? Can you do this better? Do you need professional help to improve these dynamics? Do not be afraid to seek this as it can be quite a complex issue.

Some recommendations. If you need to discuss with a professional I can recommend Dr Adrienna Ember, based in Hamilton NZ

Good reading – Simple Habits for Complex Times – Jennifer Garvey Berger/ Keith Johnston. The book is not dealing with this exact issue, but the teachings are extremely relevant to leadership and communication.

In every spousal business partnership where there is conflict there is almost always amazing hidden potential. Spouses can learn to communicate in a way that harnesses that potential rather than destroy it. Improving listening skills and general communication will create many benefits for both the business but also the relationship itself.


Article by Phil Wicks

Philip Wicks is a Director and Co-Founder of Business Success Partners who specialises in business development, strategy, exit and succession planning. Contact Phil at phil@bspnz.co.nz or fill out the form below.