You may think that it would be wonderful to be in business with your spouse, but the truth is that when life partners become business partners unspoken assumptions can cause significant problems.
Neither couple I describe knows the other couple, but their stories are strikingly similar.
Craig and Warren are both recently retired executives. Craig’s wife, Marcy, owns and operates a website design firm. Warren’s wife, Sharon, owns an exclusive gift shop. Both businesses are successful, and each woman finds business ownership personally satisfying and rewarding. Both women requested couples coaching for similar reasons. Their husbands were interfering in their businesses.
Craig and Marcy were newlyweds. It was a long distance romance, and they both were delighted when his retirement allowed them to be together. His unspoken plan was to help her with her business so that she could work less, and they could spend more time together. Her plan, also unspoken, was to continue to develop her business in order to sell it in a few years and fund her own retirement.
Craig enthusiastically earned his certification in web design. He found the new information fun and refreshing after years of heavy corporate responsibility. Marcy was delighted that he was busy and happy, until he started to help her with her work. She found his suggestions insulting. It was her business, she was the expert, and she supervised many designers and negotiated profitable contracts. Now he, a novice, was trying to tell her what to do!
Warren and Sharon did talk to each other about their plans and goals. Warren felt that his expertise could be put to good use in Sharon’s business. He convinced her, against her “better judgment,” that expanding the business would create long term benefits for both of them. She decided to go along with his ideas.
They made plans together, expanded their capacity, hired several new employees, and Warren started pressuring everyone to be more productive. Sharon began to hate going to work. She had loved the personal contact with her customers, but now she spent most of her time managing employees and trying to keep Warren calm.
Both women knew they were angry about their husbands’ interference, but neither could communicate about it effectively. Each was trying to balance keeping the peace, supporting their husbands and taking care of themselves and their businesses. Each time the women tried to discuss their own discomfort, their husbands would logically explain that they were only trying to help their wives.
During our sessions we uncovered the hidden assumptions and discussed them. When each man discovered the cause of their respective spouse’s feelings they was astonished to learn about the negative effects of genuinely trying to help their wives.
Neither of the men had thought much about how they were going to find a meaningful way to fill their time after retirement, and simply picked up what was convenient—their wife’s business. As the women learned to protect their own boundaries, a new conversation emerged. Each man needed to explore their own options for finding their own fulfilling activities.
Laurie Weiss, Ph.D., is an internationally known executive coach, psychotherapist, and author. She is the owner of Empowerment Systems, 506 West Davies Way, Littleton, CO 80120. Phone: 303-794-5379 Fax 303-794-5408. Visit her website at www.empowermentsystems.com or send email to [email protected].