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Working Together with Your Spouse — In Business & At Home

12Sep 2010

One of the issues that I deal with almost every week is the challenges associated with spouses working together. (If you do not work together in a business setting, do not “check out” yet — these issues occur for virtually all couples, because you have to “work together” at home — either doing projects, making meals, managing the finances, doing fix-up projects, etc.)

Virtually all couples who work together, in business or just in their combined lives together, seem to face common challenges. Here are some of the most common themes I observe (or experience personally):

*Differentiating work roles vs. husband/wife roles. In work-based relationships (including the delegation of responsibilities at home), the primary focus is on getting tasks done. Now there are lots of different ways of approaching tasks, which leads to different leadership styles, but focusing on tasks is very different than just focusing on one’s relationship. Regardless of the authority direction in the work-focused relationship (the wife is in the leadership role of the business, or the husband is taking leadership is a home-based task) — the overlay of work roles and husband/wife roles creates challenges in the combined relationship.

*Communication patterns and styles. If you have two people working together, they will have different thought patterns and communication styles. Add the gender factor, and there are usually even greater differences. Then combine the challenge of living in a wife/husband role (just the relational aspect) with trying to work together to get tasks done. And voila! you have some real obstacles in communicating effectively.

*Decision-making styles and processes. Now we move from trying to talk about what the issues are to actually making a decision. Just like communicating, individuals vary in how they go about making decisions — from very thorough, methodical fact gatherers (who can delay making decisions ‘until they have all the facts’) to more intuitive, spontaneous decision-makers who ‘go with their gut’ (which can lead to an interesting ride as they change their decisions based on their most recent feeling). This is probably a core issue that every couple has to come to grips with — how do we make decisions together?

*Clarifying roles and responsibilities. When there are multiple roles for each individual, then there is a higher likelihood of confusion about ‘who is supposed to do what.’ The wife may manage the monthly finances in the home, but the husband may oversee the financial decisions in the business — but the two overlap. Couples usually figure out each person’s roles and responsibilities in the marriage (although there can be tense times when the family goes through life stage transitions). But when one is the leader in the business (it doesn’t matter who), and when as a leader he or she makes decisions and assigns tasks — this can create tension in the marriage — most spouses don’t like to be told “what to do” in the marriage, and if it is perceived as carrying over into the marital relationship — resentment and resistance can develop.

*The issue of “time together”. For many spouses, time together is an important ingredient of a satisfying relationship. But usually, working together on a business task doesn’t “count” as time together (at least for the woman, usually — sometimes the guy thinks [and occasionally says] ‘but I was with you all day’). And continuing to have work-focused discussions at home (e.g. over dinner) is not viewed as relational time.

Now, most of you who are married are saying to yourselves, “Paul, tell me something I didn’t already know — these are true but help me out here. What do we do to deal with these issues?”

Well, for starters, acknowledge the issues that create challenges for you and your spouse.

Secondly, it might be helpful for the two of you to talk about them and hear from each other which issues are most important to each of you.

Third, if these challenges are creating major stress and tension in your relationship, seek out some help. I find that a little time together with couples — helping them identify the major points of tension and develop some strategies and processes can help a lot. A fair amount of my professional time is helping couples work through these issues and to get past “stuck points” (and/or helping them talk about and make difficult decisions together,) It doesn’t have to take a long time and can be really beneficial.

Have a great week!

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