"For better or worse, for richer or poorer," take on a whole new meaning when you consider all you have to gain and lose by starting a business with your spouse.
For the answer to this week's classic and potentially difficult reader question, we turned to leadership coach Lolly Daskal.
What are some considerations for starting a business with your spouse?
We know there are lots of successful couples with successful businesses. I'm guessing there are many that failed, along with the marriage, that we never hear about.
I once started a successful business with my best friend, which led to us splitting up after two years, never to speak to each other again. I don't want the same thing to happen with my wife.
We have a picture-perfect family: a great relationship and two kids—I feel there's a lot at stake if the business doesn't work out. Any advice?
Everything in life is a gamble, although you’re correct that in this situation the stakes are quite high. The most important consideration at the outset is making sure you’re perfectly clear on your vision, values, roles, and purpose.
So begin by asking yourself these questions:
- Do you share the same values?
- Is your marriage more important than your business?
- Will you continue to work on your personal relationship?
- If you were not married, would you still want to go into business with this person?
If both of you can honestly answer "yes" to all four questions, you’re ready to work together on the next steps.
Creating a solid partnership in business involves many of the same areas as creating a solid marriage, just within a different context.
Create shared vision and values. Creating a shared vision based on shared values allows you to work together in a mutually agreed direction that minimizes conflict. When things go wrong—and they will—you’ll have a good foundation to keep you grounded.
Position strengths and skills. Know your personality types and position yourselves to take advantage of your strengths. Having an idea of what each of you is good at to maximize skill sets and avoid stepping on each others toes. Consider taking a personality assessment to figure out your individual strengths and how you can best work together.
Set roles and responsibilities. Write job descriptions for yourselves and set clear expectations about who will take on which tasks for the business.
If you continue forward, there are other issues that you’ll need to be mindful of in your day-to-day lives at work and at home:
Be mindful of boundaries. Focus on your own responsibilities, and let your spouse handle theirs without interference. Of course you can collaborate, but in most situations the best thing you can do is stay out of each other’s way.
Refrain from telling your spouse how to do what they do best. Let each other have some room and flexibility to work independently.
Keep communication open. Open and honest communication keeps minor issues from developing into major problems. Problems must be communicated, recognized, and worked through in a mutually agreed way.
Handle conflict with care. How you handle conflict is critically important to any business, but even more so when the partners are in a personal relationship. Put a time limit on disagreements and arguments, speak about them, deal with them, and move on.
Reciprocate, respect, and reverence. Respect is another element that’s essential to both business and marriage. Cultivate a mindset that is appreciative of your spouse's talents, gifts, and insights, and then convey that respect by listening, by sharing, by appreciating.
Avoid second-guessing and micromanagement. The good news: working together allows you to achieve a higher level of trust, which in turn will strengthen your relationship. As it’s said, to be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.
Develop routines to keep your relationship and business separate. Keep a good balance by creating strategies for the transitions between work and home life. Make rituals to help you stay connected as a couple no matter what’s going on at work. As you spend more time with each other, business conversations tend to move to the dinner table and then into the bedroom. It is important to make time for your relationship.
Show appreciation and gratitude. Make a point to thank each other for a job well done, and be kind about how you approach constructive criticism. In a close relationship, it’s easy to forget these basic rules of business. Don’t take your partner or their contributions for granted.
At the end of the day, you are partners working together for something meaningful and purposeful. Remember you are in this together in business and in marriage.
Every marriage is already a partnership, one in which you work together, love together, create together, and support each other. With the right alignment and planning, and a commitment to making it work, sharing a business can be a meaningful extension of that partnership.
If you have a dilemma you’d like our panel of experts to answer, send your questions to AskFC@fastcompany.com or tweet a question using #AskFC.