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For Better or Worse – 3 Lessons Learned While Working with My Spouse

After my husband Pat survived a major brain injury in April 2013, I took a leap of faith and joined him in business.  Even he was shocked when, five  months into his recovery, I told him I felt compelled to quit my job.  As an executive of a brand-consulting agency I enjoyed a nice paycheck, great benefits and perks.  I’ve chronicled my decision process in an earlier post, so as I cross the year mark it seems fitting to take stock of and share what I’ve learned.

1. You don’t know what you don’t know.

As I considered joining Pat I sought advice.  Roughly 30% of all U.S. businesses are co-owned by spouses so I figured there had to be couples that were getting it right!   Resoundingly I heard, “define your roles” or “decide who does what”.  Simple right?  Not so.

On the surface it seemed natural that I would take on marketing (or so I thought).  I had experience building small professional services practices and looked forward to applying this knowledge at Iron Coaching.  I jumped in headfirst!

Aren’t you going to invite me to that meeting?

The arguments started after a couple of weeks.  Pointless to detail the triggers, but after awhile I realized that when we had separate careers we  knew each others occupation, title and (as high achievers in sales) major accomplishments, but we didn’t  know the breadth of each others responsibilities, experience and capabilities.

Once that a-ha came we were able to sit down, really map out who did what and then trust each other to do it.  This meant Pat didn’t have to go to every meeting that involved marketing to “get me up to speed” nor could I continually question why he selected a CRM system that, at first pass, I hated and lobbied to change.

2. Check your ego.

It was easier to draw the above conclusions when we acknowledged how our egos were involved.  Though we are opposites that attracted, we are both persuasive and persevering.  Though these pair of strengths served us well through life, as we tell our clients – strengths when overdone become weaknesses.  In our case, perseverance became stubborn and persuasive became abrasive. Now we take regular doses of our coaching medicine and stay alert to occasions when we cross that strength to weakness line. Talk about having to walk the talk!

3. Treat your spouse like your best employee/customer.

Throughout our marriage (now going on 20 years) when I was miffed by what I perceived as criticism from Pat I’d say, ” why don’t you pretend I’m a customer and try that again.”  The implication being that he, as a customer-focused sales professional, was capable of conveying information in a way that left the listener feeling satisfied, respected and genuinely wanting to keep the relationship going!

It’s been said that we show those we love our worst side because it’s safe. I get that. But if we fall into the habit of using a harsher tone or forgetting to show appreciation  and say to yourself, “it’s ok, he knows I don’t mean it”, we chip away at the respect and appreciation that are fundamental to creating “engagement” – the state of being 100% psychologically committed to our work.

For our business to thrive I need to treat Pat as my best employee/customer – the one I can’t lose.  With this mindset I’m more intentional about how I interact with him and as a result, I’m excited and engaged in what we do together each day.  And by the way, our marriage is benefitting too.

Great managers spend 80% of their time with their best employee.

It’s also easy to get focused on the tactical part of the business and not each other’s ideas about the business.  At first we tried to schedule weekly meetings, but as things evolved we found that our best conversations happened out of the house – usually walking the dog or going to the grocery store (of all places).

We don’t get as many getaways as we’d like, but it’s also amazing how 24 hours out of the house – part business, part pleasure, provides time to appreciate and learn from each other as business partners.  By setting aside time and agreeing that business will be the topic, also helps manage the business/life crossover that can be harmful to a relationship.

Last, relax and enjoy the ride.

I’d like to think that I already lived by this philosophy, but this last year proved otherwise.  Fortunately I have a husband with an endless sense of humor and (even without a near death experience ) the ability to keep things in perspective.  I’ve learned to be gentle with myself and check the need to always be doing, doing and doing.  Just the other day my daughter commented, “mom, you seem way less stressed since working with dad”. I could not have asked for a better endorsement.