I have seen both ends of the stick when considering the statement above. I have seen friends in relationships that got torn apart from the stress of working and playing together. And I’ve seen the exact opposite, friends whose bonds only seemed to grow stronger despite running a business together.
So, what are the differences that can cause some relationships to prosper and some falter when under the exact same pressures?
Of course, it could be that a relationship was going to fail anyway, and not much can be read into such things. But it is an absolute certainty that couples who run a business together are in a relationship that throws up a unique set of obstacles and potential pitfalls that are absent in other relationships. It is how these are navigated that goes a long way to dictating the success or otherwise of such relationships.
Keep it Separate
I once asked my long-term friend how she and her husband kept such an obviously happy relationship so healthy, despite running a business together. “Simple.” She told me. “We set a rock-solid rule from day one that whatever business disagreements we are having, stay just that, business disagreements, they have nothing to do with our personal lives.”
She went on to tell me that the moment they finish work any business disagreements are suspended until work resumes.
She told me it was hard at first, the temptation was always to let it carry over. It was something both parties struggled with. But it became easier and now it isn’t anything either of them think about, it has become second nature.
“Sure, we discuss, business,” she told me, “that’s natural, but we never let the conversation stray into sticky areas, if it starts to head that way, we both back off. It’s something we do now without even having to think about it.”
Conversely my friend whose relationship failed told me the exact opposite. They would squabble for hours about business matters and that took a huge toll on the relationship.
Always Leave Personal Space
When I discussed this subject with my friend who had suffered the failed relationship, I was surprised to learn that for almost the entire duration of the relationship, they were rarely apart. Now, this wasn’t a short-term relationship, we are talking fifteen-years!
He admits that was a big mistake, with hindsight he reckons they should have had more separate interests away from their business. For fifteen years they worked together six days a week and then went out together, holidayed together, went on weekend breaks together. They were never apart, never exploring their own interests or hobbies.
It was all too much; they were both feeling trapped and they couldn’t get an outside perspective about how to deal with the situation. He told me they went from happy to unhappy on such a gentle slope that neither of them realized it was happening until it was too late. The damage was done, the rifts were too great.
Personal space is important in any relationship, but even more so when your lives are intertwined so completely in your business life. Make sure you both have space to breathe, set time and space apart to explore your personal interests.
Don’t Let Things Simmer
Little quibbles in a relationship can grow to become overwhelming resentments if not nipped in the bud. If something is bothering you or you suspect something is bothering your partner, get it out in the open. Often these are just little things that are easily addressed. But left to fester, these little things can become huge issues that grow out of proportion.
My friend, who successfully juggles her business and personal partnerships, told me that this was another strategy that they employed early in their relationship. “Sometimes, it can be painful to hear some home truths, or tell your partner something that you know he doesn’t want to hear, but nobody’s perfect and once these things are out in the open, they are usually easily addressed, or at the very least accounted for. We often find ourselves laughing about them now.”
Keep your relationship honest and open and above all communicate, is the advice she gave me.
Make Time to Create Memories
Running a business is stressful, demands come in from all directions—staff problems, cashflow, deadlines. It always seems to be a full-on juggling exercise. If these memories are all you share, then the relationship can be heading for the rocks. Creating memories that are joyous and meaningful helps strengthen those bonds and reminds you that there are other things in life away from your business.
It may seem counterproductive to spend a bit of time away from your business and indulging in each other’s company. But the outcome will be a stronger relationship and that carries over into your business life and can help you overcome the business obstacles ahead as a stronger team.
Don’t be Afraid to Seek Outside Help
My friend with the failed relationship made this point well, “we were too trapped in all our personal quibbles and long running arguments that we couldn’t see the bigger picture, couldn’t see a pathway out of where we were. We should have let someone in to check us out. If my car breaks down, I take it to a garage. As my relationship broke down, I let it slip all the way to the scrapyard.”
Sometimes a marriage counsellor or even just a trusted friend is all you need to see the problems that can overwhelm a relationship. By focusing on the good points, the love that exists between you, the shared focus and interests that are lost in the barrage of resentment, a third party can bring a grounding to start rebuilding that damaged relationship that just can’t be identified from within it.
If love is still underpinning your relationship then this can be all you need to help it flourish and set you, your partner, and your business sailing off in the right direction again.
Have any more advice for entrepreneurs running a business as a couple? Let us know down in the comments.
This article originally published on GREY Journal.