by Tarah and Damon Harris
Going into business with anyone is risky. But when that business partner is your spouse, there is a whole new level of risk. No matter the business, happiness in your home life must be a constant bottom-line goal. I’ve been married to my husband for seventeen years and to my business partner for twelve of those years. Here are our secrets, truths, and experiences of managing two different relationships with the same person.
Is the Marriage Strong Enough?
Business success will not solve any problems in your marriage. You will not be able to outwork chinks in your relationship’s armor. Commission checks can’t replace love.
Before you step out into the world of business ownership, you must make sure your relationship is strong enough to handle this new stress. A business can end, but you don’t want it to take the marriage down in the process. Being realistic about your relationship will save you a bunch of stress headaches. You must be able to love your spouse when things are going well and not so well. You must be able to accept your spouse’s personal growth. Being in business is an emotional roller coaster. You may want to quit the business every other day, but marriage, not so much. The stability of your love will give you the power needed to construct a business that’s built for the long haul.
Believe in You and in the Idea
You may have realized you’re the entrepreneur in the family after marriage. Entrepreneurship may have become something new to you both. Early in the process, you and your spouse may not even share the same passion for the business. This is when someone must play the role of supporter, head cheerleader, and personal assistant. This is a major role. To do this role well, you have to find it in yourself to be passionate and optimistic, and believe in your business partner – who is also your life partner. Yet, one can’t be blind in that support. The supporter must see the hard work and effort, and have confidence in the success of the venture. Effort and seeing the business move forward – even if it’s just a tiny bit – create buy-in, and then, you’ll be on your way together.
No matter how well you develop a business plan or how fast you begin to make money, there will be setbacks. There will be moments when things don’t go as planned. Being in business with your spouse can magnify these unpredictable speed bumps. It may feel like you both failed. There is nothing worse than knowing you dropped the ball and let your spouse down. You can’t get into the blame game – and that includes blaming yourself. If you begin to do that, you will immediately bring your marriage into the business, and you won’t see it coming. Use any mistake as an opportunity to learn more about yourself.
Where Your Children Fit In
Children can be both a driving force and anchor. Understanding that you are a parent and a business owner will force you to make choices, and you need to be okay with those choices. There will be days when you forget to defrost the chicken for dinner and the local pizza place is your savior. There may be times where you must attend a meeting with a 3-year-old in tow. Your 16-year-old’s after-school activity may fall at the same time as an important meeting.
Your children are an extension of you. The planning and teamwork it takes to be there for your kids is no different than if you had a traditional job. The big difference is you control the time. But it’s not only physical time – you need to be checked in mentally with your kids as well. Your children are connected to you. They feel your joys and pains. They know when your body is close to them, but your mind is somewhere else. Your children should be a refuge for you and a place for unconditional love flowing both ways – a place for motivation and where you are safe from being a brand. You don’t need to be a business mogul, you just need to be there.
Create a Safe Space
I could say something like, “Don’t bring the work home!” However, that isn’t a thing I know how to do myself. What we’ve done is create safe spaces to do the dirty work. There are places where we go to have the hard conversations. A local coffee shop, restaurant, or park are all great safe spaces. A safe space keeps the ugly conversations out of the house and away from the kids, and limits the time expended on topics you can get back to later. Just like in a marriage, in business, you can’t afford to have arguments last longer than they should.
It’s All Personal
Take that saying, “It’s only business – it’s nothing personal!” and throw it out the window. It is all personal when you’re in business with the person you married. Every critique on performance is a bit more hurtful. Every slight of an opinion is a tad more condescending. If you’re going to win at business, you must respect every viewpoint, idea, and decision from your spouse. Of course, you can disagree and have a difference of opinion. But both parties must be able to express ideas, and you both need to have an equal voice. If it leads to confrontation, that’s okay. Just ensure that respect, openness, and honesty lead the discussion. Never discredit the other person’s viewpoint and always be sure to listen to how the other person is experiencing the situation. If done right, your personal relationship will not only fortify your business, it will protect and nurture it.
It All Balances Out
Balance doesn’t mean things in your life will be equal or fair. There may be days where you work eighteen hours and forget to cook dinner. There may also be days where you can sleep until lunch. It can be easy to overlook how unbalanced your working relationship with your spouse has become. Regardless of who’s the boss on paper, the title of CEO may go back and forth over time. There will be moments when you must be a better follower than leader. There will also be a time where you must take the reins to keep everything moving.
It’s Your Best Life
Being in business means you are putting it all on the line. You are sacrificing security, time, relationships, and sometimes, your sanity. While your friends are buying houses and taking vacations, you’re figuring out how to buy Facebook ads. It will be an up-and-down life for years. You will only feel the excitement of the first client one time. After that, it’s work. So, take care of you and your partner. Take a mid-day ride to nowhere, grab a craft beer from that brewery you never have time to visit, pick up your kids from school early just to say hello, or sign up to chaperone a field trip. There are going to be so many variables out of your control that will make your journey challenging. Your happiness is more important than your business. All you have is the life you are living to keep you going. It will be the smiles in between the tears that make the memories. The success of your business will require you living your best life in between the profit margins.
Be Okay Where You Are
Business is filled with should, could, and would. There are going to be times when you feel guilty for choosing your business over taking a traditional job. You might question why you chose this route for your family in the first place. Looking backwards is only going to slow your progress. But no matter what you’re feeling now, you must try to remember the happy times. Stay there. This is a marathon, not a sprint. All you need to know is where the finish line is. You don’t need to know how each and every step will feel on your way there. Be okay with where you are today, and you will get to where you want to be.
Being in business with your spouse can be a wonderful thing. Trust us, there will be arguments, tears, and happiness. But if you’re making the choice to be in business with your spouse, you must remember that he or she is your spouse. Enjoy watching the love of your life blossom into the person they never thought they could be, but always wanted to become. Show your children their parents can accomplish anything when they work together. Most of all, share the incredible journey of business ownership and success with your most trusted partner. And remember, you are partners in life before you are partners in business.