“My partner and I are always fighting about the business!”
“At work, at home, on the way to work, on the way home. It just never seems to end and it’s driving us apart!”
My client was at their wits’ end. They loved their partner dearly, and if not for the business, would hardly argue with them at all. But the stress of managing the business – their team, their cashflow, their sales, their production – seemed to create endless fodder for conflict and was tearing their relationship apart.
As one half of a married couple in business myself, I count it a blessing to work alongside my husband in our business as we support other couples in their business journey. However, although I do most certainly feel deep gratitude for the opportunity to work with Rob, we are very different people and see things from our own perspectives. Subsequently we do not always agree on everything and have, at times, had to work through moments of significant conflict. What we’ve come to learn is how, when handled appropriately, conflict is a wonderful opportunity for accelerated personal and business growth.
Today, Rob and I enjoy a harmonious relationship across our business and personal lives because of the lessons we’ve learned which I’ll share with you.
Honestly, owning your own business can be extremely stressful.
There are so many balls you need to keep in the air.
You are ultimately accountable for everything which happens in your business. At times you may feel like Atlas, carrying the problems of the world on your shoulders.
If your partner owns the business, but isn’t actively involved in it, conflict often arises when one person isn’t cognisant to the mental workload of the other. When BOTH of you work in the business, you BOTH feel the pressure of running the business. In this situation conflict often arises because they have not clearly defined their individual roles within the business.
If you want to go home tonight WITHOUT some fight fodder, IMMEDIATELY define your roles. Ask yourselves…
Define your two roles very clearly, starting with how your performance is to be measured and then what you do.
Then you do ONLY perform the tasks in your role, and allow your partner to do their role too.
The inability to stay completely out of each other’s roles is one of the biggest boxing arenas for couples in business.
One of our clients is a husband and wife who’ve created a legal company. The business was started by the husband, a lawyer and passionate about delivering quality legal advice to his clients. As the company grew, he brought his wife into the business to look after the admin side of things.
They came to Rob and I because they were stuck. He was working at least six days every week and she was working five full days a week whilst also having primary responsibility for the children and household. They were both so stressed, there was days where all they seemed to do was be at each other’s throats.
We took them both through the process of defining what each of them did best and what the business needed their skills, expertise, and experience for.
It turned out that the business didn’t need the husband to be the lawyer any more as his greatest value to the business was to go out and find the work. It also turned out that the business needed the wife to take on the role of general manager for the business as she had the people skills and business acumen necessary to drive the business forward.
For the husband, this was a difficult transition to make. His identity was completely tied to the work he used to do. Finding work and making sales was not as easy as pulling out the files and doing the work, so immediately he felt a level of discomfort. Additionally, having to report to his wife and let go of directly controlling the business operations – something he’d worked hard to build over the last 10 years – was also very uncomfortable for him.
Initially, he would constantly stick his nose back in operations and get himself wound up by errors he found in his team’s work. While he knew in his head he wasn’t adding value to the business by doing what he was doing, he was yet to really accept it in his heart. He found himself having to deal with an
immense amount of internal conflict and feeling like he was no longer important. At the beginning of the process, tensions at home got worse before they got better.
As our clients’ mentor we encouraged both the husband and the wife to come to us when they needed to “vent”, or found themselves in a moment when they struggled with their new identity, or when they didn’t like how their former role was being done now.
It worked quickly and the tension at home, the arguments dropped off dramatically. By using Rob or me as their ‘safe’ space to let off steam (rather than their partner), we were able to help them effectively work through their feelings and move them towards the next best course of action.
This is because…
(a) Rob and I see things from an objective position
(b) Neither Rob nor I have the same emotional connection to them, so we don’t take it personally and
(c) We call them on their b*lls**t – something which is much, much harder for a partner to do skilfully.
Many couples in business try to co-captain the ship. In my experience this rarely – if ever – works.
It is crucial that one, and only one, of the couple be the General Manager.
However, as my previous client example demonstrated, this can be a source of acrimony in the partnership. It’s quite common for the technical expert (in any industry – not just law), who started the business, to not be the best person to drive the business forward. Very frequently, although they may have started the business because they are very technically solid in what they do, they are not the best people leaders nor are they naturally gifted at managing the process of business.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, it’s when these technical experts let go of their ego-driven desire to be seen as ‘the boss’ and accept they are of better service to themselves, their business, their partner and their family in this other role, that they are able to release the internal tension and feel happier in themselves.
Many years ago, one of my mentors gave me one of the most helpful tips in handling Rob “venting” on me. She said to me “Faye, Rob has a lot of stress at the moment. You need to count it a blessing he is venting on you. You are the one person that he feels safe enough to “vent” on. He has to hold himself together around your clients and your team”.
That piece of advice gave me a completely different perspective about Rob’s “venting”. I no longer got upset with him. I no longer said things like “well why are you taking it out on me?”. Instead, I listened. I asked him questions and allowed him to get things off his chest.
Note, I was in no way excusing Rob’s behaviour. I just made the choice to respond rather than react.
It is imperative that we are willing to be called on, and are prepared to call out our partner for consistent poor behaviour. The behaviour we accept is the behaviour we can expect. If one partner allows the other to keep playing the victim about a situation, they will always play the victim in that situation.
For example, our lawyer was consistently finding fault with how the team was performing ‘his’ old role and getting upset by it. We called him out on it. With his extensive level of expertise, he could be a great mentor to others. We coached him to stop criticising and instead, teach and mentor his team so they could perform the work to his standard.
An extremely valuable lesson I’ve learned in our business is if Rob and I disagree on something then either I have not sufficiently prepared or communicated my thoughts, or maybe there’s some things I haven’t thought about which Rob has.
In our relationship when we are disagreeing it means there’s a much better option out there. Over time, I’ve learned to work with him to find the solution, rather than work against him.
Someone has wisely said “if you’re regularly arguing with someone for more than five minutes, chances are it’s not about what you’re arguing about. It’s about you”.
Every one of us come to a situation from our own perspective. Consequently, when we argue we probably make the other person wrong. It’s helpful to remember you are right from your perspective and they are right from their perspective. Do NOT make them wrong. That will only inflame the situation and World War 3 may erupt as you each argue the ‘right-ness’ of your point of view.
It’s imperative we identify what the problem is and work together to find a solution.
It’s imperative we focus on finding a solution to the problem.
It’s imperative we not attack the other’s perspective.
It’s imperative we listen.
We have two ears and one mouth and one of the reasons we argue with our beloved is we don’t use our two senses in that proportion!
When we are stressed our true nature comes out. Each of us have been bought up in different environments and therefore have our fallback position to handle stressful situations, especially with the people we are the closest to. Some people fly off the handle, some people withdraw, some people cry. It’s important to understand our own behaviours when things aren’t going right. I guarantee you that
how we automatically respond to stressful situations is how we’ve been responding all our lives. It’s simply a very practiced behavioural habit.
When we can approach our partner with awareness of our own mental and emotional processes, we have the opportunity to break the past conditioning which holds us back. When we realise this, then disagreement can be an enormously constructive part of life and business. As such, learning how to discuss things constructively is a must if you want to get what you are both looking for out of your relationship with yourself, your partner and your business.
If you feel like you and your partner are constantly arguing over the business, here’s what you need to do.
1. Define your roles in the business
2. Stick to your role (and keep your nose out of your partners’!)
3. Determine which of you is best to lead the business as the General Manager
4. See conflict as an enormously constructive part of life and business and necessary for growth
If you’d like to know more about how Rob and I could work alongside you to achieve harmony at home and at work, reach out. We’re here to support you in achieving the business and lifestyle you want for yourself and your family.
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