It is not uncommon to see spouses working together within a multi-generational family business. For those willing to take the plunge together, working with one’s spouse has obvious appeal: joint effort towards financial success, better ability for tax planning, executive meetings around the kitchen table, and best of all perhaps, more time spent together. However, the challenges of added marital stress and financial risk can make working together a risky proposition that shouldn’t be undertaken lightly.
From an advisers perspective there are also some important issues to consider before joining the common family business:
- consider carefully the tax issues of working jointly in a family business. Issues like tax deductions for a working spouse, savings, and tax-effective family income are beyond the scope of this article, but need to be discussed with a tax expert.
- Be wary of naming both spouses as directors of a business as separately-held assets (such as a family home) could be vulnerable to creditors in the event of business troubles.
- Develop an exit plan for one or both spouses. Knowing that there is a plan in place can relieve some of the pressure on family businesses.
Though hard to contemplate, the breakdown of a marriage is always a possibility, and should be considered when formalizing a working relationship.
The following tips can help create a more harmonious working relationship with your spouse—and may even help create a stronger marriage, too:
Be Nice to Your Partner
Treat your spouse with the same—or even higher—level of courtesy and respect as you would anyone else with whom you work. Be flexible in your ideas and ways, and expect to compromise more than you would with an unrelated co-worker.
Listen to Your Partner
Avoid arguments with this one simple act. Even if you disagree with the idea, always let your partner finish expressing the thought. If you cut him or her short or are quick to criticize, you are likely to start a shouting match.
Understand Your Partner’s Business Style
A contributing factor to creating conflict can be the difference in how partners make business decisions. One may be more guided by facts rather than by the emotional components that often need to be factored into family-owned business decisions. One of you may be good at problem-solving. The other may be less likely to compromise or concede to different solutions. Despite your disagreement, try to understand your partner’s viewpoint and concerns.
Set Aside Business-Free Time
It is impossible to “leave it at the office” when your home is your office. But you still need to spend time enjoying being a couple. It is important to remember that you are together for many reasons—not just for a business. Have rules such as “no business talk at dinner,” or schedule a weekly date night with your spouse. And if your business is in your home, consider renting office space to differentiate your work and home lives.
When Not to Work With Your Spouse
If your marriage is already rocky, working together is like having a child in an attempt to renew the marriage: It does not work, and you end up with even more complications and reasons to disagree than before.
Also, if you are already struggling with the business, pulling in your spouse to save the day is not a good idea. That move puts pressure on the spouse to solve problems that you could not. If your partner does solve them, you may even become resentful because your spouse was successful at something you failed to accomplish. On the other hand, if your spouse can’t solve the problem, you may place blame elsewhere for a mess you created in the first place.
Only go into business with your spouse because you have planned to do so and you both want to work together. If you need someone to help you save your business, hire a business consultant or find a mentor. Let your spouse help in other areas that don’t involve your business.