Hiring and Growth

5 Essential Tips for Married Business Owners

Jeff Haden Inc. columnist and small business management expert 
couple sitting side by side on a couch working on their laptops in a well decorated living room

A healthy marriage isn’t just about staying married. You want your marriage to thrive…

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Which can be incredibly difficult when you’re knee-deep in the obstacles and effort required to start and run a business.

Social scientists call it the spillover effect. This is when people carry stress and anxiety from working long hours into their home lives, resulting in shorter tempers, fewer meaningful conversations, and even emotional withdrawal. 

But while you may not be able to change the level of pressure you feel at work, you can change how you respond to that pressure, especially at home. (As the Stoics might have said, you can’t always change what happens—but you can always change the way you react.)

Here are some ways to ensure your business and your marriage thrive at the same time:

1. Don’t share problems often. But do share them early.

Being the person for whom the buck stops can be extremely lonely. But even the most empathetic partner can’t handle a steady diet of, “You won’t believe what happened at work today…” 

If you’re venting about the same problem for the third day in a row, you should probably shift your focus from complaining to solving the problem.

But that doesn’t mean you should avoid painful subjects. As an entrepreneur, you are your business—which means business problems can easily become family problems. 

When you identify a problem, don’t wait. Share it with your spouse. Now is never too soon. That’s especially true if a problem will affect your relationship in some way, like requiring longer hours or altering your personal finances.

Not only will you avoid more painful conversations down the road, you may find that your partner’s outside perspective will reveal a solution you might never have considered.

Win-win.

2. Embrace how your spouse responds to stress.

When things go wrong, some people instinctively want to vent. Others retreat into their own heads, needing time to think and reflect before sharing.

Being on the opposite end of that spectrum from your spouse can be a recipe for conflict—but not if you sense there’s a problem and ask what your partner needs. Say, “Do you want to talk about it?” and then respect their response. 

And don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. If you’ve had a tough day and want to vent, let your spouse know. Say:

  • “When I get home I really need to get (whatever happened) off my chest.”
  • Or, “I’ve had a rough day, so I’m just going to chill for a while until I can calm down. Then I’ll tell you all about it.”

The key is to respect how your spouse responds to stress—and to help be a solution rather than an additional source of stress.

3. Create a way to reset—together.

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When you and your spouse live separate professional lives, it’s easy to forget that your marriage truly is a partnership—and partners do things together.

Maybe you’ll exercise together. Or plan a vacation together. Or do something as simple as always eating dinner as a family—no phones allowed.

The key is to reset your balance between work and life together. Otherwise your separate professional lives can easily start to feel like separate personal lives.

4. Focus on fair, not equal.

You don’t treat every employee the same. Some need pats on the back. Others need a virtual kick in the butt. Some you give significant freedom and authority; others need more supervision.

That’s because equal treatment is not always fair treatment. And neither are equal expectations necessarily fair expectations—especially at home.

Instead of trying to divide every task and responsibility equally, recognize your differences and embrace them. Play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Also play to each other’s interests, goals, and personalities.

Take me: I do most of the daily tidying and straightening. My wife likes to do the “deep cleaning.” I do the dishes; my wife likes to cook.

Overall, I do more things around the house. I work from home, so it’s easy for me to, for example, take a quick break to put clean clothes away. Besides, she often works longer hours.

While our responsibilities at home may not be “equal,” they definitely feel fair. 

Which is all that matters.

5. Cast the right shadow.

If the demands of your business are causing your marriage to suffer, don’t wait for your spouse to make a change before stepping up. Be first: Treat your spouse the way you want to be treated:

  • If you don’t feel you’re being listened to, start providing a listening ear.
  • If you don’t feel your responsibilities at home are fair, take on more responsibility.
  • If you don’t think your spouse is as connected as he or she once was, be the one who reconnects.

In business and in life, you tend to get what you give.

Make sure you give—freely, willingly, and without expectation of return.

Because that, oddly enough, is when you’re most likely to receive what you want in return.

Updated: November 1, 2019

Jeff Haden
Jeff Haden Jeff Haden is a writer, speaker, small business management expert, and Inc.’s most popular columnist. He's the author of The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win.

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