Being married to your business partner

Being married to your business partner is a big challenge that many people do not know how to tackle, due to the inability to separate personal their life from the business.
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When COVID-19 forced a lockdown of businesses and employees of all levels and trade had to work from home, one of the main complaints of my friends was about couples being around each other 24/7.

I had a hard time understanding why, but then it hit me. None of my friends were married to their business partners and did not spend as much time together as I did with their spouses.

Being forced to work from home had no impact on my life since for me, this was business as usual.

I get it, for many of my friends, life had turned 180 degrees, and it was a hard time to cope and get used to. Many of them got so stressed out to the level that they got depressed, and fights among couples were the new topic of conversation in our frequent Zoom meetings.

My spouse and I were asked over and over about how we managed to do it, so we started sharing our experience of being business partners and married for 32 years.

Let me give you some insights I have learned.

The start of the journey

When COVID-19 forced a lockdown of businesses and employees of all levels and trade had to work from home, a new challenge came to light. The main complaints of my peers were about couples being around each other 24/7 and trying to cope with this new reality.

I had a hard time understanding why, but then it hit me. None of my friends were married to their business partners and did not spend as much time together as I did with their spouses.

Being forced to work from home had no impact on my life since for me, this was business as usual.

I get it, for many of my friends, life had turned 180 degrees, and it was a new normal hard to cope with and get used to. Many of them got so stressed out to the level that some of them got depressed, and couples annoying each other was the new topic of conversation in our frequent Zoom meetings.

My spouse and I were asked over and over about how we managed to do it, so we started sharing our experience of being married and also business partners for 34 years.

Let me give you some insights I have learned.

The start of the journey

For me and my wife, it started around 1990 when we decided to get married. 

I had recently joined my spouse as a business partner, having left a manager position at IBM. We were both very young, so it made sense to jump into this adventure of being business partners.

At the same time, we decided to get married and figure out how to balance everything. We went to a couples counseling seminar over the weekend to get some answers. Attending this retreat, meant putting all on the line, regardless of the outcome. We had to know if we were a right fit for each other.

During that weekend, we had to discuss difficult topics that engaged couples rarely talk about. Such topics included home finances, in-laws, religion, or lack of it, hereditary conditions, cultural differences, adoption, illness, etc.

The main point of each discussion was to know each other’s position on every topic and reach a common ground when there were disagreements.

The biggest takeaway from these two days of dealing with tuff conversations is that you know exactly what to expect when moving forward and getting married.

I don’t say this lightly because more than 50% of the couples that attended this weekend’s seminar either postponed their wedding or decided not to get married at all.

This brings me to the main building blocks of a marriage and a partnership: honesty and trust.

The foundation of the marriage and partnership

It all starts out with being honest with yourself and trusting that your partner/spouse is on the same page as you. 

Partnerships and marriages fail because there is a lack of honesty and a lack of trust in putting it all on the line.

When there is trust and honesty, all secrets disappear, and you are set up for success.

I am not saying that everything is a bed of roses, there are challenges, but I’ll get to that later.

If you agree with me that a long-lasting marriage is based on honesty and trust, then you can also agree that it makes sense to treat your partnership the same way as your marriage.

This is especially true for a partnership because there is a lot on the line. Why? Simple. If your partnership usually fails, so does your marriage and vice-versa. This is because the involved parties in both of them are the same. 

This means that the effort you have to put into balancing everything is twice as hard because, in my mind, failure is not an option.

When your work and marriage are not related, either one of them can be an escape or sanctuary away from the other. 

This was the main disruption that COVID-19 caused for many of my friends during the lockdown.

Juggling with the balance of power

When you live and interact with your partner/spouse 24/7, it has to be clear how to separate business and marriage and always be clear on who does what and when.

In my personal experience, both my wife and me, and my business partner and me, have to put on different hats depending on the situation.

Every so often, I had to take on the role of Mom and Dad. Occasionally, my partner had to take on both roles herself. 

On the other hand, in the business arena, the role of the boss changed depending on certain situations or clients.

It all boils down to having good communication and trusting others’ judgment, even if the outcome might not be the one you had in mind. The most important thing is to have each other’s back in both, personal and business situations.

I have learned that this works when both parties are complicit with each other and trust their partner. It turns out that it is even fun when playing different roles.

Another significant factor that plays into the balance of power is trying to separate business and marriage. 

Occasionally, either of the business partners has to decide something that the other might not agree with, and this should never affect the personal relationship. Always draw the line between business and marriage. I won’t tell you that this never happened in my case, but good communication always makes it possible to sort things out. This also applies the other way around. Any hiccups that might happen in the marriage should never influence any business decision.

I recommend taking this even further. Allow me to explain.

In my case, we have managed to keep the separation of business and marriage to the extent that our marriage is kept away from the business. We have clients that we have worked with for over a decade, that have no idea that the owners of the company are married.

Obviously, within the business inner circle, this is known very well but kept discreet. 

Partnerships and marriages are similar in structure and require a lot of communication between the different departments.

This, of course, is easier said than done. Everything has its challenges, and that is why it’s all worth it. I believe that 32 years of being married to my business partner proves my point.

Main challenges to overcome

As I mentioned before, there are challenges that need to be dealt with.

In my personal experience, the greatest challenge is the cultural mix. And by cultural mix I do not necessarily mean a different country, it also means a different upbringing and the baggage that comes with it.

In my case, the cultural background was extremely diverse, and we had to work towards understanding this and trusting that a middle ground was possible. 

I come from a very traditional Austrian household and my spouse has a Mexican background.

Where am I going with this? Allow me to explain.

Before COVID-19, most of my friends, if not all, were guided by their cultural beliefs and customs of how a marriage should be. 

Growing up in Mexico, there is a cultural belief on how a marriage should be and the role that husband and wife play in a typical household. In 90% of the cases, a husband plays the role of the provider and the wife the caregiver. In this dynamic, she is mainly at home, and he is away at the office. It turns out that this whole life around the office and anyway from home is a world where the spouse takes a very little part of it, if any.

COVID-19 disrupted this cultural normalcy and changed the entire equation. Now the professional dynamic had to be brought into the mix. This is unavoidable when working from home.

Many of my friends claimed that their job was an escape from the coexistence they faced at home, or it was the simple change of scenery that gave them some space and balance. COVID-19 took this away from them.

Now they were forced to play different roles because they had to coexist 24/7 and this was a cultural challenge they had never thought of.

I thought this applied only to Mexico, but it turns out that this also happened to many of my friends in the USA, Austria, and around the world.

So, my piece of advice to many of my friends was to identify these preconceptions and step up to cope with this reality. 

It was funny to see how a simple task like doing the dishes, vacuuming, cooking, or other house chores were something out of this world for many. Simple things like these suddenly were a big issue that caused big challenges. Why? Because they threatened cultural beliefs and prejudices. Failing to do so was necessary if the marriage was going to survive.

The big lesson of my 32-year journey

I know the COVID-19 lockdown put us all to the test. 

However, being married to my business partner and making it work, prepared us in such a way that we couldn’t care less about the lockdown in terms of being together 24/7.

What I can share with you as a big and valuable lesson is that either in a partnership or a marriage or both like in my case, are the 3 main points:

Be honest with yourself: If you do things for the right reasons, it will be easier to face any challenges. When entering a partnership or a marriage, be sure you will not bail ate the firs sign of trouble. Sadly, this is happening more often in the younger generations.

Treat your partner as equal: Your business partner as well as your spouse have the same value. You need to acknowledge that and respect your partner/spouse.

Learn from the challenges: Every problem, no matter how big or small, has a lesson within. Learn from it.

Be complicit: In either dynamic of your business or your marriage, always have each other’s back.

As time goes on, you’ll find out that your bond just grows stronger to the point that you cannot imagine your life with any different partner. It is even funny how frequently, as a married couple, you treat your business as another child that you nurtured and will do anything to protect it. 

Being aware that every one is a fundamental part, and that one partner is as important as the other, will give you the strength to face the next pandemic lockdown.

 

 

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