Business owners who are also romantic partners can find it takes a lot of adjusting to work together, and for some, being together 24/7.
Angie and Ryan Snow, who own a heating and air conditioning business in Orem, Utah, coach other couples who are business as well as romantic partners. Many of the issues they encounter with clients revolve around communication and boundaries between work and family, Angie Snow says. She and her husband also help couples struggling with the division of responsibilities, a common sticking point for romantically involved company owners.
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"We talk to them about defining the roles of each partner," Snow says.
Some advice from spouses who've worked through conflicts as co-owners:
— Decide early on which partner will handle which responsibilities. Mary Wendel and Mark DiStefano, physicians who own Medi Tresse, a small chain of women's hair loss treatment centers, struggled at first without a structure; when they disagreed, their emotions affected the business and their marriage. "We learned to step back and look at each other's strengths and set roles based on what those strengths were," Wendel says.
— If you don't want work to spill over to your home life, set boundaries. Melanie and Ray Ocana, who own Rustico Tile & Stone, a manufacturer of Mexican tiles, decided that unless it's really necessary, shop talk shouldn't take time away from their two children. "This took some adjusting, but it has saved our quality time at home," Melanie Ocana says. The Ocanas, who have had their Austin, Texas, company for 14 years, also scheduled date nights to give themselves a break from work.
— Get some help with your relationship and/or how to run a business. Wendel and DiStefano went to a conference where they heard a talk by couples therapist and author Harville Hendrix about how to listen. It helped with their ability to communicate.
— Give each other positive feedback and validation. "It's important to support each other and let each other know we are doing a great job, as with any employee," Wendel says.
— If you're an entrepreneur who works alone and your spouse or significant other joins your company, realize that you'll need to give up some control. Ben Taylor, whose wife, Louise, joined his technology consulting business, didn't know how to give her work or talk to her about it. "The relationship wasn't going to work in that form," says Taylor, who lives in Kent, England. She left the business, but rejoined it years later; it was structured differently and the couple still works together.
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