By Richard Harshaw
Let me make this as professional and business-like as possible. A husband and wife team do not have to be “in love” to make a good management team, but they do need to know and respect each other’s boundaries and areas of responsibility. (Being in love helps a lot, but it is not a requirement for a husband/wife team to be in business together.)
What I tell people in a business partnership I tell to married couples. You need to organize and act like a corporation. Incorporation (C, S, or LLC) not only provides legal and tax advantages—when done properly, it also spells out lines of responsibility and action.
Normally, each partner in a marriage brings to the union unique gifts and talents. You probably already know what those are for each of you. To help ensure tranquility, try to assign tasks to each other that mesh well with those gifts and talents. For instance, if you are good at detail work and your husband is not, you should take on more of the detail tasks in the office, like job take-offs or accounting. If your wife is good at talking with people, she might do well as the office manager, and/or doing the customer satisfaction phone calls, or making the sales calls, and so on. As the old song says, “Get to doin’ what you’re happy doin’[i].” My wife, for example, really enjoys keeping the bank accounts, so even though I do financial consulting for multi-million dollar distributorships, I let her run the books in the house because she enjoys it and is good at it… and I don’t have the time usually to give it proper attention.
Good advice for a marriage is also good advice for a business—never go to sleep on an unresolved problem. If possible, you and your spouse should resolve business problems (especially between your personalities) at the office and try not to bring them home. But if you do, covenant together to resolve the issue before you turn in for the night. In all cases, strive to resolve any problem, even if it takes a few days. Your spouse is the one employee you probably should not fire. (A divorce will cost a lot more than a new employee!)
I also advise that you do what I had to tell two brothers to do on a consultation. They were 50/50 partners in the business and every time I tried to get to the cause of a problem, they played the “He did…” / “He did…” game. I finally had enough of it and slammed my portfolio down on the desk and said, “I am going across the street to that restaurant and get a Coke. When I get back, decide WHO is going to stop the buck around here, because if you do not, I’m heading to the airport and we are done.” They were shocked, but when I got back half an hour later, they had decided which brother would take the final responsibility for decisions. I had them draft a letter stating that and had both sign it. That was 14 years ago, and they are still running a great business and retired a six-digit IRS debt in the process. I don’t care whether the final authority for decisions rests with the husband or the wife—but it had better rest with ONE of them! And both need to respect that burden.
Finally, never forget that you are a husband and wife and that you made a solemn covenant in the past to live life together no matter what it brought your way. Be long on forgiveness, short on malice, and patient with each other. Love beyond one another’s faults and forbear each other’s flaws. Your spouse is not perfect—they married you, after all.
I love that scene in Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye, after 25 years of marriage, asks his wife, “Do you love me?” In a touching song, they recall how they were married (having never seen each other until their wedding day) and how they had grown together over the years through all the heartaches and joys they had shared. At the end of the song, Tevye croons, “Then I suppose I love you too!”
Remember: marriage is, more than anything, about learning to love one another throughout all of life. That goes for the business part of it too.
[i] Ray Hildebrand, “Get to Doin’”; He’s Everything to Me, Word Records, 1967.