Relationships are difficult enough – why add a business to the mix?

The divorce rate in Australia is approximately 40%. Meanwhile, the business failure rate is 50% within five years. We humans are, as behavioural economist Dan Ariely wrote, “predictably irrational” and continue to make the same mistakes others have made.

I have yet to meet anyone who said, “The best thing I ever did for my relationship was bring him/her into the business.” However, there have been many cases where it has worked the other way around and the person has been good for the business.

If you do want to be “predictably irrational” and bring your significant other into your business, the two of you need to consider how to do it – and the time for that is before you do it!

It is difficult to bring in rules when emotions are running high. I recently had to terminate a business meeting with a couple when I realised one partner had twice said, “That’s your answer for everything,” and the other on a few occasions said, “You always bring that up.” Such arguments happen when there are no rules.

Couples need to decide at the outset which is more important: the relationship or the business. Being clear on this helps when one wants the other to leave the business but they both want to stay in the relationship.

I recommend couples do the following when they are in business together:

  1. Undertake a behavioural profile assessment to understand how both of you are motivated, demotivated, make decisions and interact with other people. Understanding is the antidote for judgment.
  2. Create formalised position descriptions for the roles in the business with clear authorities in each.
  3. Adopt a set of “couples rules” outlining how the personal aspects of the relationship are to be conducted in the business.
  4. Hold meetings away from home. If you have a home-based business, hold meetings in a different location, e.g. a coffee shop.
  5. Minute agreements and decisions made at meetings, even if they’re in dot-point form, to avoid misunderstandings.
  6. Have a referee available when things become difficult or there are contentious matters to be discussed, and have that person attend your meetings.
  7. Review whether the business or relationship is more important on a regular basis, because when the business is gone – whether it’s sold or retirement beckons – the relationship will still be there and must be based on more than business.

As one businessman told me, referring to a couple he had introduced me to, “They haven’t got much of a marriage but if they don’t start working on their business, they won’t have much to fight over when it breaks up.”

If you need help navigating through family business issues, please contact me at