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Husband and wife entrepreneurs: Recipe for success or marital disaster?

Many couples go into business together thinking it’ll all be smooth sailing, only to end up bickering their way through the stormy seas of business to Destination Divorce.

Husband and wife entrepreneurs, Darren and Laney Clancy, tell us what it really takes to thrive in business without compromising a relationship.

Some couples are so in sync that business becomes a mere extension of their relationship. But for most, it’s a pressure cooker environment that puts a real strain on the relationship.

So why do so many ‘copreneurs’ end up resenting their loved ones?

Relationship psychologist, John Aiken, believes many couples struggle to maintain a healthy relationship at home because they fail to keep their work roles at work. Their work relationship then defines their personal relationship.

“Couples bring their work roles home with them – so if they’re a CEO at work, then they start being a CEO at home, giving out instructions, and directives, and reminders, checking up on them and supervising them,” said Aiken.

They also fail to set clear boundaries between work life and home life. Conversations at home are based around work, leaving little opportunity for couples to spend quality time together.

“They don’t get much clear down time from work. Often for couples, the boundaries will be blurred, the work just simply filters on, and spills over into their home life, which means that they don’t get any quality couple time,” said Aiken.

Case Study: Darren and Laney Clancy

The perils of running a business with your spouse

Darren and Laney Clancy are a husband and wife team that run a successful plumbing business, Pipe Perfection Plumbers, in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville.

Mrs. Clancy is in charge of all the marketing and finance for the business while Mr. Clancy is the head plumber and manager.

Mr. Clancy “begged” his wife to join forces with him, after he realised how much it really takes to run a business. He felt Mrs. Clancy’s extensive experience and expertise in marketing and finance would help the business reach its full potential.

“I didn’t think I could get the business to where it is today with the skills that I had. I’m basically a tradesman and I didn’t realise how much it took to run a business. With Laney’s background in marketing, I knew she had a lot to offer,”  said Mr. Clancy.

After they decided to run Pipe Perfection Plumbers together, they were faced with unexpected challenges. They realised how much strain running a business with your loved one can put on the relationship.

“There’s certainly a lot of challenges being husband and wife [business partners].],” admitted Mrs. Clancy.

“Putting boundaries between home and work was difficult for us. We thought that if we had really blurred boundaries between work life and home life, that it meant we were really committed. But what it really meant was that we were putting less into our marriage,” she added.

They also struggled with constructive communication. Discussions would turn into arguments, where both parties would fight to have the last word.

“Our meetings would start off well and end badly, because we would disagree on something, or one of us would make a remark on how the other did something in the past that was wrong and the other would start to get really defensive,” said Mrs. Clancy.

“Instead of being on the same team, we would want to come out of every exchange as the winner which never ended happily.”

So is it really worth running a business with your significant other?

Both Mr. and Mrs. Clancy  believe it’s worth it. For them, the positives outweigh the challenges. They have a united vision for the business and are both 150 percent committed to reaching their goals.

“It is worth it because, as long as you stay focused on the end goal and the bigger picture, you always have something to work towards,” said Mr. Clancy.

For Mrs. Clancy, joining forces with your significant other means you always have love and support during the tough times, and you always have someone to celebrate with when business is doing well.

“There’s an inbuilt trust and commitment because you have a marriage together. You have this very strong bond and common goal of making it work. Whether things are really tough or really great, it’s just much better and much easier to face things together.”

“Another thing for us, with young children, running a business together allows us to have a lot of flexibility in our lifestyle, so we can support each other with taking care of the kids, we can take turns in the office.”

Aiken, who has counselled Mr. and Mrs. Clancy during difficult times in their relationship, said that doing business with your spouse can actually create a greater bond and sense of togetherness.

“You can achieve some many great things, [like] your dreams, and you can build an empire  together and you can celebrate with each other in building that successful business,” said Aiken

“If you really work well together, it can create a great sense of team work, and togetherness, that some couples may not have because they don’t see much of each other.”

He went on to explain that for a couple to enjoy the positives with running a business with your loved one, you have to be disciplined with the boundaries you put around work and around your personal life.

“You  need have time as a couple that is separate, that is distinct from work.”

Laney Clancy’s top tips on how to run a business with your spouse without compromising the relationship:

  1. Maintain a clear mental boundary between home and work life.
    Quite simply, this means that you don’t talk about work outside of work hours. If you need to urgently discuss a work related matter, do it in a small, unpleasant space so you feel the need to finish the conversation as quickly as possible.
  2. Change out of work clothes when you get home.
    This will help you to get into your ‘home zone’. Seeing your partner in the same clothes they wore at work makes the mental distinction between work and home difficult.
  3. Arrange date nights.
    Schedule regular, romantic date nights with your significant other, during which any talk of work is off limits. The night should be all about spending quality time together, free from any thoughts of work. This will help keep the romance alive.
  4. Socialise with people outside of work.
    Ensure you have some sort of social group outside of work. Spending time with people who are separate from the business forces a mental shift and will help you move completely out of the ‘work zone’.
  5. Be mindful of each other’s emotional needs.
    Who we are at home and at work can be very different. Make sure that you truly listen to your partner and are mindful of their emotional needs. This means putting on a different hat to the one you wear at work, where you need to be efficient and task orientated.
  6. Take care of resentments.
    Resentments that are left to fester into contempt can collapse a marriage. They hitch a ride to any business meeting, ready to fire up the minute your opinions oppose. Seemingly innocuous behaviours can be the seed. Compliment each other every now and again, so both of you feel appreciated. This way you can handle criticism in the workplace a lot better.
To learn more about how to make relationships work, visit John Aiken’s website.

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Tasnuva Bindi

Tasnuva Bindi

Tas is a journalist at Dynamic Business. She has a passion for visual and performance arts, feminist politics, and animal rights. In her spare time she likes to paint, write poetry, and read courtroom drama novels.

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