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Can you successfully run a business with your partner?

By Chutisa and Steven Bowman

When it comes to doing business with friends and family, blood isn’t always thicker than water. 

Owning a business with your spouse or partner can be exhilarating, awe-inspiring and liberating. Then, on the flip side, it can involve anxiety, uncertainty and frustration.

We are one of those couples who see working together as exciting and remarkably generative. For us, running a company together and working closely with each other is a rewarding experience – both financially and emotionally.

Many people shudder at the thought of working with their spouse. We’re often asked “How do you do it?” followed by the statement “I could never work with my spouse.” For some people, the idea that they will be in each other’s faces day in and day out can be a nightmarish thought; full of trepidation and anxiety inducing. If this is your point of view, then you certainly should avoid going into business with your spouse.

While we built an amazing company together, many married couples have found working with their spouse to be a slippery slope and a difficult path. One of the issues that many couples find challenging working together is that they have to be around each other a lot more than if they work separately. Lots of couples find it challenging to handle the dual pressure of building a relationship and a company at the same time. They can’t handle the stress and financial risks as well as the sheer amount of time that they must spend together.

Being able to successfully work with your spouse depends on many factors, but first and foremost you must enjoy each other’s company and genuinely like being around each other all the time. By no means is it easy. But if you do decide to do it, make sure you really like being with each other and you have a good marriage and/or relationship in the first place, because business partners in a personal relationship have to spend a lot of time together than most couples in a relationship.

After working together more than a quarter of a century, we believe that being in business together can be extremely rewarding. Here are our top three tips for mixing business with pleasure:

1. Generate a shared-vision for your life and business partnership. One of the enormous advantages associated with being in business with your spouse is the support that you’re able to give each other. To thrive and flourish while working closely with your spouse, you must create a shared vision and formulate generative strategies for your business and your life. Both partners must be willing to generate visions, strategies, ideas, and actions that do not fit the timeworn conventional business models.

It is about not being inhibited and restricted by conventional business paradigms or confined by the standard models other people abide by. Normal business practices based on traditional business models just don’t work for married business partners. Successful partners must be equally devoted to challenge traditional perceptions. However, if one is constantly trying to seize new opportunities and possibilities, while the other is content with stagnancy and complacency, resentment and anger will build, and the marriage or business (or both) may fail.

2. Doing what you love is a major component when it comes to creating a successful company together with your spouse. For the business to be successful it has to be something that will nourish and fulfill both of you and at the same time allow you to generate huge amounts of money. To be successful, you have to do what you enjoy in life.

Virtually all-successful married business partners are aware of who they are, what they are in love with, and what they wish to accomplish. Your work fills a large part of your life. So, the only way to be truly satisfied in life is to do what you believe is great work and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. Make it your priority to discover what both of you love to do and enjoy in life. Don’t settle for anything less. Keeping looking until you find it. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. If you’re doing something you love, you’re more likely to put your all into it, and that generally results in making money.

3. Allowance, Trust, Gratitude, Honour, Vulnerability. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to work with your spouse at a business or something you truly enjoy.

Couples tend to believe that because they’ve fallen in love, that being in business together is going to be a snap and that everything will fall into place naturally. It won’t. Creating and constructing a successful business with your spouse can be one of the most challenging and rewarding things you can do, and it requires a high level of allowance, trust, gratitude, honour, and of course, vulnerability.

This is the key to being able to be with one another 24 hours a day. In co-creation of a successful business there must be a sense that you create and generate your business together and each person is a contribution to the other.

 Personal and business respect go hand-in-hand for a married couple. Couples will likely lose respect for each other if they are consistently judging or take a fixed point of view about anything the partner does or doesn’t do or how the partner is or is not.

When you have trust and are in total allowance of your partner, that is the place of communion with one another.

There will be incongruity and disagreement as well as amusement and enjoyment. There will be pleasure and delight as well as frustrations and conflict. But in the end, when you are being vulnerable and you honour and have gratitude for your partner, you won’t get caught up in the negativity nor get caught in the traumas and dramas of this reality.

That is how synergy gets created. This is what creates the space of communion and collaboration in your business. In true collaboration, each person is made greater in the process. There is a sense of communion in the relationship and there is no point of view about what each is to the other or what you do for each other. The continuous collaboration, the endless interaction, the pressure of juggling work and personal life, and the dynamism of entrepreneurship – especially in a difficult economy – can take a toll if you don’t have ‘Allowance, Trust, Gratitude, Honour, Vulnerability’.

About the Authors

By Chutisa and Steven Bowman know a thing or two when it comes to keeping their relationship on track and doing business together at the same time.

The couple has been married for over 40 years and has been working together for close to 25 years. Together they have created a global multimillion-dollar business in board advisory work, an antique jewel curating and co-authored 5 books.

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