8 Questions To Ask Before Taking The Plunge
With all its blessings and benefits, marriage is a challenge. Taking the plunge for the first time at the altar is one thing. But taking the plunge again, as business partners, is quite another.
I've been working with my husband, Darryl, off and on ever since my business started in 2000. But a few years ago, we decided to merge our talents and gifts in a more formal sense so we could grow in new and exciting ways. The road has not always been smooth, but it is filled with enough joys and high points to keep us energized and excited.
While there's plenty of pre-marital counseling available, there's not much help when it comes to pre-spousal business counseling! We're no therapists, but based on our experience, we have concluded that these are among the most important questions to ask and answer before going into business as a married couple.
1. Do You Share The Same Goals? We put this question first because it is a big part of the glue that holds us together personally and professionally. We have set certain goals for the future, and when the going gets tough, we remind ourselves of those goals and they help keep us going.
Those goals are personal in the sense that they revolve around our commitment to be married for a lifetime. They are also professional and financial since we are committed to utilizing our talents in ways that will sustain us and our children through the years.
Other lifestyle goals include avoiding certain things, such as the high cost of commuting to and from a traditional job, being away from home when our kids finish school for the day, etc. Darryl used to spend a few hours a day in rush hour traffic and he says that since he doesn't do that anymore, his stress level has plummeted.
You'll spare yourself a lot of heartache if your eyes are fixed in the same direction.
2. Are You Compatible In A Work Environment? Darryl and I have discovered that we thrive in very different work environments. Darryl is an artist at heart and he prefers to work in a peaceful, quiet atmosphere with little to no interruptions. He also works at a considerably slower and more deliberate pace than I do. For this reason, we work in separate home offices on separate floors.
We acknowledge each other's optimum work environment preferences (most of the time) and are no longer critical of each other's tastes in this area — even though we don't always necessarily understand or agree with them.
If you cannot accept your different work styles, understanding that they were probably developed long before you came together, you'll have a difficult time working together.
3. Do You Have Similar Relationships With Money? This is a big one. If one of you is frugal and the other is not, it will be difficult. We never had this problem because we were both about as frugal as Paris Hilton when we got married. Over time, and through extensive lifestyle changes and some good books and financial advice, we changed our attitudes and are today passionate about keeping the business and our family debt free.
We spend only when necessary to legitimately expand the business, and we do not pay ourselves lavishly. We have a fantastic accountant and financial planner who help us both personally and financially to save for the future and enjoy life now as much as possible.
We are committed to being personally and professionally debt free. This commitment means that we are foregoing some luxuries now so that we can enjoy life without the stress that comes with too much debt.
If you see eye to eye financially, your journey will be easier and much more enjoyable.
4. Can You Be Flexible And Forgiving? We think this goes back to sharing the same goals. If you are on the same page with regard to where you are going, and trust that each other will not behave in ways that are deliberately contrary to those goals, it's easier to forgive mistakes and move forward.
I think that flexibility is key. So many times, Darryl and I make a decision to go in a particular direction on a specific time frame and things just don't work out. This happens more often than not since our children are so young.
When (not if) things don't go according to plan, it's tempting to just abandon the plan. But you can't do that. You have to adjust to accomplishing the goal using a different method. In this way, you stay on track.
If one of you is rigid and the other one can turn around on a dime, you will have more challenges in this area.
5. Can You Share And Balance Parenting Duties? Our children are 4 and 6, and so we engage in what we call "tag team parenting." Some things are pretty much set in stone. Darryl takes Brooks to school and I take Vanessa. He generally picks both of them up while I tend to afternoon home management duties, most importantly, what's for dinner.
We have agreed to alternative dinner clean up and bedtime duties so neither one of us is overwhelmed. We also have a basic laundry sharing routine, which we are slowly incorporating our children into.
I'm in charge of most of the shopping. In fact, I'm really good at saving money with coupons, but they drive Darryl nuts. As a result, he is prohibited from shopping unless he also has a list. And a fist full of coupons.
While we plan as much as possible, mostly we just plan as we go. We try to make sure that one person is not unfairly saddled with too much. Working at home as a family makes it easier to manage the home because two adults are there to do it most of the time. I consider this one of the greatest benefits of business ownership.
If you are willing to work together and share the load, you'll have a much easier time of it.
6. Do You Have Non-Business And Non-Family Outlets? It's important to get away from both business and family to enjoy people and passions that you don't share with your spouse/business partner. This is easy for me because I'm such a social butterfly.
Darryl is more on the quiet side and is a definite home body, so getting out with friends doesn't happen as often as it could. His lifelong passion is motorcycle riding. He has 3 motorcycles, which is 3 too many for me. But he had the hobby when I met him so I can't complain about it now. At the end of the day, I'm glad he pursues his riding passion. It makes him easier and more fun to work and live with.
If you have outside interests and relationships, things will go more smoothly.
7. Can You Surrender Control Over Things That Are Not Your Responsibility? You have to understand each of your particular areas of expertise and then allow each other to shine in those areas.
Darryl and I have very different talents. Lucky for us, they are complementary. I handle what I'm good at and he handles what he's good at. We hire people to do what neither of us is good at.
We trust each other and relax in the fact that each other's areas of expertise are highly valuable and necessary for the business to function and grow. We come together to plan and strategize, but we leave each other alone to handle the details of what we do best.
If you know how to butt out, you'll save yourself a lot of heartache.
8. If Either The Marriage Or The Business Had To Go, Which Would You Choose? Let's face it, if you and your spouse have decided to support your family via a family business, the stakes are unbelievably high. If either spouse does not live up to the commitments made, not only does the business suffer, but so does the marriage.
We have seen this in a variety of circumstances in our business. For example, at one point, Darryl became very ill and was unable to fulfill his commitments to the business. This was extremely frustrating for me.
While it was a difficult time, we both knew that the marriage came first. This knowledge didn't make it any easier at all, but the fact that we knew where each other stood did relieve some of the stress.
Knowing which comes first, the chicken or the egg, will help you handle both.
What About You?
What do you think of these questions? Should there be others? Are you in business with the one you love? What advice would you offer to others? What would you do differently? Maybe you're thinking of bringing your spouse into your business, or start one together. What are your questions? Fears? Feel free to post in the comments section below.