Hidden Traps For Life Partners Who Work Together

©Laurie Weiss, Ph.D.

You may think that it would be wonderful to be in business with your spouse, but the truth is that when life partners become business partners, unspoken assumptions can cause significant problems.

Neither couple I describe knows the other couple, but their stories are strikingly similar.

Craig and Warren are both recently retired executives. Craig’s wife, Marcy, owns and operates a website design firm. Warren’s wife, Sharon, owns an exclusive gift shop. Both businesses are successful and each woman finds business ownership personally satisfying and rewarding. Both women requested couples coaching for similar reasons. Their husbands were interfering in their businesses.

Craig and Marcy were newlyweds. It was a long-distance romance, and they both were delighted when his retirement allowed them to be together. His unspoken plan was to help her with her business so that she could work less, and they could spend more time together. Her plan, also unspoken, was to continue to develop her business in order to sell it in a few years and fund her own retirement.

Craig enthusiastically earned his certification in web design. He found the new information fun and refreshing after years of heavy corporate responsibility. Marcy was delighted that he was busy and happy until he started to help her with her work. She found his suggestions insulting. It was her business, she was the expert, she supervised many designers and negotiated profitable contracts. Now he, a novice, was trying to tell her what to do!

Warren and Sharon did talk to each other about their plans and goals. Warren felt that his expertise could be put to good use in Sharon’s business. He convinced her, against her “better judgment,” that expanding the business would create long-term benefits for both of them. She decided to go along with his ideas.

They made plans together, expanded their capacity, hired several new employees, and Warren started pressuring everyone to be more productive. Sharon began to hate going to work. She had loved the personal contact with her customers, but now she spent most of her time managing employees and trying to keep Warren calm.

Both women knew they were angry about their husbands’ interference but neither could communicate about it effectively. Each was trying to balance keeping the peace, supporting her husband and taking care of herself and her business. Each time a woman tried to discuss her own discomfort, her husband would logically explain that he was only trying to help her.

During our sessions we uncovered the hidden assumptions and discussed them. When each man discovered the cause of his spouse’s feelings he was astonished to learn about the negative effects of genuinely trying to help his wife.

Neither of the men had thought much about how he was going to find a meaningful way to fill his time after retirement, and simply picked up what was convenient—his wife’s business. As the women learned to protect their own boundaries, a new conversation emerged. Each man needed to explore his own options for finding his own fulfilling activities. 

 Laurie Weiss, Ph.D., is an internationally known executive coach, psychotherapist, and author. For more Secrets for Turning Difficult Conversations into Amazing Opportunities for Cooperation and Success:  www.DareToSayIt.com email laurie@laurieweiss.com