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Entrepreneurial Couples Archive

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Articles - Marital Problems in the Family - Business

Do your and your spouse bicker at work and at home?

Thursday, January 06, 2000




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


"Oh yeah! I used to work with my wife, but not anymore. All we did was fight."

"We're great business partners, but at home we bicker constantly. What's wrong?"

"Work with my husband? Never! He never listens."


Bicker, bicker, bicker. Is this the price you pay when you work with your spouse? All too often this seems to be the case, but it doesn't have to be. If you understand conflict and develop strategies to de-stress problem situations, you and your partner can have the best of both worlds: a fantastic marriage and a successful business team. Here are some of tips for resolving the bickering.

Remember that the differences between the two of you are probably some of the reasons that made you fall in love with each other.

There may be many reasons for conflict, but a common one for spouses who work together is that you know each other too well. Remember when you first met, first fell in love, decided to get married? You probably didn't focus at the time on everything that you didn't like about your new love. In fact, you may have never noticed anything that big, but instead viewed those differences as thrilling. But over time, the differences between the two of you surface more and more. What once was ignored or even viewed as endearing is now a pain in the neck. Or your spouse may have qualities that worked well in the home when you didn't work together, but in the office they seem to make the two of you tangle.

One way to get past the bickering is to remind yourself that you love and admire this person. Your spouse has many great qualities that contributed to your choosing him or her as a spouse and a business partner. Focus on those qualities, not the behavior that annoys you.

People change over time, so bickering may be a sign that it's time to renegotiate your agreements (martial and business).

You can't possibly know everything about another person before marriage or even before becoming business partners. Who knows what qualities will emerge on a person as they enter new territory (which we are constantly doing throughout life)? Our basic personalities probably don't change that much, but how we apply our personalities to the experiences in life does shape and define us. Your spouse may be showing you a side of him or herself that you never

knew existed. Be careful not to resist this new information because it is different. Give yourself time to adjust to the change. Talk about it with you spouse. Evaluate how to incorporate the change into your marriage agreement and business partnership agreement. Change may be painful, but it is the very nature of living things to change.

Entrepreneurial couples should spend as much time cultivating joy in their relationships as they do focusing on the bottom line in their businesses.

It's just a fact. All of us work more than we would like to. Even when you love the work you do, you should strive to find balance among the other important parts of your life, such as your relationships with your spouse, family, friends and yourself.

Entrepreneurial couples are notorious for being all work and no play, and therefore the relationship suffers. Think about it. If you are bickering with your spouse/business partner, could it be because you have had no quality time lately? Or could it be because you are sleep-deprived? Or could it be that it's been a long time since you laughed?

Take the time to set your priorities and follow them. There will always be another phone call to answer and another deadline to meet that will draw you away from balancing your priorities. But you don't get that many chances to restore a faltering relationship. When the love, trust and respect is gone, it usually leads to divorce.

Be true to yourself and offer the same to your spouse/partner.

Entrepreneurial couples seldom have formal education or training in the art of living their unique lifestyle. So, through trial and error they come up with a system to get the job done, and they do so admirably, but the job is all that gets done. Sometimes the work is not very creative. Often the excitement and challenge that brought them into business wears thin. The result is a successful business that produces a good income for its owners, but leaving no room for personal and professional development. Then the bickering starts again.

It seems to be true that when we are bored, we bicker. When this happens, it is time to take stock of how the business is organized. Is the business truly a reflection of your talents, or is it running you? Are the spouses/business partners really suited to the jobs they currently have, or have they outgrown them?

If you are really being true to yourself and your partnership, duties should be assigned according to the best suited to the task. In other words, fully use your talents. For example, if the founder of the business doesn't have good people skills, perhaps the spouse should be president. That way the founder can keep doing what he or she does best, invent things for example, while the more people-oriented spouse can run the business and manage employees and customers.

Be full-time partners at home and at work.

Husbands and wives who work together often slip into efficiently getting things done, but in a hierarchical, military model. Research shows that copreneurs opt for the husband-boss/wife-employee model more often than other entrepreneurial or dual-career couples. Instead of equal partners, these couples slip into the traditional chain of command by which only one person can be the boss.

One day my husband was particularly exasperated with me and confronted me with this question, "Just who is the boss around here anyway?" I was startled, because I thought he knew! Taking a moment to compose myself I replied, "We both are."

A husband and wife, whether partnering at home as parents or partnering at the business, are both full-fledged adults who contribute to the joint venture. They both should take full responsibility for the outcome of the venture. In other words you are both 100 percent boss and 100 percent responsible.

I believe bickering for these couples is a sign that one partner or the other is feeling powerless in the relationship or business. If the decision-making power is vested with one person, but the other spouse still has major responsibilities but no authority, you have ripe territory for passive-aggressive behavior-bickering.

If you and your spouse are bickering about nothing in particular, or the same argument comes up over and over again, or you are bickering now that you work together but you didn't bicker before, or most important, you bicker but you never remember what it's about, take stock of the relationship and ask what needs to change. The simple answer is not to work together, but then you might be missing the most creative team you'll ever be a part of. Plus, you may miss those early warning signs that the marriage and/or the business plan need to be revamped.

Instead, take the bickering as growing pains and be grateful that you have a spouse who is so important to you that you care enough to get mad about their idiosyncrasies.