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Articles - Entrepreneurial Couples

Why can't we Communicate now that we live and work together?

Monday, August 03, 1998




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

"She’s so busy I hardly see her at the office anyway."

"I just let him handle things his way."

"We’re not very good at resolving problems, so I let it go."

"I just hate confrontation!"

Listening, talking, communicating, resolving problems, making joint decisions... these are requirements for all business owners, not just entrepreneurial couples. Yet entrepreneurial couples often complain that communicating effectively with each other is the last thing they do. Without good communication skills and quality time dedicated to communicating, relationships (business and personal) soon flounder and fail, especially among couples with the stress of two careers, or a joint enterprise, and a full family life. Moreover, the potential for a breakdown in communication grows as the complexity of the family/business system increases.

Probably the number one reason entrepreneurial couples don’t talk is that they let the business run their lives. In my research and consultation work I have found that these couples are more willing to take time from home for work activities than they are willing to take time from work for home activities. In general these couples are rarely willing to leave for work late; very occasionally they may be late not more than fifteen minutes. However, they are willing to be late getting home one to four times a week by more than an hour each time. As well, these couples are willing to leave home for work more than thirty minutes early one to two times per week. On the other hand, they are willing to leave work early for home only once a month. As long as these tendencies prevail, entrepreneurial couples are giving themselves very little quality time to devote to confront and solve the inevitable conflicts that will arise in their personal relationship.

Work is a major source of satisfaction for adults. There are immediate payoffs with work, unlike with relationships. Likewise, there are problems and crises at work that draw our attention away from relationship responsibilities. Most career-minded Americans admit that their families are more important to them than their work, but that they derive more personal satisfaction from work (i.e., their creative side). This obviously poses a serious dilemma, and one that most entrepreneurial couples ignore, because everyone else does.

The second major reason entrepreneurial couples don’t talk is that they are avoiding conflict and confrontation. There is a common misconception that conflict and confrontation are bad. One of the major reasons entrepreneurial couples have problems is their failure to confront issues head-on. They may fight openly or quietly seethe, but they have a terrible time confronting the real conflict respectfully and honestly. It’s as if confrontation and conflict are impolite. However, conflict and confrontation are natural and healthy components of any relationship. You are neither bad nor wrong for causing a conflict or identifying one. Conflict is an opportunity to open up communication on a difficult subject.

You are neither bad nor wrong for causing a conflict or identifying one. Conflict is an opportunity to open up communication on a difficult subject.

As a member of an entrepreneurial couple you are under more stress and potential conflict than others. The worlds of your personal life and work life overlap considerably, creating more intersecting points. This creates a highly complex system of constantly changing roles and rules. Because you cannot really separate home and work, you must learn how to integrate these two worlds better. The tools you used for communicating and resolving conflicts before you worked together may just not be good enough anymore. As an entrepreneurial couple you and your spouse face dilemmas that may have never surfaced before to give you worry. This means you need to enhance your communication and problem solving skills beyond simple linear cause and effect (i.e. blame).

The first place to start is to actually make time to communicate with your partner/spouse. Make time for personal, marital, family and work communication. Give each equal time or at least what they need. Don’t leave this to when you have the time. Make it part of your daily and weekly routine. Informing and clarifying with each other on a daily basis is vital in our crazy, fast-paced lives. Memos and e-mails are OK, but a good face-to-face conversation does more than convey the facts; it keeps the good feelings alive.

Second, practice good communication skills. It wouldn’t hurt to take a class, or read a book on communication. I offer some communication advice in Chapter 3 of my book, ENTREPRENEURIAL COUPLES: Making It Work at Work and at Home. You really may not have to look far for those communication skills, though. You probably already use them in your work, with employees, colleagues, business associates. It’s just that you never thought to use those same successful methods with your spouse. Certainly you realize that communications go more smoothly and solutions are arrived at more readily, when you listen respectfully, establish rapport, and move toward win-win solutions. Why not try this same approach with your business partner/spouse?

Third, do not fear conflict and confrontation. Because of the highly complex and interactive, multi-level system you have created as an entrepreneurial couple and family, conflicts are inevitable and actually a sign of growth. Therefore, avoiding conflict is not the goal. Rather you want to develop the tools to "lean into" conflicts and resolve them early on, so that you can reorganize your lives to include the new learning. Because entrepreneurial couples have a lot at stake when it comes to their business and their relationship, they are prone to avoid conflict or to use ineffective tools to solve the conflict too quickly. Compromising and acquiescing are two of these ineffective tools.

Most couples are shocked when I advise them to avoid compromises at all costs. After all, isn’t compromise a requirement of partnership, both personal and business? The reality is that decisions that are arrived at through compromise usually lack creativity and seldom last. Sure, a compromise now and then may be necessary for the sake of expediency, but if a decision is important, a compromise may cause anger and resistance. Because compromises are usually a result of both people giving up something in order to get an agreement, the decision is a watered-down version of two stronger opinions. While it may be satisfactory to accept compromise decisions for things like choosing a restaurant for dinner, where neither of you gets your first choice but both must accept a third alternative, accepting a third, less-threatening alternative for your business may sabotage your competitive edge.

Compromise is the easy way out when you are trying to avoid conflict and confrontation. It appears that the compromise will smooth ruffled feathers and that both partners can go away happy. What really happens, however, is that each partner leaves feeling as though they have been had. One person may resent having to compromise and will be looking for ammunition to prove that the decision was a bad one. Another person may feel he or she has done the honorable thing by not pushing his or her opinion on the other, only to feel unappreciated later when the compromise plan is dropped. If you stop and think about it, how long have your compromise decisions really lasted?

Acquiescing or forcing your opinion upon your partner are other ways of avoiding conflict. In seeking to avoid conflict, for example, a persuasive person may push his or her partner to acquiesce to a certain point of view, but this does not mean that the partner agrees. It may mean only that the partner actually does not want to fight and so appears to agree, when he or she has only given in. Don’t make the mistake of pushing to win at all costs or to acquiescing to the persuader, when you don’t agree. In either case, if you are the persuader or the acquiescent partner, the conflict has not been resolved and, what’s worse, may have been driven underground.

"Why can’t we communicate now that we live and work together?" The answer to that question is pretty clear for entrepreneurial couples. If you don’t make time to talk, if you don’t consider nurturing your personal relationship as important as nurturing your business, and if you avoid healthy conflict and confrontation, your partnership/relationship will disintegrate into two uninvolved business associates at the best, and into bitterness and divorce at the worst. So take the time now to evaluate your communication skills and your life/business plan. Invest in the time to develop a meaningful, loving relationship with your spouse that enhances your business relationship.

Are You The Entrepreneur Or Supportive Spouse?

Monday, July 06, 1998




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

If you have read my columns in the past, you are aware that I frequently refer to couples in business as entrepreneurial couples. Now that I have bandied the term around for several years, it is probably time to formally define just what I mean. In fact there couldn’t be a better time to present my definition, since entrepreneurial couples are at the crest of the enormous wave of business startups in America right now. Some of you may not even recognize yourselves as entrepreneurial couples because you have always been entrepreneurial, or come from entrepreneurial families, or the style is so common (especially here in the Northwest) that you never considered a definition important. However, defining the type of entrepreneurship that you and your spouse share can be very enlightening. Knowing who you are and why you are that way will assist in problem solving and future planning, as the following case examples will show. Even though there are always exceptions to the rule and entrepreneurs being what they are (e.g., extreme individualists) there are three basic entrepreneurial couple styles to start with. You may be a blend of two or even three and you may have changed your style over time. However, I am sure you will find your bedrock image in one of these styles. They include the solo-entrepreneur with a supportive spouse, the dual-entrepreneurial couple, and the copreneurial couple.

Bob and Carol used to work together in their successful nursery and garden supply business, but Bob has since returned to his old employer leaving Carol to manage the business on her own, as a solo-entrepreneur. Bob has become the supportive spouse. He is employed elsewhere, providing emotional support to his wife’s business, but not really involved in the day-to-day management and headaches of running it. Carol, on the other hand, recognizes her talent as an entrepreneur and is much better suited to running the operation on her own as a sole proprietor. Larry and Dorothy, who for 15 years have worked side by side building their farming enterprises, are a copreneurial couple. Copreneurs share ownership, management and responsibility for their business as full-time partners. The term copreneur comes from the blending of the words couple and entrepreneur and was first coined by the husband -and-wife team of Barnett and Barnett in 1988. Copreneurs are different from dual-entrepreneurs in that they operate a joint venture. One partner may have more of the entrepreneurial spirit than the other partner, but they both are equally committed to the enterprise as owners and managers.

Still another style involves dual-entrepreneurs like Sharon and Dave, who each run separately their respective businesses. Sharon is a realtor and Dave runs several successful small businesses. Dual-entrepreneurs are like solo-entrepreneurs in that each spouse is an entrepreneurial spirit tending to their own sole-proprietorship (or even partnership with a non-family member).

They also may function as a support person to their entrepreneurial spouse. What distinguishes dual-entrepreneurial couples from the others is that they each have the entrepreneurial spirit yet they are not in business partnership with their spouses. There are few couples who fit neatly into one category or another. Jonathan, for example, owned a multi-million dollar national advertising company 10 years ago when he met Brooke, whom he later married. Now Brooke heads up a major division of Jonathan’s company. Jonathan and Brooke are copreneurs but often operate as dual-entrepreneurs because of the size of their international business. Anton and Carrie were each solo-entrepreneurs before they married and merged their respective businesses to become copreneurs. Ross and Nalani over the years have experimented with all types of entrepreneurship. In some ventures they are copreneurs. Still in others, each operates as an independent dual-entrepreneur. All the while they consider themselves supportive spouses.

So what is the real value of knowing your style and that of your partner? Stan and Rhonda didn’t evaluate their entrepreneurial style before they launched their successful retail chain, but they could have avoided many painful bumps in the road if they had taken the time to really talk and learn about each other. For years Stan had worked as a controller, transferring to a new company when he needed another challenge. He was good at his chosen career so his moves always bettered his situation. Still he was restless and at mid-life, tired of helping others make their businesses more successful. He wanted to try his hand at running his own successful business.

Rhonda had married Stan after his divorce from Pat, with whom he had three children. She had no children of her own, nor had she been married before. However, Rhonda was well established in her career when she met Stan at work. As an accountant, Rhonda had always found excellent jobs and was quickly promoted. When Stan began talking about starting his own business, Rhonda agreed that they made an excellent team not only because of their love for each other, but because of their combination of professional skills. She was excited to get started on the venture.

Clearly though, this was Stan’s adventure. True to his organizer style, he researched the marketplace to discover the most advantageous industry and location for his new business. He was not so concerned with the type of business, but whether it would be profitable. He was willing to move to a new town where there was a need for his business. Unlike the entrepreneur who pursues a business because they have a passion for a particular industry or product, Stan is the type of entrepreneur who can take any good idea and make it into a profitable venture.

When Stan discovered the right business for him, a store that specializes in a variety of environmentally friendly products for the home remodeler, the couple began the second phase of development. The plan was for Rhonda to keep her job for the steady income and benefits. Stan quit his job and threw himself into the work of getting the business funded and off the ground. Rhonda helped in the evenings and on weekends with whatever odd jobs Stan could not get to.

In this manner the business grew from one retail outlet to two within three years. At this stage the couple needed to reassess Rhonda’s role. Stan could no longer manage alone and still achieve his dream of building a franchise business. Although Rhonda was ready to quit her job and come to work full time with her husband, Stan had other ideas. He was not emotionally ready to share entrepreneurship with Rhonda. Their relationship worked fine when Rhonda was a supportive spouse, but when she left her job, Stan felt that she was usurping his territory. After a tumultuous year of trying to work together as copreneurs, Stan and Rhonda realized that Stan needed to hire professional management and that Rhonda would continue working in corporate America. They just were not cut out for the challenges of running a family business. What best suited this couple is the model of solo-entrepreneur with a supportive spouse.

Speaking of supportive spouses, he or she is often the "unsung hero." As one wife put it, "My mission is to showcase my husband’s talents." This wife works side-side-side with her husband in their chain of hardware stores. Her daughter and two sons-in-law are also in the business. While she is vital to the welfare of the business in many ways, her husband operates as the solitary leader of the business. He consults her and the children, but as the founder he has the veto power in all decisions.

Not everyone is cut out to be a supportive spouse...at least not all of the time. Most of us think of marriage as a partnership with give and take, where sometimes we are the leader and sometimes our spouse is the leader. In an entrepreneurial venture, however, this may not always be the case. Entrepreneurs are driven people who can become so consumed with their businesses that they ignore their families. A supportive spouse must do more than stand by and watch. They are often the one holding the entire marriage and family together, so the entrepreneurial spouse can devote his or her undivided attention to the business venture’s success.

Regardless of your style of couple entrepreneurship, all partners eventually must play the part of the supportive spouse. After all, that’s what marriage is about. And the role of supportive spouse is much less complicated if you, as a couple, clearly define the type of entrepreneurship that suits your personalities best. If you are a hard driven, competitive type, probably you will do best as a solo-entrepreneur. If both of you are this type, try dual-entrepreneurship. If you are team players and enjoy sharing the spotlight with the one you love, copreneuring is for you. And if you are the quintessential woman/man-behind-the-scenes, and you don’t really want to be too involved in the daily managing of your partner’s venture, you are well suited to be the supportive spouse.

Can Husbands and Wives be Business Partners

Monday, June 01, 1998




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

MAN SEEKING WIFE/BUSINESS PARTNER


Successful business man seeks life partner to share my entrepreneurial dream. Must believe in me and be supportive of the long hours required of a start-up venture. Nothing is too much for you in that you are comfortable juggling the many demands of the wife of an entrepreneur...household, childcare, social obligations and working late hours at the office to meet deadlines. Opportunity to develop your own very satisfying career as you help me build my business. Your rewards are financial security, the opportunity to be part of something big, and the chance to work side-by-side with your husband. At work you are my hard-working right hand person. At home you are the loving support that makes the long hours worthwhile.

WOMAN SEEKING HUSBAND/BUSINESS PARTNER

Career-minded, college educated woman with entrepreneurial spirit, tired of facing the "glass ceiling" of corporate life seeks like-minded college educated male to share love and business partnership in a start-up venture. Must believe in egalitarian relationships, sharing fully in the household maintenance as well as sharing equally in the ownership, management and responsibility of our joint business venture. Even though you possess creativity and leadership skills which you use to help me create the "American Dream", you’re ego is not bruised by my ability to make decisions and take charge. At work, you are dedicated, aggressive and single minded in your pursuit of success for our business. At home you relax and become playful because you are a loving, sensitive, communicative male, who adores me and takes the time to get to know our children.

The "personal ads" I have written above are of course, tongue in cheek. Yet they represent a classic problem that entrepreneurial husbands and wives bring to their partnership. Each spouse has a very different concept of what they would like in a business/marital partner. Because their expectations are so radically different, husbands and wives become confused and frustrated with a partner that they love. They wonder why they ever asked the other to work with them. Sometimes they wonder even if they should remain married.

As more and more couples consider entrepreneurship, it becomes painfully apparent that they are unprepared for the stress business collaboration will cause their personal relationship. Many career-minded husbands and wives have already achieved some success in the work world before embarking on their own venture. Likewise they may feel that their personal relationship is solid and healthy and capable of taking on the added strain of working together. Yet few of these couples discuss the ramifications of working together. They are totally unprepared for the blurring of boundaries and turf when a spouse becomes one’s business partner. However, clarifying the work/home expectations of each spouse/business partner should be the first thing that any entrepreneurial couple does, even before spending a cent on letterhead, or signing the bank loan.

For example, even though Charlene started the real estate company five years before Ted joined her in the business, she found herself deferring to Ted more and more as the two of them worked together. As a traditional couple, who had two grown children, they were used to Ted being the "head of the household." When they started to work together, they assumed the same roles at the workplace. The problem was that Charlene had nowhere to go with her entrepreneurial spirit and leadership skills. The solution was to redesign the business so that each had their own division to lead and operate.

Frank and Louise had a difficult transition. Although they had a traditional marriage, they operated as equals in the career world, as long as they worked for different companies. When they started their entrepreneurial venture, conflicts arose because they had not discussed expectations at work.

Frank continued to operate as the "head of the house" at work, while Louise designed her work schedule according to the former egalitarian arrangement. Frank started to complain that Louise did not work as hard as he did and that she didn’t care about the success of the business. Louise felt unappreciated because she was working very hard on projects that she felt were important. The problems were (1) that the couple was not talking about work priorities, nor coordinating those priorities and (2) they were using two conflicting models to operate as partners at work. Eventually, the couple decided to maintain the separation of work lives that had worked so well for them in the past. Louise left the business and pursued other interests.

Elise and Aaron were extremely puzzled by the marital conflicts that arose when they decided to move their respective businesses into the same building. They had had a warm and respectful marriage for ten years. Each had built their individual professional practices in that same time and they were thriving. However, when they moved into the same office suite, now seeing each other everyday at work as well as at home, conflicts were happening more often. The tools that the couple had used in the past to resolve problems weren’t working anymore. What was needed was a new set of tools for the changes in the marital/business partnership.

Entrepreneurial couples have a lot of work today to balance the competing demands of home and work. Whatever your style of couple entrepreneurship (a solo proprietorship, co-entrepreneurial couple or dual-entrepreneurs) there are few models to guide you in maintaining a loving marriage and a thriving business simultaneously. There are a myriad of variables to consider. So my advice is to design a model unique to the two of you. Begin by talking with your spouse/partner about the goals each of you has for yourselves individually in life. Then go on to discuss marital goals, family goals and finally business goals. (I have a more comprehensive outline of how to do this in my book ENTREPRENEURIAL COUPLES: Making it Work at Work and at Home.)Ultimately you are searching for a flexible system of relating that can change with the circumstances of your life, your lives together, and the changing marketplace of your business.

Compensation planning in a family business

Thursday, April 02, 1998




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


For years Arnie looked forward to having his son and daughter join him in his publishing business. Arnie and his wife, Ilsa, had rebuilt the business after Arnie’s father lost everything due to some poor planning and miscalculating the marketplace. Even though the business went under when Arnie was in college, he could see the potential. He had a degree in marketing and knew the publishing business from the inside out. With Ilsa’s accounting background, they systematically restored the business to a healthy functioning. About the time that Arnie’s and Ilsa’s two children were off to college the business was in expansion mode and Arnie was counting on his son and daughter to help take the company into the twenty-first century. The children were eager to help out too. They were getting relevant degrees in college, had acquired internships at publishing houses back East, and upon graduation were ready to come home and learn the family business under Mom’s and Dad’s tutelage.

Arnie and Ilsa had laid the groundwork well for inviting their children into the family business. The kids had seen how hard their parents worked, but they weren’t ignored. The family always came first. Also Arnie and Ilsa involved the children in the business from the start. Even as toddlers, they played in the office. As older children, they helped out with odd projects and straightening up. They were familiar with all of the employees, who felt like one big extended family to them. In high school, the children tried their hands out with some of the professional work. Frequently the family business was a subject for a high school project. It was common knowledge and often discussed that both son and daughter were welcome to work in the family business after they completed college.

All seemed to be going as planned until the day came to discuss the employment agreement with each child. Never before had the family had to consider real business when dealing with each other. As teenagers, the kids had been paid minimum wage or a bit better. There were no benefits or perks because their parents took care of those things. Now the children were adults, responsible for their own lives, which meant that negotiating compensation had to be strictly business. The children couldn’t be expected to work for minimum wage anymore and they expected to be compensated for contributions they made to the company. Arnie and Ilsa had some work cut out for them.

The question was, How to compensate their children, as if they were regular employees, but with the added benefit of having trusted family members to help run the business? Compensating relatives is a sticky business. Not all people are really created equal. It is sometimes very difficult to assess and compare the talents of family members who are also employees. Nor do all family members contribute equally to the business. As a result of the stress that this causes, many family business owners ignore the problem and let compensation become a breeding ground for dissension in the family. For example, many wives in family businesses do not earn a salary at all. The reason given by the CEO for this is that it saves on taxes. The justification is that she is an owner of the business, so she is growing an investment. However, the research also shows that family business wives are invisible when it comes to decision making and that they feel isolated and unappreciated. Lack of a salary or a nominal salary may account for this.

A recent survey by Mass Mutual Insurance Company reports a wide discrepancy between the salaries of sons and the salaries of daughters in family businesses across America. On average the typical son in a family business earns $115,000, while his sister earns only $19,000. These salaries also reflect the tendency of family firms to view the contributions of women as of less value and the strength of primogeniture in succession planning. In other words sons are groomed for leadership while daughters are groomed for supportive roles and paid less than their brothers.

In other situations, CEOs of family firms attempt to avoid the problem of compensation for family member/employees by paying everyone the same, even themselves. Or they hire a family member simply because they are family, regardless of their abilities. The problem with this method is that the talented and creative employees are not rewarded for their work and may become resentful of the family members they must "carry." And the employees who are overpaid are not getting accurate feedback for their work performance, which makes it hard to improve. Likewise the CEO is not really viewed as sacrificing when he or she takes a low salary. Rather he or she is viewed as a weak leader.

Although it is not easy to put aside the anxiety caused by developing a fair compensation plan for your family members/employees, it is absolutely necessary if business is to thrive. Family relationships built upon honesty are far superior to the games required by compensation plans designed to avoid friction. So if you follow the advice of experts you will design your compensation plan according to these five steps:

  1. Write up accurate job descriptions for each employee. Include responsibilities, level of authority, technical skills, level of experience and education required for each job.
  2. Identify what your compensation philosophy is. Do you want to pay about average, or higher? Do you want to attract talent from other companies? Do you want to offset the typical male/female wage differential? Are you a training ground for young, inexperienced people?
  3. Gather information on the salaries of similar positions in your industry. Size up companies that are similar to yours in number of employees, revenue, product, geographic location, etc. What salaries and other benefits do these similar organizations pay their employees?
  4. Develop a succession plan. How will a successor to the leadership be identified among family member/employees? How will they be prepared for leadership? How will this choice affect the morale of the family/business? How will this successor be compensated?
  5. Design an affordable plan. Obviously you want to do the best you can with the dollars you have. What can you afford to compensate each family member/employee relative to their contribution?

After you have a compensation plan that reflects the family’s values as well as sound business practices, you are in position to negotiate an employment contract with a family member. It is important that everything is spelled out up front so that when you have an annual review, there is a way to compare employee performance with outlined expectations in the job description. Salary increases can then be based upon the employee’s true accomplishments.

It will be hard for Ilsa and Arnie to totally separate their love for their children from this matter-of-fact compensation plan. There is room in any business for discretion in awarding raises and other forms of compensation. However, when the money decisions are made strictly from emotion or avoidance of emotion, there is bound to be trouble. As the CEO of a family business, make the best decision you can for the business. As a parent or a spouse, encourage your family member/employee to achieve their greatest potential within or outside the business. In this way both business and family wins.

Sex and Infidelity in the Family Firm

Thursday, March 05, 1998




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


Bill and Monica and Hillary and Andy and Cathy and Paula and ... I’m not sure where the connections stop. Obviously infidelity, sexual improprieties and the abuse of power are hot topics right now. With the whole country entranced by the White House sex scandal, you may wonder how I can come up with a column that will take your attention away from the President’s sex life. But SEX just happens to be the subject of this month’s column ... Sex and Infidelity in the Family Firm.

You may wonder, as some of us do, why sex causes such problems for people. After all, the sex drive is a normal and necessary part of human life. The problem isn’t that we have a sex drive. The problem is what we do with that drive. As with most human skills sex can be used in a positive healthy way or it can be used to abuse and manipulate. Sex can lead to pleasure, or a love bond within a relationship. Or sex can lead to pain, suffering and corruption.

There is very little in human life that is instinctual. Although the sex drive may be with us from birth, expression of our sexuality is learned. And unfortunately much of what we learn as we grow up, about appropriate sexual behavior is gathered from unreliable sources such as childhood friends, pornographic materials hidden from our parents, television and movies, or worse, through exploitation by unethical adults. Other than a perfunctory sex-education class in public school, where the emphasis is on health and procreation, where does a child learn about sexual techniques, or the relationship between sex and love, or the subtleties of sex in the workplace? Where do they learn about ethics?

Many parents oppose even the scant sex education offered in the public schools. They maintain that sexuality should be taught by the parents, that it is a private matter, that exposing children to these subjects in school will encourage promiscuity. Regardless of the merit of these arguments, I have met few parents who openly discuss sexuality with their kids. Most parents tell me they are more than willing to answer any questions their kids ask about sex, as if any kid in their right mind will let their parents know they are thinking about sex!

So with that minor digression taken care of, back to sex in the family firm. If most of us get a poor education about how to develop our sexual instincts into a healthy expression of our sexuality, then it’s quite likely that most families experience problems at one time or another such as sexual inappropriateness, infidelity, and even abuse. And if that is true for many families, it is true for many family firms.

Jan and Dale were really scared when I first met them. They had been frustrated for years by the poor work performance of their son, Drake whom they were grooming to take over the business when they retired. Drake just didn’t seem to have leadership abilities and his latest escapade was about to sink everything. A female employee had filed a sexual harassment complaint against Drake. It appeared to be true and well documented.

This was not a simple situation of parents neglecting their sons’ sex education, although they had done that too. Jan and Dale had not dealt with their own unresolved problems regarding sex. In earlier years, Dale had been involved in more than one affair. Each affair ended quietly and the couple never again spoke of the problem. Unfortunately, this lack of communication lead to repeated affairs, rather than resolution of the couple’s marital and sexual problems. While Jan thought she was suffering silently and Dale was always repentant, the couple’s children were being profoundly affected. Drake was angry that his father would betray his mother and he was angry that his mother would let Dale get away with it. What Drake was learning about sexuality as a child is that it is something that should be a secret, that sexual behavior hurts other people but that there is nothing you can do about it, that women are helpless in the face of a man’s advances. It is not surprising that with these mixed up messages, Drake went too far when he propositioned an employee. No one had educated him about how to properly handle his sexual impulses. For Dale and Jan, the sexual harassment lawsuit was a wake up call. Sex was only one area in their marriage that was a problem because of poor communication and inappropriate use of power. But it is not only the marriage that is affected. Employees, vendors, business associates, and customers are all affected when sexual improprieties are hidden in a family firm. Drake’s inability to develop leadership in the workplace was a direct result of having no respect for his father. Dale’s leadership was questioned by employees because his son was so irresponsible. Jan was viewed as a long suffering inept wife rather than the competent chief financial officer that she was capable of being. These are not desirable images and certainly affect the bottom line.
Even if infidelity, sexual improprieties and abuse of power do not affect your bottom line, they certainly affect your sense of self esteem and the health of your relationships with the ones you love. So why do people risk it? Lack of education is one reason, as I have already discussed. But other reasons abound too. Essentially sexual misbehavior is a signal of some deeper problem. With the President it could be that power has gone to his head, that when you’re at the top there is no way to assess what normal is anymore. With Monica it could be that she feels powerless in many ways, except when she is seducing men. With Dale, the affairs represented his lack of confidence in dealing with his well educated wife. For Drake, sexual power over an employee was the only way to feel powerful at all, since he was failing miserably in the family business.

Whatever the reason for the sexual impropriety, don’t keep it a secret. Use the signal for what it is, a message about a much needed change in your life and relationships. Among families in business, because of the need to be supportive, nurturing and protective of family members, sexual improprieties are covered up more often than in other settings. As embarrassing as it is to bring these things out, it is more embarrassing to pass the problem along to the next generation and risk everything you have worked so hard for. Seek professional, confidential help from a psychologist.

The President is about to balance the budget, but what has captured America’s attention is his sexual liaisons. If sex is a problem in your family firm, even if you think it is a tightly held secret, just what do you think your customers, employees and other business associates are talking about?

Are you Mom and Pop in the Office?

Thursday, February 05, 1998




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


Fran and Larry are corporate farmers. They have a large operation that grew from one farm, when Larry took over the business from his father, to three farms and a retail outlet, plus several related agricultural investments. They continue to expand north and south along the fertile valleys of the Pacific Northwest.

Many of the employees have worked for Larry and Fran since the time of Larry’s father, but most are new hires. As the business expanded, the company changed from a small "Mom and Pop" operation to a sophisticated multi-level enterprise, racking up impressive national and international sales. This growth required hiring more technical, sales and even marketing personnel to help prepare the business for the next millennium.

Both Larry and Fran have college degrees and are proud of bringing their agricultural business into the computer age. They have talented, well trained farm hands, mechanics, foremen, sales people, office staff and managers, who are helping the business grow in a healthy and competitive way. They have one son in college, studying farm management and a daughter already working full time in the retail outlet. They thought they covered everything when they took the business over from Larry’s dad and began moving into the future. What they had not counted on was human nature.

The element of human nature that I refer to is the tendency of employees to relate to an entrepreneurial couple as "Mom" and "Pop." You may never have considered this phenomenon before, but if you are a member of a husband/wife entrepreneurial team, you probably know what I mean. And if you work for an entrepreneurial couple, I am sure that at least once, you have referred to them as "Mom" and "Pop," if not to their faces, certainly to other employees.

Some entrepreneurial couples do not mind the stereotyping. They enjoy the role of parenting their extended business family. They even refer to the company as "one big happy family." If employees do not mind being treated like children, even indulged children, this is not a problem. However, problems arise when the transference creates more unpleasant connections. Not all employees nor employers have fond memories of their childhoods and they may have unresolved issues between themselves and their parents. These unresolved issues can erupt between employer and employee when the setup is a "Mom" and "Pop" business.

With Larry and Fran there were several signals that they were being treated like parents by employees, even when they themselves did not overtly acknowledge their role as "Mom" and "Pop." Just because they are a husband/wife team, and have grown children involved in the business, employees infer a parent/child relationship. For example, employees often come to Fran about problems they are having with Larry, even though Fran has no authority in their area. They request of her to intercede.

In another situation, Larry found one employee seeking his approval for nearly every aspect of his job. Even though this manager is quite capable, and came highly recommended, he seemed to be unable to operate independently. This sounds typical of an insecure child who needs Dad’s praise in order to feel loved.

A third example really brought the problem home for Larry and Fran. The couple noticed that whenever they openly disagreed about something at work, such as at a meeting with their managers, the employees involved would immediately become quiet. Where once there had been a feedback session among owners and managers, there were now intimidated children waiting to see how the fight between "Mom" and "Pop" would end.

The solution to these interesting problems is to bring the situation out into the open. I find that entrepreneurial couples who recognize that there will be "Mom" and "Pop" transference at the business between themselves and employees, are in a much better position to diffuse it. For example, Fran can gently remind the employee who seeks her protection from "Pop" that the employee is a capable adult that they hired to handle the job. Therefore, there is every reason to believe that Larry will be respectful and solution oriented regardless of the problem brought to him by the employee.

Larry may need more in depth discussions with the manager who constantly seeks his approval. Depending upon the personalities involved, Larry may even be able to bring the issue of a father-son parallel out in the open. For example, he might say, "You know, just because I’m the owner, doesn’t mean I know everything. It’s not like I am your dad or anything and you have to be perfect to please me. Relax and do your best. That’s what I pay you for."

In the board room, I think Larry and Fran can be quite direct with their executive team. They may even have some training with their managers on the subject of the psychodynamics of business systems run by husband/wife teams, so when the transference blooms they can go right to the heart of the matter. For example, when an argument opens between Fran and Larry, they can look at the intimidated children/employees and joke, "Don’t worry. We won’t make you choose sides between ‘Mom’ and ‘Pop’."

All businesses are human relationships first and product second. This is not just true of family firms, but is seen more poignantly in businesses where there is an overlap of family or couple system and the business system. Complicating things further is that employees bring lessons from their childhoods and their marriages into the work place and make meaning accordingly of the behavior of entrepreneurial couples. By recognizing this dynamic and developing ways of diffusing the counterproductive interpretations of "Mom" and "Pop", entrepreneurial couples will be leagues ahead of their competitors.

To improve your skill at identifying when this kind of transference is happening, keep in mind these basic presuppositions about couple-owned and family-owned firms.

  1. Most people make psychological meaning of a situation at an emotional level first; a more rational, adult interpretation comes second.
  2. All entrepreneurial couples will be viewed as "Mom" and "Pop" by all employees at some time or another, whether you set it up that way or not.
  3. All of us learned about relationships and teamwork in our families of origin, so it is natural to return to those lessons in a setting that represents a family constellation.
  4. Your creativity is limited if you are playing a role, such as "Mom" or "Pop." Step out of the role and become a fully functioning adult again, and your employee will also.
  5. If you have not resolved problematic relationships in your own family of origin, you will play them out at work, just as your employees do.

Some entrepreneurial couples have tried to solve the "Mom" and "Pop" problem by keeping their personal lives totally separate from their work. Others have opted out of couple entrepreneurship altogether. Still others have gone to the other extreme, where the business becomes their family, and they have no life outside of work. None of these options are necessary, however.

As an entrepreneurial couple, you are both spouses and business partners, sometimes alternating between these roles several times in one day. It is impossible to separate these worlds of home and work, when you work with the one you love. But it is possible to track which role currently is in the foreground. All you really need to do to keep the system humming is to ask yourself two questions:

  • Which role is in the foreground now?
  • Is this the most appropriate role for this context?

Are Co-Dependency and Kindness the same?

Thursday, November 06, 1997



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


When yet another check bounced, the sixth in three months, Lenny became worried. He knew that he was not very interested in balancing the books, personal or business. He always left that up to the bookkeeper anyway. The business seemed to be doing well, so whenever a personal check bounced, Lenny always covered it promptly from savings or taking another draw from the business. But this time, things seemed to be getting worse. Lenny wondered if he were slipping up at work, in ways that could cost he and Linda their livelihood. So he asked Linda to meet with himself and their CPA to take a look at the budget. After giving the couple the usual advice on how to tighten the financial system, the CPA pointed out to Lenny that his business accounts were always up to date. Never once in seven years had he bounced a check. Yet in the personal account he shared with Linda, checks bounced every month. Since Lenny was the one responsible for signing the checks at work, he took a closer look at what Linda was doing with their personal account. To his surprise, Lenny discovered that Linda was writing checks for $20.00 or $30.00 over the purchase nearly every time she shopped. Recently one check written on a twenty dollar purchase, was written for $120.00. The problem was getting worse! Lenny confronted Linda privately and in a tearful discussion learned that she was using the money to support a drug addiction. Because the couple is very successful in their business, and have plenty of money to spend, Lenny hadn’t noticed the excesses his wife was spending on her “leisure” activities. Only when the checks started to bounce more often did he become concerned. His concern about the erratic spending, lead him to discover that his wife was deeply troubled. The story doesn’t stop here, because Lenny and Linda have much work to do to clean up the addiction problem. This isn’t just Linda’s problem though. Lenny needs help in converting his concept of kindness. Lenny knew each time a check bounced that it had been written by Linda. But he took care of it without bothering her. He reasoned that she didn’t have the financial sense that he did. She was good with the customers and vendors so he managed the day to day business stuff.

He thought of himself as helping Linda by taking the financial burden off of her shoulders. You can see however, that he was not really any help. He only helped Linda ignore her growing dependence upon drugs. Lenny’s help is really co-dependence. An individual is co-dependent when they inadvertently or even consciously encourage the addicts dependency upon their drug. You can be co-dependent with drugs and alcohol or any other immature or unwise behavior that leads to serious dysfunction or life threatening consequences. In other words, co-dependency refers to an attitude, not necessarily chemical dependency. If you are ignoring or sanctioning the dysfunctional behavior of a loved one, such as Lenny did with Linda, you are co-dependent. This is no kindness to the one you love. The reason it is so easy to confuse kindness and co-dependency is that they are essentially the same behavior within different contexts. To be kind means to give unconditionally, to share, to show that you care for another person. When the giving, sharing and caring is reciprocated by a healthy individual, the condition is kindness. However, when the kindness is not reciprocated, when you find yourself giving and giving and giving, it may be co-dependency. Lenny found himself taking care of Linda’s bounced checks over and over and over again, without any commitment from Linda to change. This is co-dependency. Kindness does not always require reciprocity. You may feel that you want to give unconditionally on occasion. At the holidays, we often feel that those who have should contribute to those who have not. However, giving should not involve sacrificing oneself, especially if it doesn’t help and if it even makes matters worse. Because Lenny and Linda made plenty of money, it did not seem like a sacrifice to cover the bad checks. However, Lenny’s self esteem was beginning to suffer. He thought that he was becoming forgetful and that he could sabotage the success of their small business, thus risking their retirement.

It hardly makes sense that helping Linda means that Lenny should sacrifice his self confidence. Remaining a kind person while at the same time breaking co-dependency may seem like a difficult task. I have certainly had many people complain that I am asking them to be mean when I suggest breaking the destructive co-dependency pattern. If you love someone who is in trouble, why can’t you help them? The key word here is help. Was Lenny really helpful by continuing to cover Linda’s bad checks? If you are doing all of the work toward solving a problem, what is the other person learning? If the other person is chemically dependent, they learn from your kindness to continue their troublesome behavior. But if you stop helping in a co-dependent way, you may offer your loved one the chance to show you they can solve the problem themselves. Lenny controlled the situation by paying for the checks but he didn’t resolve it. Since there was plenty of money, the problem was not hitting the pocket book, but Lenny’s conscience instead. This is usually your first clue that you are in a co-dependent relationship. For some reason you accept the responsibility while your partner gets off the hook. Instead of control, however, consider another form of kindness, respect. If you respect your loved one, then trust that they can take responsibility for their faults and clean them up. In other words, show the chemically dependent person that you respect them enough to let them show you what they are made of. If they have the right stuff, they will clean up their own act. In fact, the very act of turning the problem back to the person who created it, frees both of you to take responsibility for your own actions. So how do you tell the difference between co-dependence and kindness? Well, one feels bad and the other feels good. One covers up the real problem, while the other brings the problem to the surface. One destroys self esteem, while the other encourages self esteem. Since you have a choice, the choice seems pretty simple. Choose positive self esteem, honesty in solving problems, and taking and giving appropriate responsibility for one’s actions.

Managing Wealth

Monday, March 31, 1997




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


Steve and Karen were $38,000,000 lottery winners, so they immediately quit their respective jobs, and bought a beautiful house, horses and new cars.

Nancy had been a social worker for most of her adult life. Her standard of living was modest but she made a good salary for a single woman. She even qualified to buy a house. At age 32, she met Mark, a software designer who made a million overnight.

Frank was a poor kid who grew up in an inner city neighborhood. After a stint in the Navy, Frank decided to try his hand at mining, then real estate, then almost any other business opportunity that turned a profit. By age 40 he was a multi-millionaire.

Sharon grew up in an upper-class neighborhood. Her best friend was her nanny, until her father fired her. She attended school with children from other wealthy families. Sharon never really knew the extent of her parent’s wealth until her father’s death, although she always had everything she ever wanted and was sent to the best schools. At the age of 38, she inherited billions.

Really, the only thing these people have in common is that they have wealth. Most people would not consider that a problem, nor even worthy of a column in this newspaper. However, another thing these people have in common is that they have to learn to manage their wealth. Like any other lesson in life, if you have no previous experience, there may be bumps in the road.

One bump for Steve and Karen was the loss of family and friends. Coming from families of modest means, Steve’s and Karen’s family and friends found it difficult to relate to them anymore. Although invited to the "mansion" for parties, they felt uncomfortable, out of place, envious. The envy turned to anger and conflict. Although Steve and Karen had been generous with the money, making loans to family who needed it, they were blamed for not being generous enough.

Nancy was overwhelmed with guilt about the money she and her new husband had. She had chosen the profession of social work because she wanted to help the disenfranchised. She was a liberal politically, so acquiring wealth while others starved seemed immoral. She spent many months in therapy before she was even willing to marry Mark, and then only after he agreed to invest his windfall in "socially- and ecologically- based investments."

Frank never really thought he experienced any setbacks as a result of his wealth. As he puts it, he "loves making money!" On the other hand, he is estranged from his grown children and is divorcing his third wife.

Sharon had been so sheltered from the real world, that she was entirely unprepared to step into her father’s business. He never considered training her to take over his business. She really had no skills to speak of except how to shop. With her father’s death, Sharon had to start thinking about what she wanted to do with her life and all of that money.

Again, if you do not think any of this applies to you, think again. The average millionaire started out an ordinary working person and acquired wealth through building their small business. To avoid or at least be prepared for some of the problems that plague Frank, Sharon, Karen and Steve, and Nancy, it is necessary to plan ahead for the day when you may have wealth. If you are in business, that is probably one of your goals anyway, so why not think positively?

Recently, the New York Times published some data on the "average American millionaire." Surprisingly, most millionaires do not lead glamorous lives. They own bowling alleys, funeral homes and small manufacturing plants. In fact, the average millionaire is a 57 year old man, married with three children. He is self-employed in a practical business such as farming, pest control or paving contracting. He works between 45-55 hours a week. He has a median household income of $131,000 and lives in a house valued at $320,000. He drives an older model car. Although he attended public school he is likely to send his children to private school. Finally, he is first generation affluent.

It sounds to me like the American Dream is alive and well. However, many of these millionaires are not doing that well in the areas of personal relationships, health and emotional well-being. Some, like Frank, neglected their marital partners and their children because they were so focused on the thrill of making money. At mid-life now, Frank is trying desperately to re-establish these relationships, but his children feel that his addiction to money is greater than his love for them. Frank waited too long to strike the balance between love and work.

Nancy’s problem is more common than you think. Ordinarily, this type of mindset prevents the acquisition of wealth altogether. But Nancy was faced with the painful situation of having to re-evaluate her social values. This pain nearly put her in the hospital with a severe depression. She felt "dirty" having money, yet she felt guilty for wanting to keep it. Nancy had to do a lot of soul searching to realize that she was just as important as those disenfranchised folk she had helped as a social worker. When she began to view the money as a gift, as love, as energy from the universe, she started using it not only to help others, but to benefit herself and those she loved.

Steve and Karen have resorted to drug addiction and gambling to alleviate the stress of their sudden wealth. The lottery not only brought wealth, but power. Neither of them ever saw themselves as powerful and had no experience as leaders. However, with $38,000,000, their friends and family have put them in the position of leadership. They long for the simple life that can only be accomplished by giving all of their money away, which may happen if they do not curb the addictive behavior.

Similarly Sharon needs to take stock of her lack of skills for leadership. She does not have to work, nor have any management responsibility in the business at all. Yet she feels a tremendous responsibility to do something with the great gift she has inherited. What Frank, Steve and Karen and Nancy have in common with Sharon is the awareness that wealth brings with it responsibility. Planning for this new responsibility will put you ahead of the game when the time arrives.

Stewardship is another name for this responsibility. Once all of the bills are paid, once the new house is purchased, once you have exhausted all of your fantasies for travel, jewelry, cars and horses, the "average millionaire" still has to ask himself or herself, "What am I contributing to my community?" This is the bump in the road that takes the most maneuvering. As long as you barely make enough money to pay the rent, or you work night and day to get your start-up business off the ground, or your days are filled with managing small children, there is precious little time to ask yourself "what will I be remembered for?" But the acquisition of wealth puts people in this spot, sometimes overnight.

Charlene took care of her basic needs after she and her husband struck it rich with their manufacturing business. She built a new house, decorated it, bought a condo at the beach, traveled to Europe, sent her children to private schools. Then one day she woke up deeply depressed because her life had no meaning. She tried therapy. She volunteered for worthy causes. She joined social clubs. She took up sculpting. Nothing worked, however, until she read about foundations. This idea took hold of Charlene and she began the process of funding a foundation that would sponsor young women interested in entrepreneurship.

If you want to be prepared for wealth start thinking now about what you really want to do with that money. Ask yourself, what is really important to me in my life? If I could change the world to make it a better place what would I do? If you can answer questions such as these, you will have principles to guide you as you acquire wealth.

Building balance in family business partnerships

Thursday, December 05, 1996




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


The Yin and the Yang; other than an interesting design for a T-shirt or jewelry, what do we really know about this symbol? Better yet, what is the relevance to our modern life? Simply, the Yin and Yang symbol represents those masculine and feminine aspects of ourselves as individuals, as couples, as neighborhoods, as corporations, as countries. Because the symbol is drawn to show the intertwining of these aspects, the meaning inferred is that we are dependent upon both to build a whole...a whole person, couple, neighborhood, corporation or country. Whatever your spiritual convictions, most people will agree that there are these feminine and masculine traits to be seen in many situations as well as within us. Psychologists have even developed tests to determine how strong certain masculine and feminine traits are within an individual. For example, some people score highly feminine, some highly masculine and some androgynous (or highly masculine and highly feminine). The masculine qualities are typically assumed to be aggressiveness, decisiveness, little show of emotion and so on. Feminine qualities are passiveness, supportiveness, emotionality and so. None of us have only feminine traits or only masculine traits. And some of us even have both masculine and feminine traits in abundance. The value of assessing your Yin/Yang quotient is to determine how much balance you have in your life and your relationships. It is not more desirable to be androgynous or masculine or feminine. The real question is whether you have struck a healthy balance within yourself and among your loved ones. In a family/business this balance is even more crucial. Not only is the health of your relationships affecting family functioning, but business functioning as well. Therefore, a healthy dose of masculine and feminine within a family/business should keep it humming successfully. "I couldn't be successful without her." "I wish more wives could learn the joys of working with their husbands." "

You don't really understand what it takes to run this business because you work in the office." "He doesn't really care about his family because he works all hours."These are examples of the Yin and Yang in operation among couples who work together. At times there is respect for the strength of the other person even though it is different than your strength. At other times, we get bogged down in our own reality and forget the valuable contributions of our partners. When the latter happens, the couple and the business are headed for trouble. Avoiding the pitfalls requires lots of love, open communication, and fearlessness in confronting problems. For example, I had a wife come to me in tears because her husband was dominating her in the family business. Apparently the wife had started the business at home in their garage. When the business took off and became too large to handle, the husband quit his job and came to work for his wife in the business. Unfortunately, his masculine qualities were pushing against his wife's feminine qualities. While she wanted to have his help, she still wanted to be the leader. And as his wife, she wanted to be loving and supportive, but not if it meant giving up her accomplishments. The husband, on the other hand was totally oblivious of the trouble he was stirring up. He was only trying to help. In a typical masculine way, he thought that if he had a good idea, and if his wife didn't say no, then it was OK to proceed. This type of complication between husbands and wives who work together is all too common. The research shows that husbands will dominate decision making and leadership in the business even if the wife founded the business...even if the business is a stereotypically female business, such as a nail salon!

To bring things back into balance, these copreneurs need to remember why they chose to work together in the first place. They need to assess whether the Yin/Yang balance is a good one in the work place and at home. The research shows that working people find great rewards at work, unlike what they get from family interactions. Yet these same working people report that their families are more important to them. In order to get the most from both worlds, especially when they overlap as in a copreneurial venture or family business, you need to really appreciate the Yin/Yang in your self and your spouse and other family/coworkers. For example, when you find yourself complaining that your wife/business partner doesn't really understand what it's like "out in the field," ask yourself if you could do her job in the office. Better yet, ask yourself who you would hire to replace this trusted employee and tireless worker. When you feel that your husband/coworker doesn't really love you anymore or that he treats his business clientele better than you or the children, ask yourself how the business would have grown without his determination and willingness to sacrifice his own personal time. With these new perceptions you are in a much better position to renegotiate the terms of the relationship. To be sure, if one spouse keeps putting in long hours at the expense of the family; and if spouses work side by side, doing their jobs, but never understanding each other, there is not much of a relationship, personal or business. Instead, with love and appreciation for past contributions, begin talking about change. Talk about striking a balance between love and work. Talk about the risk of losing a client or losing a spouse if priorities don't get straight. Talk about doing a little training with your spouse so that they do understand just what your job involves. Train the kids too; prepare them for the future when they too will seek to balance Yin and Yang.

Negotiating equatiy in marriage/business partnerships

Thursday, April 04, 1996




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


Think for a moment about the tasks you perform in your role as husband or wife. Who does the laundry? Who cooks breakfast? Who chauffeurs the children to events? Who balances the checkbook? Who changes the oil in the car? Now think again about the task assignments at work (for those of you who work with your spouse this is particularly meaningful). Who does the bookkeeping? Who greets the customer? Who hires new employees? Who negotiates the contracts? Where does the "Buck stop"? Don't be limited by the few questions mentioned in the last two paragraphs. Make a list of your duties and those of your spouse and really evaluate the division of labor, both at home and work. Then ask yourself (and your spouse), just how did we arrive at this division of responsibilities anyway? Most married couples never stop to think about consciously discussing duties, tasks, chores, responsibilities. Things just follow a certain course and you are either happy with it or not. Actually the research shows that in most family firms, job assignments both at home and at work follow traditional gender divisions of responsibility. That is, men do "men's work" and women do "women's work." At work the wives generally handle the bookkeeping and support work and at home they take care of cooking, cleaning and children. The husbands are the leaders and decision makers at work (and at home), while at home they handle small repairs. In contrast, dual-career couples have a non-traditional division of responsibilities. Wives and husbands are generally responsible for leadership and decision-making at work. At home, these couples think of themselves as "social partners" who are equally responsible for household and childcare duties. This non-traditional style is called "egalitarian." Regardless of the marital style, traditional or egalitarian, all couples, both copreneurs and dual-career couples, report satisfaction with their style. The traditional copreneurs do not desire an egalitarian style and the egalitarian dual-career couples do not desire a more traditional style. This concept is called "equity." It means that even if the division of responsibilities isn't equal (at home or work), nor based upon assignment to the most qualified, these couples feel that the assignment is fair. But what about those copreneurs who desire an egalitarian style? Or those dual-career couples who desire a more traditional style? Or what if you and your spouse are a blend of the two, not really fitting into either camp? Then your job is much more difficult, but not impossible. It becomes necessary to sit down together and analyze your situation. First, answer the question, "what do you want?" Your marriage contract is more than a marriage license. It is a group of assumptions that you make about marriage and your partner and yourself. The assumptions you first made at age 22 may not fit for you at 42. The assumptions that guided you through those first years were probably modified when the children came along. They were further modified as the children entered college or when you started your business. Yet, probably neither one of you thought to sit down and analyze what you wanted or what was best given the new set of circumstances. So your first task is to answer the question, "what do you want now in your marriage and business partnership, considering your current situation?" Be flexible. Be willing to let go of old ways that worked once, but are no longer appropriate. Both partners in the marriage must feel that the division of responsibilities is equitable, but does the division also represent what is best for the business and each of you personally and professionally? Another important task in this renegotiation of the marriage/business-partnership contract is to quell the inevitable fears that arise. I often hear people say "I'm not going to change; you knew who I was when you married me; you better be happy with that!" Unfortunately, if you give into these fears your marriage and the business are in for a rude awakening. Things do change and people move on. All of us change daily and it's doubtful that you are the same person you were twenty or thirty years ago, and neither is your spouse.

When you hear your spouse complaining about change, or hear these words coming from yourself, realize that they are coming from a place of fear...fear of change and fear of the unknown. Change is inevitable and it will overtake you, or you can plan a little and guide the change process. It's your choice. Successful marriages are neither traditional nor egalitarian, but are based upon a flexible marriage contract, one that changes with the needs and circumstances of the individuals involved. Just as a business must be aware of competition and marketplace factors, and change or lose, a marriage faces the same perils. While it is important to keep certain basic values in tact, there is much room for negotiation and change throughout the life of the marriage and the business. Nancy and Steven had a traditional marriage during the first 30 years. Nancy helped put Steven through medical school, took care of the children, and even helped set up Steven's office. When the children were old enough she moved from part-time to full time in the clinic, managing the business. Steven meanwhile buried himself in his work and over the years developed a successful medical practice and the respect of his patients. At the thirty year mark, however, Nancy got restless. The kids were grown and grandchildren on the way. Steven didn't really need her in the office anymore, so she dropped back to part-time again, and went back to school. Four years later she was a lawyer. In order to help Nancy get going in her new profession, Steven peddled back on his practice by finding a responsible M.D. partner to take on some of his caseload. Although it takes planning and a recognition of keeping things equitable, it is possible to change marital and business styles when the need arises. Evaluate your situation now. Is it time to talk with your spouse and make some changes before they erupt into irreconcilable differences? Or if they are already erupting, take them on and make the most of the change for personal, marital and business growth.