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Kathy Marshack News

How to Break Through the Isolation You Feel in a Family Business

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


feeling isolated in a family businessThe man on the other end of the line was speaking softly, so I had to listen carefully. "I don't know if you can help me," he said. "My wife and I are having problems. She doesn't even know I'm calling you, and I'm not sure she will even agree to see you." I reassured him that I was willing to help even if his wife was a little reluctant to seek consultation. "But I am not even sure you can help," he said, "because our situation is kind of unique."

"How's that?" I inquired. "Let me know what your special concerns are, and together we will decide if it is something I can help you with."

The man paused, composing his thoughts so that he could succinctly describe his "unique" situation to me. "Well, it's just that we work together and it is causing a lot of problems. I really love my wife, but employees are complaining about her to me and that puts me in the middle. And at home, things are pretty tense too. She doesn't seem happy with me at all. I think maybe there's a kind of competition thing going on. So you see, this is kind of an unusual situation, and I am not sure you know much about this sort of thing, or if anyone does."

More often than not, this is how my first conversation with a member of an entrepreneurial couple goes. One spouse or the other calls, with trepidation about whether anyone can help. The isolation of entrepreneurial couple life has led them to believe that their situation is unique, when in fact, entrepreneurial couples are quite common.

In addition, the assumption that the other spouse is reluctant to seek consultation is also common. This assumption, however, is often incorrect. Entrepreneurs are usually so busy working and not communicating intimately with their business partner/spouse, that they don't realize that he or she is just as concerned about their problems as is the caller.

Making the phone call to me was a first step toward self-awareness for that entrepreneurial husband. Realizing that you are not alone is a powerful thing. Knowing that others have gone before you somehow makes it easier to explore the challenging territory of couple entrepreneurship.

In my book, Entrepreneurial Couples: Making It Work at Work and at Home, I have a series of in-depth exercises to help entrepreneurial couples examine all areas of their work and home life including money, health and parenting. Self-awareness is too important to be left to moments of crisis. Since change is inevitable and nothing lasts forever, people who seek out change and opportunities for purposeful growth will be one step ahead of others.

And remember, even the most serious heartache you have ever faced—be it an extramarital affair, financial loss, drug addiction, physical disease, or divorce—can provide an opportunity for growth and add to your wisdom. Those of you brave enough to really look at the serious dysfunction in your lives can still develop a meaningful entrepreneurial life with your spouse and family. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment or consider remote consultation if you live out of the area.

Successful Estate Plans Consider the Soft Side of the Family First

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


consult a psychologist before estate planning so you sort out the family business issues firstMost entrepreneurs are so caught up in the passion of their enterprise that they rarely plan ahead for the wealth that accumulates. As a result, when it comes time to develop an estate plan, many entrepreneurs are at a loss for where to start.

It would seem that the logical place to start is with your attorney, CPA, investment advisor or banker. However, while all of these professionals should play a part in the development of your estate plan eventually, the first stop on the way to a successful estate plan is the psychologist's office to deal with the soft side of the family business. Many an estate plan has been left undeveloped because the interpersonal relationships in the family were counter to the best interests of the business.

Family firms are a system of family members, in-laws, shareholders and stakeholders. These systems interact with vendors, customers, employees, and the commercial community at large. It’s a delicate balance to maintain a successful business and a successful family enterprise when the systems are integrated into a family firm. The stress on the system becomes even greater when it’s time to develop a plan for the continuity of the business and the family, and a fair apportionment of wealth. If the family doesn’t have mature and healthy interpersonal relationships, the process of estate planning can be costly, painful and unsuccessful.

Consider for example a CEO who is about to retire. He has two daughters and wants to gives each daughter an equal share. One daughter has worked with him for years. The other daughter has never worked for her father but now that he’s retiring, she and her husband want to take a more active position in the company. The first daughter feels she deserves to continue as the president of the company. And she is not pleased about her sister's new interest. Nor does she like her father's decision to treat them equally. Where this family once got along fine, a new problem is growing that they never had to face before. How would you are your advisors handle this "hot potato"?

To create an estate plan that truly integrates the success of the family and the firm, it’s necessary to seek the help of a psychologist who understands the soft side of families and particularly those families who are in business together. Cleaning up root interpersonal problems is essential to the development of a meaningful estate plan that doesn’t increase family conflict. For example, with the help of a psychologist, the father with two daughters learned that "fair" was more appropriate than "equal" when it came to dividing the wealth and the business with his daughters.

If you have worked hard to create an enterprise you can be proud of and want to pass a legacy onto your children and grandchildren, first evaluate the soft side of your family system for any unresolved issues. Then take these concerns to a psychologist trained to help with untangling family knots and reweaving a healthy family/business tapestry. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment.
Entrepreneurial Couples Checklist for Success

Are You Working with Toxic People? The Science Behind Rude Behavior

Monday, June 29, 2015


rude behavior can harm you “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Like myself, you may have grown up with that nursery rhyme and later found out it’s not true. Words can really hurt. Especially when they’re said intentionally to strike our vulnerabilities or when we’re constantly barraged with subtle digs all day long.

It would be nice if we could just let every rude remark and unkind action roll off of us. Yet that’s not how we generally react. More often than not, people immediately withdraw into themselves, feeling hurt and rejected. Then they replay, rehash and relive the experience for the rest of the day, if not longer.

As people become more and more rude and intolerant, it begs us to consider: How are rudeness, incivility and bad manners affecting your long-term health and the health of your business?

Recently I read an excellent New York Times article on how rudeness is becoming an increasingly destructive influence in the workplace and in the health of the victims. Yes, I said victims. Rudeness and bad manners are forms of bullying and emotional attacks on another person’s sense of wellbeing.

For 20 years, Christine Porath an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business has been studying this subject. She’s compiled a number of studies that illustrate the damage rudeness causes. A few of her findings include:

Experiencing or just seeing uncivil incidents elevate levels of hormones called glucocorticoids potentially leading to health problems such as obesity and heart disease.

Rudeness stifles creativity and innovation, because people are afraid to stick their necks out for fear of becoming the next target.

It reduces the ability to concentrate and see solutions that are right in front of you.

It hampers efficiency because people are always on the alert to avoid the rude person.

It damages customer relations, because if treated badly (or if they see someone treated badly) people take their business elsewhere.

Court cases have been lost solely because the jury is appalled by a lawyer’s rudeness. Shockingly, one study showed that patients have died in hospitals where the medical staff was demoralized by the attending doctor, which resulted in fatal errors.

There are things we can do to improve our situation. Are you in a position of leadership and want to create better work environment at your business? Or are you receiving this type of demoralizing behavior and want it to stop? Many have found that consulting with a trained therapist and business coach has helped them find positive solutions. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

How Does Your Two-Career Family Divvy Up the Housework?

Monday, June 08, 2015


two career families divvy up the housworkDo you remember before you married you each promised that you’d split the running of the household and childcare 50-50 since you both had careers? Is that still working for you or have more of the household tasks migrated back onto your plate? Or rather are these tasks just going undone?

To keep the household and childcare covered, one person, usually the mother, has to keep things organized, scheduling the to-do lists, doctor appointments, school permission slips, extracurricular activities, and so forth. This greatly affects how much time and energy mom has left for working secularly. That’s not to say the dad doesn’t want to spend more time with the children, because he does. Yet he feels driven to work to take care of his family.

In a recent New York Times article, various studies were examined to determine today’s reality of housework equality. One 2008 study by Dr. Lareau and sociologist Elliot B. Weininger found, “Mothers’ paid work hours go up when children’s activities go down, whereas fathers’ paid hours are not affected by how much their children do.” This indicates that juggling home and work puts a tremendous drain of time and energy for moms.

The article goes on to explore the perception of both sexes: “Half of the men surveyed in a Families and Work Institute study from 2008 said they were either the responsible parent or shared the role equally with their spouse, while two-thirds of the women said they were the one in charge. This suggests that either men overestimate their contribution or women define the work differently.”

I’ve often commented that communication is key to successfully merging family life and work life. Yet, with frayed nerves, stress, and overworked emotions, conflict arises and good communication skills often go out the window.

Is it time to reconnect with your spouse, but you don’t know how? Many have found that it helps to enlist the expertise of a professional who can help you reorganize priorities and teach you tools of communication to cut through the conflict. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. It’s truly a sign of maturity and strength to be so committed to your marriage that you’ll do whatever is needed to make it work. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment and we can talk about how to help your family be happy and strong.

Read more on my website: Dual Career Couples and Conflict and Communication.

Entrepreneurial Couples Checklist for Success Free Ebook

What To Do When Alcoholism and Drug Abuse is Ripping the Family Business Apart

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


alcoholism and drug abusing ripping the family apartAlcoholism and other drug abuse is an epidemic in our country. It’s so wide spread that our schools have developed substance abuse prevention programs to educate our youth. The courts are less tolerant of alcohol related traffic infractions. And who hasn’t heard of the rehab centers the movie stars and politicians check themselves in and out of?

Substance abuse lowers production, increases accidents, lowers quality work, and contributes to the loss of skilled employees. To combat this, employers have established employee assistance programs and redesigned insurance benefits to create treatment options for employees. These programs treat the addict AND the family, because the strength of the family determines the addict's success in treatment.

Employers want to rehabilitate and return a healthy employee to the job. Yet among family firms, drug addiction and alcohol abuse are frequently overlooked. Many people who work in family firms, yet are not family members, talk about the "secret" at work. The secret that everyone knows – that there’s a family member who is abusing drugs or alcohol. Yet no one does anything about it. The family member is protected not only by the family, but by a general conspiracy among employees.

While the function of the family is to nurture and protect its members and usually takes precedence over the welfare of the business or other non-family related employees, this isn’t helping the alcoholic or the drug addict.

To overlook, condone, deny, rationalize or minimize the problem for the sake of keeping the family system in tact is a misguided sympathy. Allowing addictions to go untreated is no way to take care of either the business or the family. By ignoring the problem the addict accepts this as tacit approval of their behavior. This causes the potential threat to the integrity of the family and business to grow. Alcoholism and other addictions leads to the breakdown of the family, just what a family firm wants to avoid.

How can the addict get help, while being reassured that he or she has the backing of the family and business? There are a variety of resources available. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment to discover the right treatment for you or your loved one. With the support of the two most important systems in one's life, the addict has increased potential to succeed in treatment. They have a loving family and they have a job to come back to.

Read more on my website: Alcoholism Recovery and How Friends Can Help.

Why the 50-50 Rule Isn’t Good Enough for Entrepreneurial Couples to Succeed

Monday, May 25, 2015


the 50-50 Rule isn't good enough for entrepreneurial couplesAccording to the January 2015 Gallup report, “400,000 new businesses are being born annually nationwide, while 470,000 per year are dying. And of the estimated 26 million businesses in America, 20 million of these reported businesses are inactive companies that have no sales, profits, customers or workers. There are only 6 million businesses in the United States with one or more employees. Of those, 3.8 million have four or fewer employees – mom and pop shops owned by people who aren't building a business as much as they are building a life.”

What do successful entrepreneurial couples know about keeping a marriage and a business on track that you should know, too? Whether in business or marriage, problem solving requires gathering information. It just makes common sense to find out what successful entrepreneurial couples know and do that works for them. Out of these strategies, you may find a nugget that applies to you and your spouse.

Do you apply the 100% - 100% Rule?

As a family business coach, over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet many entrepreneurial couples and there’s a pattern among those who have long-term happy marriages interwoven with a prosperous business life. First and foremost they follow the 100% - 100% Rule. That is, each partner considers her or himself 100% responsible for the quality of her or his individual life as well as their joint ventures (i.e., parenting, household duties, managing and promoting a business).

While most couples follow a 50% - 50% Rule, meeting each other half way, by following the 100% - 100% Rule entrepreneurial couples meet each other all of the way. They each put his or her whole self, talents, intuitions, and muscle into the relationships of marriage and business partnership, making each equally responsible for the outcome. Even though for efficiency's sake they may divide up duties along the lines of who is most capable or available, they still consider themselves as responsible as their partner for the success of the goal.

What often get’s in the way of implementing the 100% - 100% Rule? Worrying about ego or pride, which is a waste of precious energy that can better be used in pursuit of your dreams or being creative. It’s better to re-direct your achievement need toward the things you do best at the business or at home. That way not only do you succeed, but your spouse, family, business and community benefits too. What better way to express the 100% - 100% Rule!

If you need an outside arbitrator to settle an ongoing family/business problem and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment. Did you know you can get remote education too? Check out Remote Education for Entrepreneurial Couples.

Read more on my website: Entepreneurial Life.

Latest BBC Interview on Going into Business with Your Husband

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Recently, I was interviewed by Kate Ashford, a BBC journalist, on the topic of entrepreneurial couples. After giving examples of some success stories, she talked about how it’s quite a gamble going into business with your romantic partner, especially if your work ethics are very different. (Read the entire article here: Going into business with your husband.)


Here are twelve things she learned after interviewing various experts including myself.

1. Wait until you’ve been married awhile so you know how you and your spouse will handle ups and downs.

2. Build a good foundation of respect and trust with your spouse first.

3. Acquire good business skills such as money management, accounting, reading a profit-and-loss statement.

4. Treat the business seriously and write a solid business plan, drawing up necessary contracts and legal partnerships. (Writing it down tricks the brain into thinking about what could happen that you should plan for.)

5. Create an exit strategy for business failure, divorce, or physical impairment due to an accident or illness.

6. Outline how children will fit into the mix.

7. Hire a tax professional to set the business structure up properly.

8. Create a strategy where both partners are aware of the money flow.

9. Designate roles according to the strengths and weaknesses of each partner.

10. Give each other alone time.

11. Keep your business and personal lives separate by creating a trigger routine that switches your roles. For example, one couple gives each other a big hug to remind them that they’re a romantic couple from this time until the next working day.

12. Make time for yourselves as a couple, as a family, as individuals.

There will be things that you have to put on hold until the business gets off the ground, and, if you’re not careful, you’ll find that your personal life no longer is working.

Are you an entrepreneurial couple and you find you’ve lost your work/home balance and want to get it back before it’s too late? If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment. Or take advantage of my remote education for Entrepreneurial Couples. Learn more about that here.

Learn more on my website: Entrepreneurial Life and from my book on Entrepreneurial Couples.

5 Tips to Foster Healthy Competition When You Work with Your Spouse

Monday, April 06, 2015


healthy competition when husband and wife work together in a family businessSuccessful entrepreneurs are achievers and highly competitive, otherwise they couldn’t create a successful business venture. Sometimes achievement, motivation and a healthy dose of competitive spirit are all that sustains the entrepreneur during extremely difficult times. Yet, what happens when this competitive nature enters the family business? First of all let’s consider this important question:

What are some signs that you’re in competition with your spouse?

  • Do you feel envious of your spouse, or resentful? You’re experiencing competition.
  • Do you feel smarter than your spouse or the need to have the last word?
  • Do you evaluate the worth of yourself and your partner by how much you each earn?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you’re in competition. It’s not always easy to admit this, but once the truth comes out you’re in a better position to work with the inevitable consequences. I suggest you resist the urge to be embarrassed by your competitive nature. And certainly you don’t want to suppress it or even deny it. Courageously admit it and acknowledge the problem to your spouse.

Then do what successful entrepreneurial couples do to work with it . . . they encourage it! They do, however, insist on one unchangeable boundary….their relationship is off limits. That is, their love for each other and commitment to their marriage and family life come before business or career needs.

How can you foster competition in your business without compromising family feelings? Here are five suggestions:

  1. Give credit where credit is due.
  2. Build in rewards and incentives into your business for each partner to achieve.
  3. Pay each spouse the money they’re worth. Instead of paying only the founder of the business and undervaluing the other spouse's unpaid help, the supportive spouse should receive payment for what he or she is worth and not a penny less.
  4. Bonuses aren't banked for the common good, but awarded to the spouse who achieved the reward.
  5. Encourage each other to achieve their dreams, to express their strengths, to utilize their talents. If this means besting your partner in a career or business move, it shouldn't be threatening to your spouse, but viewed as a challenge to work toward his or her own excellence.

Worrying about ego or pride is a waste of precious energy that can better be used in pursuit of your dreams or being creative. Would you like a qualified business coach to help you productively harness your competitive spirit? If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment. Or you can take advantage of video education for entrepreneurial couples. That way not only do you succeed, but your spouse, family, business and community benefits as well.

Seven Psychological Traits of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


7 psychological traits of highly successful entrepreneursHas your family embraced the entrepreneurial spirit? Have you blazed your own entrepreneurial trail and grown a business that supports you in a full and satisfying life? 

Congratulations! Not everyone can do that.

I’ve often puzzled over the question: what makes some entrepreneurs and family businesses succeed while others do not? I’ve come up with the following seven psychological traits that seem to define those who thrive. How do you measure up?

1. You spot opportunities that others don’t see. Your ability to do a lot of work is based upon efficiency and vision. Because you already see where you're going and are constantly scanning the environment for improvements, you’re a marvel at being in the right place at the right time.


2. You’re a big picture thinker. You’re a visionary who sees the outcome before the average person. While the details are important in creating the outcome, without the vision, your life can become nothing but maintaining the details of life.


3. You stay ahead of the competition and make things happen. You’re a bundle of energy that few can keep up with. You take quick action and attend to what is immediately necessary to accomplish your dream. You’ve honed efficiency to a fine science. You’re constantly looking for the next opportunity or the next problem to solve.


4. You’re a great leader. Because of your uncanny insight and charisma you motivate those around you. People admire you for your talents and want to share in your good fortune by helping in some small way.

5. You view adversity as a challenge. You look on “failing” as an opportunity to prove what you’re made of. The adversity may not be pleasant, but conquering it is a thrill. In a crisis, you’re the hero. (Caveat: Some survivor entrepreneurs keep creating crises in their lives, often unconsciously, so that they can get the thrill of mastering the crisis. The entrepreneur may be able to handle this excitement but your family and friends may tire quickly of the emotional roller coaster.)


6. You harness the brainpower of others. You learn from people who know. You’re impatient with details, but you know that detail-oriented people help you turn your dreams into reality, so you value them.

7. You give back. You treat your employees, vendors and customers with generosity and gratitude. You know it’s important to take the time to stop and smell the roses with the ones you love.

Is the situation hopeless if you or your spouse doesn’t inherently possess all of these skills? Not at all. A qualified business coach can help you develop these skills and if work with your spouse even better because you can work of each other’s strengths! If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment. If you live elsewhere check out video education as a way to get my advice on how to not just survive but thrive as an entrepreneurial couple.

Sexual Infidelity in the Family Firm – What Can Be Done?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


sexual infidelity in the family firmMargo was dumbfounded. She just discovered that her son Brett was having an affair with one of their employees, while his unsuspecting wife was at home caring for their two children. She knew that Brett was having trouble at home, but she thought with the marriage counseling things were back in order.

Of course Glen, Brett's father had "indulged" in a few flings when he was younger, but Margo was sure Brett knew nothing of this. Brett's actions created a tremendous weight of responsibility for Margo as the matriarch of the family and as co-owner with her husband Glen of the family business. How was she to handle this problem? Who should know about it? Who already knew?

Margo's story, unfortunately, is common. When a family also is part of a larger system such as a family firm, the web of entanglement reaches out not only to other family members, but also to employees, vendors, customers, business advisers, and the myriad other people who are part of the family/business system. They are often aware of the problem but feel helpless to do anything. Some try to ignore it and carry on with work. Others may be so brave as to offer advice. Most worry about their future because they doubt the leadership that’s ignoring or allowing the infidelity. Deception makes people uncomfortable and uncomfortable people make mistakes. As the internal discomfort escalates, and the mistakes escalate, and the stress escalates, the problem can spill out to customers, vendors and others you do business with.

What can be done to save the family and business from the consequences of sexual infidelity?

The solution almost always comes in two parts: First, you must understand the nature of infidelity itself or why it happens at all. Second, you must understand the effects that infidelity has on the entire family/business system.

Infidelity is seldom just about sex. Infidelity is a symptom, just as a sore throat is about a cold coming on. Symptoms tell us there is a problem needing attending to. If you have a sore throat you should rest, drink fluids and take some aspirin. If you press on through, chances are your cold will be twice as bad. Infidelity is like that. There were probably symptoms long before the first act of indiscretion, but no one was looking or listening for it.

The issue here is not to blame or focus narrowly on the indiscretion, but to search for the root or roots of the problems, and then to build an intervention. When you’re in the middle of this kind of emotional uproar, you aren't always capable of thinking clearly on your own. You need the objective guidance of a professional trained in helping families heal from psychological assaults – someone who can gently guide the family members back to some semblance of common sense and solutions that work instead of hiding the problem as Margo and Glen had done years ago. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment before the situation escalates.

Want to know what Margo did next? Find out here.

Learn more on my website: Marriage Counseling.



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