Husband-Wife Business Partners

Being husband-wife business partners sounds ideal.  The question is: Can it work? One would think that there would automatically be a high degree of trust. Furthermore, one would think that spouses know one another well making it easier to work together. In recent years I observed various situations that I think are worth sharing.

Case 1

Clive and Terry are husband-wife business partners. They started a courier business close on twenty years ago. Initially both of them were ideal husband-wife business partners: they jumped in and did what needed to be done. This included recruiting staff, growing their client base, dealing with transport logistics to handling the financial management, etc. No one was concerned about roles and responsibilities. They had a common vision and were both highly committed to doing whatever was required.

Twenty years later Terry is referred to me by her doctor. She is suffering from severe depression. What happened to the ideal husband-wife business partners? Over the years her role has been reduced and she has been excluded from key decisions.

When Terry raises concerns that Clive is under-quoting he accuses her of a lack of vision. Her view is that some clients are just not worth keeping because they give too many problems for the income they generate.

He spends all hours at work and makes no time for them as a couple. Clive calls himself the MD but Terry has no title or clear job description. She is given all the “odd” jobs. He expects her to put in as many hours as he does.

A legal contract that was drawn up originally, stipulated that the business is in Clive’s name. Of course there are many more work related issues.

Case 2

Joanne and Peter are husband-wife business partners who run a marketing company. Peter is brilliant at getting new business. He relates very easily to people. Joanne manages the finances and is the operations director. She is only interested in the numbers and makes all her decisions with regard to staff quite clinically.

Joanne is highly critical of Peter and the marketing costs he incurs. She is regimented and expects Peter to do things her way. Peter on the other hand, works in a more spontaneous and intuitive way. Their marriage is taking serious strain.

Joanne did initially bring structure to the business and as a result the business is doing better financially. But Peter finds her approach stifling and often feels dis-empowered.

Case 3

I have seen several cases of husband-wife business partners where the husband purely sees his wife’s role as a supportive one. The husbands sees their wife as “interfering” or “not knowing what she is talking about” when they make suggestions about how processes etc. can be improved at work. These women have commented that they now just do their job.

Another woman commented that her husband is a strong visionary but lacks the ability to carry it through at a practical level with his team. She feels he would be better suited to a consultant role. He becomes defensive when she talks to him about his work and how his business can be improved. As a result she has pulled back on commenting as she says it has a detrimental impact on her marriage.

Several women also comment that their husbands use them as Personal Assistants at work. This often spills over to home as well. It is also easy for work to become the main topic of conversation after hours.  One woman indicated that it is irritating that the business has become the only thing her husband talks about.

Each of the women is strong within their own right. But it seems as if they are not truly appreciated for the value they could bring as husband-wife business partners.

Questions to ask yourself or issues to address

  • Can there be two leaders in the business?
  • Who is going to be the leader and who the follower?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of the husband and wife?
  • Has a legal contract been drawn up that covers the interests of both the husband and the wife?
  • How do the two of you deal with conflict?
  • What common values do you share?
  • How do each of you approach and see money?
  • What are you and your spouse’s key buttons and vulnerabilities?

There most likely are cases where husband-wife business partners work well.  Like a marriage there needs to be openness and on-going honest communication. When circumstances change one needs to have difficult conversations or review the situation and make different decisions. The trick is to do it in a way that draws the two of you closer together.

Business coaching would be of benefit to you if you are in business with your partner and experiencing some challenges.


Posted in Business, Relationships.