How to Talk Business with Your Spouse (without Getting Into a Fight)
How do you end up feeling when you do talk to your spouse about business? On a good day, work chats with your spouse will leave you feeling supported, loved, seen, and empowered to keep growing and building your business. Unfortunately, on a bad day, you might leave those conversations feeling dejected and defeated, or even worse: like your spouse doesn’t really believe in you.
I’ve been married to my husband for almost 12 years, and I’ve been running my business for 2.5 He is supportive, empowering, and encourages me constantly. I don’t think I would have made it this far if it wasn’t for his unwavering support. We have a strong committed marriage. But even in spite of these factors, sometimes our work-related conversations are still really hard.
If you’re struggling to talk to your spouse about work without it breaking into a fight, here are some principles that can help you. These reflect the biggest lessons I’ve learned from the past 2.5 years of talking to Travis about my business.
Be clear on your goal
If you don’t take anything away from this post, please take this one thing: when you’re talking business with your spouse, know what you want from the conversation.
Empathy. Everyone has a bad day at the office, even when you are your own boss. Sometimes you might need to express your frustration and have someone nod and say, “I’m sorry, that’s hard.” Give your spouse a heads up if you’re looking for empathy, not a whiteboard session.
Validation. Working for yourself often means there is no one around to high-five when you do a good job. When I finish a project, I want someone to validate my effort and tell me I rocked it. When I half-jokingly, half-seriously show Travis my work and ask, “aren’t you impressed?” he knows that I’m looking for validation, not feedback.
Advice. If you need legitimate advice, it’s a good idea to plan the conversation in the same way that you would plan a meeting. Schedule it ahead of time (even if it occurs outside of work hours), plan what you want to discuss, and be prepared to receive honest feedback. If possible, it’s helpful to schedule these “meetings” during actual work hours so you are in the right emotional space to talk objectively.
Buy-in. Sometimes you need more than advice. If what you’re contemplating creates significant impact or risk to your financial situation, I recommend you shoot for your spouse’s full buy-in. Plan for the conversation as I explain above, but also be prepared to give them time to reflect after the initial conversation. It may take a few follow up conversations to get on the same page.
Have grace when it gets messy
Let’s be honest, life isn’t perfect, and neither is our spouse. Sometimes they give us advice when we want empathy, validation when we want advice, and everything in between. On the flip side, sometimes we need more than one thing from a single conversation. I recently had a conversation with Travis about a major change in direction that I am exploring for my business. I intended it to be a “buy-in” conversation, but when it was all said and done, I needed empathy AND validation as well.
Be prepared for these conversations to be meandering and potentially emotionally messy, even if you have a clear goal in mind. Approach the situation with grace, patience, and understanding for your spouse and yourself.
Know their strengths
Often our spouse can offer a unique perspective on our work because 1) they know us really well and 2) have walked with us throughout most of the entrepreneurial journey. This equips them to see the big picture more clearly than other people.
However, it’s easy to confuse familiarity and intimacy with competency. Just because someone knows you and your business doesn’t mean they have the skills and knowledge to address your current business challenges. My husband in particular, as a lawyer and non-profit leader, gives amazing advice when it comes to contracts/legal structures, working well with others, communication, and general strategy. If I ask his advice in these areas, I can be confident that I’ll walk away with a solution.
However, if we ask our spouses to give advice outside of their skills or expertise, we need to accept that they may not have advice to give. Or, if they do, you might need to check their advice against a few other opinions.
If you end up going against your spouse’s advice, make sure that they feel heard and that you actually considered what they said. This piece has some helpful anecdotes from entrepreneurs who have chosen to take – or not take – advice from their spouse.
Establish helpful boundaries
Running your own business is extremely personal, which makes setting work-life boundaries even trickier than it otherwise would be in a traditional job. If you and your spouse are having a lot of conflict around work conversations, you might need to set better boundaries for how, when, how much you’ll talk about work in your home. You should be working together to make your home a haven from work stress, not an extension of it.
You can start by asking yourself a simple question: If my spouse talked about their work as much as I talk about mine, how would that make me feel?
How do you set boundaries around work conversations in your home?