The Complicated Dynamics of Being in Business with a Loved One

Photo by Mei Teng

Whether you’re in business with your spouse, partner, parent or sibling, working with a family member can be tricky to manage. There can be some really great aspects of this kind of business, but there can also be challenges and complicated dynamics.

I work with a wide range of families and couples who are in business together. Though every case is unique, there are a few challenges I see coming up over and over again. Here they are:

Relationship issues leaking into the business

In my experience, there is no such thing as the perfect relationship. Every relationship has it’s frictions, and it’s important to be open and honest about these frictions in order to move past them. If there are issues between you and your family member/business partner that get out of control, these issues will find their way into your business. Very few humans are able to successfully compartmentalise our emotions, and something you are struggling to deal with at home is bound to colour your dealings with your business partner at the office.

Struggle with ‘role behaviours’

In most cases, we will use a different type of behaviour when we interact with our spouse than we would with our parent or sibling. Equally, the way we act with business associates and colleagues tends to be different than the way we act when we’re at home. However, if you are working with a family member, the lines between these different role behaviours become blurred and it can be hard to know how to behave. This dynamic can become a problem when family or couple businesses take on employees. The type of parent-child or husband-wife role behaviour you are used to at home may no longer be appropriate within a more professional environment.

Blindness to strengths or weaknesses

When you work with someone you love, it can be difficult to be impartial. Some of us find it difficult to accept and address the weaknesses of our family members. Equally, within some family relationships it can be tricky to recognise that family members have particular strengths and expertise. Whichever way this issue plays itself out, it can be a problem within business. If you are blind to your business partner’s strengths or weaknesses, it can make it difficult to properly allocate work and make the most of resources.

Difficulty stepping away from work

When you work with the person you live with, it can be very difficult to leave work at the end of the day. It can be tempting to discuss what’s going on at the office over the dinner table or during family time. Though this is undoubtedly convenient, over time it can put a real strain on your relationship outside of the business. It’s important to remember that you are family as well as business partners.

Of course, though these dynamics can be particularly difficult for families and couples to navigate, solopreneurs can struggle with these too, especially if they seek business advice from family members.

If you’re struggling with any of these dynamics, you’re not alone! Running a successful business is difficult enough without these added strains and many family businesses consider them to be stumbling blocks. Why not set aside some time to sit down with your loved one and discuss what you might be able to do to work towards overcoming them?

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