Spouses as Business Partners?

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working coupleI have heard and read that money is the most divisive problem between couples. In my opinion, working with your spouse rivals money. Of course, dealing with money is part of business, but working together also includes the root of the majority of all conflicts… differing personalities. If your spouse and you decide to work together, make sure you figure out and hold true from the start the most important thing through it all… each other.

All total, Steven and I have worked together for 15 years, but the most concentrated period has been the last nine. I started full time with Aspect Tree Service when I was 26 and the company was 10 years old. Before I worked for it, I rode competitive Dressage out in Texas and went to school for my degree in English. Needless to say, my background did not prepare me for being part of a privately owned company. Steven, on the other hand, started working at a nursery when he was 11 years old. He partnered with two other men in a landscaping company in Florida when he was just 18. At 26, he started Aspect Tree Service, Inc. His background was certainly more suitable in preparing him to be a company owner. Combined, we were a mismatched pair from the start. Steven is a leader… he’s analytical, patient, and stoic. I can be overly regimented, radical, and reactive.

Since Steven started the company from scratch, he had a lot of life’s lessons and business experience behind him. The company was established and profitable, but it was at the precipice of expanding. It needed its own office and when I started working for Aspect Tree the office did not exist. That was to be my first project for the company; building its new hub. Steven foresaw the office streamlining the company. It would track everything coming in and going out, all projects, and clients… pretty much everything an office should be doing. At the time, it was overwhelming. I had no idea where to begin, or how to build the framework and processes for the office. The experience was a learning curve that I was ill prepared for. I made many mistakes. Through it all, Steven and I knocked heads. He had experience to back up his thoughts and actions. I didn’t, but my convictions were based on me… what I knew I was able to produce for him and the company.

Still today, it boils down to one simple truth… the company is not mine. It belongs to Steven. When I decided to take on my position, I knew that it was on the condition that I am not to be a co-owner of the company. Nine years in, as the company grows and faces highs and lows, I voice concerns and opinions and he listens to them all. The end decision though will always come from Steven. This fact is hard to choke down occasionally, and sometimes how I see things isn’t the same way Steven does. I do know that when I entered the company, I made the commitment to back up his decisions regardless of whether they’re wrong or right. The long term effects of major decisions can be equally hard to absorb if the decisions weren’t the right ones, but that too is part of the promise of supporting your spouse’s choices. Just because he is my husband does not entitle me to have a say in the company decisions. That isn’t to say that I don’t express opinions and thoughts in private. I do and it does cause conflict occasionally. Generally speaking, as spouses work together, they are also growing together. In each moment, each struggle that occurs, I try to look ahead to see where this particular problem might take us. Is it a good outcome? A positive step forward or a negative step back?

In all fairness, Steven doesn’t make many poor decisions. Sometimes, I think it is more my ego telling me he’s wrong, rather than him actually being wrong. Trusting one’s self too much is a mistake in itself. Rather than listening to my own thoughts, my trust needs to be in the decisions and commitments I’ve already made, and that is my trust is in him. I think that is what makes it hard for spouses to work together. We forget our promises and instead listen to ourselves in that moment. In other words, if we were wrong the first time when the promise was first made, what makes us think we’ll be right the second time around?

Working with a spouse is hard. It takes practice. That sounds odd, but it’s true. Practice perpetuates good habits and discipline. Part of the success of marriage is utilizing good habits and discipline.

Last modified: September 11, 2013
Nikki Hall
Nikki is the co-owner of Aspect Tree Service in Alexandria, VA. Learn about her business at www.aspecttreeservice.com

This story is part of our Small Business Corner, a peek into the life and trials of small business owners.

Category: MPR Authored, Small Business, Small Business Corner, small business owners