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AZRIELA JAFFE

10.20.99  
The Futility of Feuding Over a Spouse's Business
A needy entrepreneur and her judgmental husband are on a collision course

Frank and Julie describe their marriage as a good one. Yet when they came to me for business coaching, they were sad and angry. Their problem is common to many married small-business owners.

Julie (both names have been changed) sells nutritional and skin-care products from home, and the business is just starting to turn a profit after three years. Her venture has been tough on the family financially and drained her physically and emotionally. She feels guilty and defensive about that. Things came to a head recently, when she sought her husband's consolation after her business sustained a serious blow. Frank was kind at first. Then, she mentioned that she had misjudged some inventory she recently ordered. At that point, Frank's mood turned icy.

He was furious that Julie hadn't consulted him on a decision that could affect the family finances. He fired accusatory questions about how she ran her business. Julie pleaded with Frank to hold the inquisition for another occasion, but Frank was too angry. The scene degenerated into a heated argument that lasted several hours, leaving both feeling frustrated, alone, and hurt.

When Frank and Julie came to me for help getting "unstuck," each needed to take responsibility for their part of the problem and to have compassion for each other.

Julie's need for her husband's support is understandable. Unfortunately, he can't always be an ego-booster because her business and the family's finances are intertwined. So she's devastated when she turns to cry on his shoulder and gets a cross-examination instead.

Julie's expectations of unquestioning support are unrealistic and a setup for trouble. Julie needs to rely on herself, friends, and colleagues for support sometimes, and to let him off the hook for being a less-than-perfect husband from time to time.

Frank's anger was legitimate, considering how much Julie's business decisions affect the family. He needed to be sure his wife heard his concerns, but the approach backfired. It wasn't the time to launch an all-out attack on her way of doing business. She was reeling from her mistake. He should have given her emotional support then and addressed his larger concerns when she was calmer. Frank needs to check his assumptions about his wife's business practices, which are often inaccurate and driven by fear and desire for more influence over the situation. He loses his temper before learning all the facts.

A young business exacts sacrifices from each in the form of control, sleep, financial security, and peace of mind. The stress can undermine a marriage if the partners aren't vigilant. Few crises that afflict a young business are worth going to war for. The best response to most is: "This too shall pass."


Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe at AZ@azriela.com. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

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