As I’ve shared in previous articles, EPM is a family-run business. Led by myself, my wife Karen, and our son Brandon, our company is known across central Ohio for its exceptional customer service and for its compassionate and empathetic culture. This reputation is a result of the fact that my wife, Karen, and I have been growing and managing the business together for the past 10 years.
Running a successful business with your spouse by your side can be both extremely rewarding and enormously challenging. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, and we often encounter couples who are curious about our working relationship. Business owners are similarly interested in how we navigate business conflicts while keeping our marriage intact.
As a couple, we’ve invested a great deal of effort in striking a healthier balance at home and at work, and we are constantly striving to be the best human beings we can be. While we can’t claim to have it all figured out – on the marriage side or the business side – we have learned quite a bit over the past decade about navigating this complex relationship dynamic. So, for those other couples out there whose professional and personal lives are intricately intertwined, here are some of the business and life lessons we’ve learned (so far).
The Good, Bad, and Ugly
Like all relationships, there are pros and cons to working closely with your spouse. First, it’s important to mention the biggest pro: trust. Because she is both my business partner and life partner, there is simply no other person I trust more than Karen to make sure the
business succeeds. I trust her implicitly, knowing that we both want the same things: for EPM to flourish and for our employees to thrive.
However, our ideas about how to achieve business success are not always the same. That’s where disagreements often begin and where conflict can brew. While others may be better able to leave workplace conflict at the office, it’s far more difficult to do so if your own spouse is the source of that conflict. Therefore, it’s natural for work-related disagreements to spill over into our personal and home life. Learning and incorporating techniques and processes to resolve workplace disagreements at work – so the business can move forward, and so our time at home is focused on family issues – has been extremely important. We can do a better job of keeping workplace issues at work, and family issues at home by defining and understanding our respective roles.
At work, Karen reports to me. As CEO, I sincerely value her input and her perspective regarding the business, but at the end of the day, I am the final decision-maker. In our home, this arrangement is quite different. We are equals who make decisions together with equal buy-in. When these roles get conflated, things can get ugly. Bringing our work relationship dynamic home or our home relationship dynamic to work has proven to be damaging in both environments – not just to us but also to our employees. I’m careful to ensure that our personal arguments aren’t on display in the workplace, and I’m equally vigilant to not assert my businessman persona in our home life.
Get Professional Guidance
Over the years, Karen and I have learned the value of proactively seeking out tools and experts to help us learn more about ourselves, while providing us with fresh, outside perspectives for all aspects of our lives. We believe that the more we know about ourselves and each other, the more prepared we can be to navigate difficult circumstances and to minimize heated discussions or misunderstandings during high-pressure situations.
We’ve taken different personality assessments which have helped us understand our own – and each other’s – underlying motivators and triggers. For those of you who know us, it won’t be surprising that Karen’s and my results on these assessments are quite different. I tend to be somewhat short-tempered, pragmatic, and blunt, while Karen brings a softer, people-focused side to the equation.
At first, I viewed our differences as disadvantages and convinced myself that the contradictions in our personalities would never allow us to agree on anything – at work or at home.
But with the help of business coaching professionals, we have come to understand each other’s superpowers, and under what circumstances and for which roles we’re each most suited. We have learned how to communicate with each other in a variety of environments and to recognize how our individual traits could help us build a well-rounded business and family.
Over the years, we’ve consulted with a variety of outside professionals who help us continue to grow as individuals and as business owners. I began working one-on-one with a psychologist to help me understand what underlies my personality and decision-making quirks. And Karen and I work together with a counselor, who serves as a combination marriage mentor/business coach/mediator. Sessions with a third-party professional provide a safe structure for us to discuss our various challenges with the business, and with our marriage, while minimizing misinterpretations or misunderstandings.
My advice for couples who work together is to seek out a business coach who has experience working with couples, or a marriage counselor who has experience working with business owners. We tried a few different counselors before we found the right person, and it has been trajectory-changing for each of us, as well as for EPM.
At Home and Onsite
Because of the time and energy Karen and I have invested in learning about each other, today, we have a much better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. Rather than becoming frustrated or resentful about the differences in our personalities, we now embrace these differences and capitalize on them. Consequently, we have become very in tune with how we complement each other and now we can make decisions based on what we each bring to the table. For example, I now primarily work remotely and have found that utilizing various digital tools, including upBOARD, allows me to streamline my leadership, and to make EPM’s expectations clearer than ever for our management team. Karen, on the other hand, is at her best onsite managing the EPM team. She uses her people skills to reinforce our commitment to providing outstanding client experiences and to make sure we maintain EPM’s unique culture that attracts and retains our top-notch employees.
Although we continue to be a work in progress, we are eager to share what we have learned with other couples. In fact, we recently told our business-marriage story at the Conway Center for Family Business. To help us continue to learn and grow, I’d love to learn what does – and doesn’t – work for you and your business. Please reach out anytime to share your story.