Successful business owners take seriously the task of deciding who will do what to keep the business going and growing. With each of you committing to contribute an equivalent amount of time, energy, and effort, any “division of labor” that fits you as partners will work, as long as you both agree on the contributions required from each of you. There needs to be a mutuality in both commitment level and workload in order for you to maintain a balanced relationship.
Achieving such a balance can be a challenge, however. Personal, societal, and gender expectations all impact how couples look at sharing power and responsibility in their marriage. Many couples have ideas about sharing ownership in their marriage that are wildly different. One husband attending therapy thought his half of joint ownership in the marriage was made up of making the financial decisions (since he was earning the money) and his wife’s half involved getting to decorate (and clean) the house. The wife in another client couple described her contribution to the marriage as returning to school and continuing to pursue her passion for playing competitive tennis. Her stymied and frustrated husband could not understand where the money was going to come from, how their home was going to be managed, and just what her role in managing the partnership business would going to be.
Below is an exercise to help you understand and work through some of your differences. Answer each question independently, then share your responses with each other. This exercise is not to generate conflict but to learn how your spouse views the marriage and the definition of partnership. Decide whether you do or do not have problems with the “ownership” aspect in your marital business. Each of you is allowed your unique opinions but, in the end, you are looking to achieve a mutual understanding of what your partnership is and the direction you want it to go.
EXPLORING WHAT HAS ALREADY BEEN ACCOMPLISHED:
1. At what point during your relationship did you view yourselves as partners?
2. When considering marriage, did you both discuss a common vision (e.g., hopes, dreams, goals) of how your marriage would evolve? Were you in clear agreement on this vision? What about an agreed-upon definition of ownership as it applies to marriage? If this was worked out between you at one time, are you still on board with that model definition now? (When asked, “What is the ownership arrangement in your marriage?” just about every couple comes out with two markedly different answers. There are always two different views of the contributions of each partner as well as their descriptions, and a good deal of surprise at the extent of the differences!) Differences don’t have to necessarily be troubling. Couples have to first be able to intellectually identify the ‘problems’ or lack of agreement before they can then compromise or negotiate agreed upon solutions.
3. Have you discussed and agreed upon your individual contributions to the marriage as well as the “job descriptions” each will undertake? According to you, what are the “job descriptions” of each spouse?
4. Would you consider your marriage to be a 50/50 balanced partnership? What changes, if any would you propose?
5. Does your environment encourage both partners to excel in their contributions to the marriage?
Each of us has a unique way of visualizing and verbalizing our images of quality relationships. Your task is to clarify your own images, be able to “see” the images from your partner and combine your goals into a marriage that adds quality to each of your lives.
I think you’ll be surprised to find that: a) you probably never spent much time clarifying your goals for being in a successful partnership, b) answering the above questions might not be an easy task and c) your spouse’s answers to the questions may be delivered to you in a ‘style’ you’re not expecting!
Hope the exercise helps. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions.