Running a Business as a Married Couple: How We Made It Work

Image of a couple holding on to their marriage rings with the text overlay: Balancing business and marriage.

If you’re reading this article, there is a good chance you’re seriously considering if you should go into business with your spouse. It’s a major decision and I’m glad you’re actively looking for answers. 

Unfortunately, I’m afraid you will not find a definite answer here or anywhere else. The truth is, no one really knows for sure. At the end of the day, it really depends on the unique synergy you have with your spouse, not just as husband and wife, but also as business partners.

The idea of husband and wife running a business together may sound like a dream come true for some couples, but it’s important to weigh the pros and cons before taking the plunge. Although working together can greatly strengthen your relationship, there are potential pitfalls that you should be aware of. 

What I hope to do is to ease the decision-making process for you and your spouse by sharing what Mr Wow and I personally experienced. In the course of our marriage (22 years and counting), we ran two businesses together. The first one failed in less than two years and decimated our finances. Thankfully, the second one was a lot more successful and we did it for 10 years till our early retirement.

Was it tough to work together? You bet! However, we won’t have it any other way. Despite the numerous challenges, it’s clear to us that we work exceptionally well together. Here’s what we’ve learnt about building a business while staying happily married.

  1. Our Experience Running a Business as a Married Couple
  2. Tips to Balance Marriage and Business

1. Our Experience Running a Business as a Married Couple

There are several advantages and disadvantages of running a business as a husband and wife team. I’ll just touch on those that had a profound impact on Mr Wow and me in this article.

The Good: Complementary Skills  

Let’s start with what I think is the greatest benefit. Many married couples have complementary skill sets and this makes them potentially ideal business partners. The word “complementary” means useful or attractive together. When two people complement each other, they’re like salt and pepper — a killer combination. Alone, they’re strong. Paired, they’re sensational.

Mr Wow and I thrive on our “salt and pepper” partnership. We bring separate strengths to the table and combine them to achieve the best possible results. Whatever I can’t do or hate doing, he excels, and vice versa. Take this blog for example. Judging by the number of articles written by me, you can clearly tell that I’m in charge of content development. Nevertheless, I’m utterly hopeless at IT, so that’s Mr Wow’s department. Thanks to him, our blog runs smoothly and looks so professional!

Image of a pair of salt and pepper shakers on a table with the text overlay: When 2 people complement each other, they're like salt and pepper - a killer combination. Alone, they're strong. Paired, they're sensational.

Check out: One Year In: Our Blogging Insights

If I’m the mastermind, Mr Wow is my partner in crime. Without his invaluable contribution, many of my ideas would not have come to fruition. We complement each other so naturally that we never had any problems dividing responsibilities when we were running both our businesses. We always knew who should do what based on individual expertise and personality, and neither of us needed hand-holding. It was a very solid and productive synergy, a key ingredient in our success.

If I’m the mastermind, Mr Wow is my partner in crime. Without his invaluable contribution, many of my ideas would not have come to fruition.

The Bad: No Distinction between Work and Personal Life

It goes without saying that our partnership isn’t problem-free. Although we have complementary skills, our working styles cannot be more different. As a consequence, we clashed big time during the two years when we were doing our first business. 

I can say objectively that Mr Wow was rarely the issue. He was smart, responsible, proactive and highly resourceful. He also worked well alone and with others, and was always full of passion and positive energy. Actually, he’s still all these things now. 

Me? I was his two-year nightmare. I don’t want to misrepresent myself and come across as being excessively self-critical because I did display some outstanding qualities. I was efficient and incredibly driven, I had foresight and good organisational skills, and I always took accountability for my work. So what could possibly go wrong? 

You see, Mr Wow understood the concept of work-life balance. I didn’t. He always knew that I was a workaholic, but he only felt the full extent of it when he started working with me. As an employee, I was bad. As an entrepreneur, I was a hundred times worse.

Image of woman at her work desk looking stressed with the text overlay: Mr Wow understood the concept of work-life balance. I didn't.

Besides sleeping, doing chores and visiting our parents, my life was about our business. I demanded a lot from myself and expected Mr Wow to be just like me. As my husband, he had no escape. Seven days a week, office and home, I wanted to work. He couldn’t even stand idle for a few moments because I would go berserk.

Seven days a week, office and home, I wanted to work.

Of course, Mr Wow was no pushover. After putting up with me for almost a year, he finally had enough. 

“Stop being so demanding! I can’t work like you! My style is work hard and play harder, not work till I drop! Working with you is exhausting! You don’t know when to switch off! You’re too extreme! You’re too obsessive! You’re nuts!!!” 

Although we still conducted ourselves professionally at work, it was a different story the moment we stepped out of the office. There were countless bitter quarrels and cold wars. Miraculously, our marriage survived even though our business collapsed. 

Check out: Our Story and Business Adventure Part 2: The Defeat

You must be wondering, why on earth would we want to start a second business five years later. No, we weren’t insane. To cut the long story short, we both changed for the better. I stopped imposing on Mr Wow while he made more effort to understand me better.* The distinction between work and personal life was a lot clearer, and it was a more united partnership because we had greater empathy, love and respect for each other. 

*I have mild autism. It’s difficult for most people to understand this, but working compulsively on something I love actually relaxes me. It’s like my mind can’t stay calm unless I spend time on it. Over the years, I’ve learnt to self-regulate so that my obsessive behaviour does not reach an unhealthy level. It’s not easy, but I do my best. Having Mr Wow’s moral support also makes a huge difference.

The Ugly: Income and Marriage on the Line

Being an entrepreneur requires one to put in significant amounts of time, energy and money. Thus, it can be extremely devastating when a business fails. This is especially true for married couples as they often have more invested in the venture than if they were doing it alone. 

If husband and wife have been working full-time in the business, the financial loss can be particularly severe as it often means a total loss of household income. Emotionally, the pain will also be acutely felt. Starting a business together can be a great way for married couples to build a shared dream, but when that dream crumbles, it can lead to feelings of disappointment and regret. 

Image of a couple discussing about work and looking distraught with the text overlay: When a business fails, it can leave a married couple in a financial and emotional crisis.

Mr Wow and I went through all that. We were flat broke when our first business failed. At one point, we even thought of selling our furniture and musical instruments to stay afloat. Thankfully, Mr Wow managed to find a job quite soon, so we didn’t have to sell anything or borrow money from our parents. 

Check out: Our Story and Business Adventure Part 3: The Lost Years

In retrospect, we came away from the experience relatively unscathed and we’re grateful for many things. We didn’t go bankrupt or have to sell our home. We didn’t have children, so we only had to worry about ourselves. We didn’t trade insults and point fingers at each other. We were crestfallen, but we held and comforted each other. The failure didn’t shatter our relationship to smithereens but made us a stronger team. 

The reality is that there’s always a risk of failure when starting a business, and statistically speaking, many new businesses will fail. Does your relationship have what it takes to handle the financial and emotional stress?

2. Tips to Balance Marriage and Business

All sorts of trials and tribulations await married couples who go into business together. If you think you’re ready to take the leap, here are some tips to help you and your spouse navigate the challenges and hopefully run a successful business. 

Define Your Roles Clearly

As mentioned, Mr Wow and I are very lucky in that we possess complementary skill sets. After two businesses and now this blog, we’ve never once argued about roles and responsibilities. We’re always clear about how each other can best contribute to whatever we set out to accomplish.

I know this doesn’t come naturally for some couples. Given the case, I would strongly advise you to have a discussion and determine who is in charge of what. Defining roles and responsibilities is crucial as it creates structure and organisation. This prevents confusion, misunderstanding and duplication of effort, thus allowing you and your spouse to work more efficiently. It also fosters a team mindset as both parties will be aware of each other’s contribution to the business.

Image of 2 working executives giving each other a high-five with the text overlay: Defining roles and responsibilities clearly prevents confusion, misunderstanding and duplication of effort.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you will be working solo all the time. The two of you will still come together to share perspectives, provide support, and make major decisions. A good partnership is about playing to your strengths, yet remaining connected to your common goals. There should be a high degree of individual and mutual accountability. 

A good partnership is about playing to your strengths, yet remaining connected to your common goals.

Don’t Expect Your Spouse to Work like You

When two people with dissimilar musical instruments come together, they can either make a racket or produce beautiful music. Unless they’re professionals who can jam with fellow musicians easily, they will probably need some practice to achieve the right balance and blend of music. 

The same applies to a business partnership. When two individuals with their own unique set of skills, experiences and personalities join forces, there’s bound to be some complexity. They must therefore learn to embrace and work out their differences in order to attain success.

Image of a bassist and keyboardist playing music with the text overlay: To find the right balance and blend of music, you need to embrace and work out your difference.

Sad to say, human beings are not very good at embracing differences. For many people, their natural tendency is try to change others to suit them. That’s how most conflicts arise.

Expecting your spouse to work like you can be seen as authoritarian and is very frustrating for him or her. I didn’t get this when Mr Wow and I were running our first business. I completely ignored his need to take breaks and kept pushing him to work harder and longer. It resulted in a lot of unhappiness, so please learn from my mistake. 

If you are running your business like it’s a dictatorship instead of a partnership, you need to stop before you drive your spouse crazy. You’re also shooting yourself in the foot as your ‘power of one’ behaviour is a hindrance to creativity and problem-solving. 

Put it this way. Part of the creativity process involves integrating different ideas and points of views. When it’s always your way or the highway, you’re basically saying no to the diversity of approaches and perspectives that can be beneficial to your business. So stop crippling your own business and be a better team player!

Is your business a dictatorship or a partnership?

Keep Work Life and Home Life Separate

Married couples who are business partners have the unique opportunity to spend more time together, but it can also be a challenge to separate work and personal life. 

I know I was an extreme case, but if you and/or your spouse find it hard to leave work behind and relax, it’s not healthy for your relationship in the long run. Tension will likely grow and if one party takes a more dominant role, it can lead to resentment and power struggles. You both may find yourselves in a situation where you are arguing more often than not, and this can erode emotional and physical intimacy in your marriage. 

Image of a couple arguing at home with the text overlay: Are you constantly arguing about work at home?

Unfortunately, there’s no a magic bullet for this problem, except to set boundaries so that work and personal issues do not get mixed up and feed each other in a vicious cycle. Take it from me — don’t compromise your relationship just to succeed at tasks. Your business is important, but your marriage deserves your time and effort more. 

You need to set boundaries so that work and personal issues do not get mixed up and feed each other in a vicious cycle.

Remember Your Shared Dream and Love for Each other

This last point is the main takeaway from this article. 

Why did the both of you start the business in the first place? Think back to the beginning and answer this question whenever you feel like strangling each other. 

Why did the both of you start the business in the first place?

Your business only exists because you have a shared dream for the future. To run a successful business and realise that dream, your partnership must have good dynamics. That means you will communicate openly and honestly with each other about your expectations and needs. That means you will agree on how the business should move forward. That means you will resolve conflicts in a constructive manner and not blame or attack each other when things go wrong. That means you will establish mutual respect and always put your relationship first.

Image of couple holding hands into the sunset with the text overlay: Your business only exists because you have a shared dream for the future.

Mr Wow and I know from experience that running a business as a husband and wife team is both exciting and challenging. We have a lot of admiration and appreciation for each other because of what we’ve been through over the years. 

We hope you and your spouse will find success in your partnership too. Remember: come what may, you will always find a way, together. 

Image of couple huddled under an umbrella with the text overlay: Level 5 Shitstorm ahead. It's ok, we'll face it together as always.

Are you running a business with your spouse? We would love to hear from you. Comment below.

You may also like: 7 Things to Know Before Starting a Business | Your Business is Not Your Hobby for Crying Out Loud | Beyond 9-5: Discover the 7 Income Streams for Lasting Wealth

Mrs Wow

Mrs Wow (aka Lynn) became debt-free in 2018, achieved financial independence in 2019, and retired in 2020 at the age of 42. She believes in staying invested even if there’s a level-5 shit storm. A homebody, she spends her free time reading, blogging and listening to music. Follow her on 𝕏 (@wowpursuits).

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