Relationship Coaching for Couples in Business Together by Paul and Layne Cutright

Paul and Layne CutrightHow to Create Trust and Rebuild It When It’s Broken  Couples who are building a business together have special challenges. Just ask any couple who has been in business together for more than six months! While many couples we talk to cannot imagine being in business with their spouse, there are others who have been able to create successful enterprises while flourishing in their romantic relationship. For some, it’s easy to romanticize the notion of building a business with your mate. Yet, not everyone is cut out to be successful in a spousal partnership enterprise. As a married couple who have been creative and business partners for over 30 years, who have also been coaching and training other couples in business together, we are well acquainted with both the benefits and the pitfalls of being married and in business together. NULL

If you are a couple presently in business together we want to ask you some important questions. If you are not a couple in business but are thinking about it, these questions can shed light on your thinking process. OK, here we go:

  1. Does it seem like you work all or most of the time?
  2. Do you talk about your business outside of business hours?
  3. Does it ever feel like your business has taken over your life so that your life is mostly about your business?
  4. Do you feel challenged in keeping business conversations out of the bedroom?
  5. Do you operate your business without written agreements about your business, individual responsibilities, time, money, etc.?
  6. Has your romantic relationship suffered since you went into business together?

If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, we guess that your business is running you and that you are lacking clear boundaries between your personal life and your business life. We have experienced all of these problems at one time or another in our own relationship and business. And while it takes ongoing attention to keep it all in balance, it can be done.

One of the most important things to have in place to help keep that balance and avoid many, if not all, of the situations listed above, is clear, written agreements.

One of our favorite kinds of coaching is working with couples who are planning on going into business together or who already are in business together. The difference is that when we work with couples BEFORE they actually start their business is that we can help them avoid the predictable pitfalls. When we work with couples who have been in business for awhile it is usually about helping them out of a crisis! For example, not long ago we were working with a couple who had recently gone into business together. We’ll call them Dick and Jane. Dick and Jane had been planning on creating a business they could do together that would let them break free from their corporate cubicles and spend more time together. They were excited about having found what they thought was the perfect opportunity. So, they both quit their jobs to pursue their new business full time. They were about nine months into partnering in their network marketing business (which they ran from their home office), when they started having increasingly heated misunderstandings and arguments. These upsets were starting to take an emotional toll on their marriage and their business partnership. Things were not working out as Dick and Jane planned and they were at the end of their tether. The Five Stages of Relationships Long story short, what we saw right away during our first coaching session was that their relationship had plummeted into ‘power struggle’. The power struggle stage of relationships is as predictable as are the solutions for moving beyond it into cooperation and synergy. We have distinguished five stages that all relationships go through. They are: 1. Attraction 2. Power Struggle 3. Cooperation 4. Synergy 5. Completion Many relationships get stuck in power struggle and often end there.

The greater the commitment in the relationship, the greater the challenges found in the power struggle stage.

This dynamic is compounded when a couple decides to go into business together. There are several effective strategies for couples to move beyond power struggle. The Coaching Solution One of the first questions we asked Dick and Jane was about their agreements for their business. They looked at each other, then at us with a quizzical expression. They almost whispered, “What agreements? We don’t really have any.” We knew right then one of the first things we needed to do with both of them. They needed to be guided through the process of thinking about and creating agreements for their relationship, ideally for both their business and personal relationship.

People yearn for relationships they can trust.

They want to be able to depend on people. They want relationships characterized by ease, clarity and harmonious cooperation. But, is there any adult who hasn’t felt let down or betrayed by someone who didn’t live up to his or her agreements? What Is an Agreement? What is an agreement really?

An agreement is a method for coordinating action between two or more people. It is supposed to smooth the way for efficient harmonious interaction.

But why do people so frequently not live up to their word? Usually an agreement fails because it does not reflect the true desire and motivation of all the people making the agreement. People who agree to something because they are afraid of what will happen if they don’t agree, will more than likely not follow through, unless they are pressured to do so. It’s important to know that agreements alone will not secure the safety and dependability we all yearn for. For an agreement to be effective the internal motivator that drives it should be so compelling that the people involved are aroused to fulfill their part, of their own volition. In other words, an agreement you can count on has to come from the right place. Why Am I Agreeing to This? We helped Dick and Jane answer the question, “For the sake of what am I agreeing to this?” This reason needs to be explicit. You can’t assume the same thing motivates everyone. You have to question, discuss and clarify. A workable, practical set of agreements doesn’t happen out of a single meeting. It is a process that takes place over time and with conversations. Successful agreements are always driven by a clear purpose that inspires action.

There are two very important things that need to be part of a process for creating agreements that will work; a clear and inspiring purpose for your agreements and a process for restoring trust when an agreement has been broken.

A good purpose statement for sharing household chores might be something like, “We agree to share in household chores so that we can enjoy a relationship that is free from resentment and filled with trust, intimacy, passion and fun!” The purpose of business agreements might sound something like, “The purpose of the following agreements is to ignite an unstoppable force for imagination, creativity and collective accomplishment.” It’s also a good idea to write down and post your purpose statement in a place where you will see it. Dick and Jane framed theirs and hung on the wall in their office. They even made an agreement to read it aloud at the beginning of their business meetings! Once you have crafted an inspiring purpose statement for your agreements and you have listed the agreements, make sure they are consistent with your purpose. Then you need to determine a protocol for handling the inevitable broken agreement. This protocol needs to be something everyone accepts and is willing to use. Agreements Aren’t Always Kept Yes, it may be sad but true that even with the best intentions, sometimes agreements aren’t kept. You agree to be on time and y
ou get a flat tire. You agree to pay a special project bonus and your biggest account defaults on a payment. The best kind of protocol is one that quickly restores trust and completely neutralizes any disappointment or hard feelings. This is important because we want to make sure the memory of the event doesn’t carry forward any resentment, blame or guilt. Any of these feelings are toxic to a harmonious future. We have found that using amendments to restore broken agreements is a stellar solution. When someone does not keep an agreement for whatever reason, they offer an amendment to the other person. It is much better if someone does not have to ask for an amendment, but the person who did not keep the agreement readily offers it.


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