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My husband and I have been in business together since we were in law school. We sold our first business to Intuit in 2005. Still feeling an entrepreneurial mistake, we built a second business that we still do today. Together we raised four children and created a multi-million dollar business – yes, a success story, but not without problems at home and in the office.
While not everyone welcomes the idea of getting professional counseling, in my opinion—and from personal experience—counseling can help you do things you didn’t think were possible. For example, in a recent study by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), almost 90% of family therapy clients reported improvement in their emotional health, and most noted an improvement at work and in the couple’s relationship.
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Here are a few takeaways from my professional consulting experience:
Develop strength: Counseling not only strengthened our marriage, but strengthened our business relationship by showing us how to communicate more effectively and focus on each other’s feelings rather than facts. If you’re not sure if you’re communicating enough, overdo it to make sure.
Read the user manual: Just like you need a manual for a washing machine, you need to learn your partner’s personal “operator manual” (i.e. what makes it work, what makes them happy or sad, what makes them frustrated, etc.) .).
Don’t assume that you know your partner better than anyone else because you are married or in a relationship. Instead, do your homework and ask each partner to create a personal user manual. Write a plan for how you enjoy working, assigning responsibilities, collaborating, communicating, and receiving feedback. This may sound like a fight trigger, but getting to know yourself and your partner better can be a fun exercise. (A personal user manual is also a great way to find out about new hires in your business!)
Learn to listen: Most people listen to what is being said while preparing the answer in their head, which means they are not really listening. Counseling has taught us to use “mirroring tricks”, which means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to try to understand how they feel and how they express their feelings. Everyone wants to feel accepted and acknowledged; empathy is the best way to show that you are listening.
Three F: Another powerful technique we learned in counseling, the “three Rs,” is especially useful when you need to bring up a sensitive topic. While most know that we must tread carefully when we approach a sensitive topic, emotions often get out of hand and constructive discussion becomes a serious argument. The tendency to blame can be detrimental to work and personal relationships.
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You can be assertive, make sure you’re heard, and create a healthy confrontation using the three P’s: 1) fact, 2) feeling, and 3) just asking.
- Fact: Start by looking at what can be negotiated. Point out the problem objectively and without judgment. If the reporting deadline was missed or the child was not picked up from the football game, state the fact of the problem without using the words “you forgot” or “you didn’t.”
- Feeling: Then confidently state the impact of the error. Because this part expresses feeling, you should use the word “I” but not blame. For example, “Now I have to work late to apply” or “I need to pick up Jane from football.”
- Honest Request: Finally, it’s time to communicate the need – a specific, reasonable, fair request. “Can we set up a system to remind us of deadlines?” or “Can we set the days we pick up the kids from playtime?”
Find the right consultant
All counselors are not created equal, and you cannot immediately find a common language with the first person you meet. To find the right candidate, approach finding a consultant the same way you would hire a new employee.
First, make sure the counselor shares the same values as you and your partner—the same basic belief system. Also, look for a counselor with experience in helping couples with marital problems and running a business. After meeting with the counselor, talk to your spouse about how they feel about the person. You may feel like this person is right for you, but advice will most likely fail if your spouse doesn’t.
On the subject: What do you need to make the business work with your spouse
The biggest mistake many couples make is that they view counseling as a way to show their partner that you are right and that the counselor will convince your partner to agree with you. Instead, counseling aims to help couples understand and resolve conflicts in order to improve their business and home relationships. And it offers couples the right tools to communicate and resolve conflicts in a healthy way.
Working couples need to accept that their relationship comes first and learn to value and prioritize marriage. Doing business with a spouse should be a bonding experience where a deep understanding of each other’s work allows both to provide valuable advice and support. And when—inevitably—reconnection tactics are needed, counseling can get you back on track.