Conflict Management: How Much Should You Tell Your Spouse About the Business?

By Bill English, Partner, Platinum Group

Business owners live with their businesses, 24 x 7 x 365. Their business is always in their thoughts – even if only in the back of their minds. At the end of a tough day, when they go home, they’ll often not want to re-live their day. Isn’t that time to re-focus and relax? But giving their spouse the play-by-play for their day usually is not what they want to do.

Yet, spouses still need to know. S/he needs to support you, the business owner, have an understanding of what you're facing and (perhaps) offer some ideas for you to consider. Spouses still need to know some level of detail. Sometimes, this can be a fine line — understanding how much to tell your spouse so that, on the one hand, you don't create false impressions but, on the other hand, you don't get him/her as emotionally charged as you might be on a given day.

So, if your spouse doesn't work in your business with you, then here are some thoughts to consider in communicating about your business:

  1. Ask your spouse how much information he/she wants to know. Keep in mind that most spouses of entrepreneurs are risk adverse. So be sure s/he knows when you’re thinking out loud or dreaming. These conversations can sound very similar to planning and making decisions. This may cause unneeded conflicts. So, while it is important to be straight, it may not be best to give too much detail. If business ends up spilling over into your relationship too much, you may need to seek outside assistance to gain appropriate distance between your work and home life.
  2. Use drive or commute time to transition from work to home. How can you talk about the day? Rather than continuing to work on the train or bus, use this transition to get your head into a different space — to think about what to say and what not to say. If not, some evenings may end up going badly.
  3. There’s wisdom in finding a way to de-compress. Decide in advance how and when to engage in a meaningful discussion with your spouse. Set some boundaries, such as the first 30 minutes after walking in the door is your time to be a “zombie” (rest, read, relax) or play with the children. If a couple works together, it’s essential to compartmentalize and find a way to say that business is “off deck” at home. And if adult children also work in the business and live at home, set an example for them that you relate differently at home than in the office. Don’t let the living room become the Board Room. Choose family over butting heads!

When relationships are in jeopardy in a family owned or other small business, how does the owner work toward resolution? Conflicts may occur between family members, board members, leadership, key employees and during merger/acquisitions. Rather than tolerating them, consider transforming conflict into value. For more details, contact Bill English at 952-829-5700 or