Interpersonal Edge: Working with your spouse? Learn how to handle conflict

By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Content Agency
Q: I work with my husband. A joint business sounded like a romantic idea, but the reality is we now fight all the time. The other downside is I never get time away from him. I've read in your column that you work with family businesses. What are the secrets to couples who work together without their marriage coming apart?
A: It turns out the secret to couples that work together well in business and in life is the ability to fight well. A long-term study found the number one factor that predicted marital happiness was good conflict resolution skills.
Conflicts that exist in a marriage are amplified when you work with your spouse. You will see this as a blessing if you realize you and your husband now have ample motivation to work out your conflict. You have the future of your marriage and also the future of the business hanging in the balance.
There are two common mistakes that couples who work together make.
1) They believe conflict should not occur in a “happy” marriage. They do not realize conflict skills need to be learned.
2) They drag employees or customers into their fights, which only complicates the original conflicts.
An assignment I commonly give my couples as a business consultant is to sit down and set a timer. The job of each spouse is to listen for a full five minutes to the other spouse. The listener then repeats back what he or she heard. During this exercise it is critical that neither spouse attack, defend or argue as the goal is pure listening to the other's viewpoint.
For five minutes the wife or husband speaks as if he or she were the other party making the same points. You will be surprised how much better you understand your spouse once you speak as if you are him or her.
Surprisingly, the basis of much marital conflict is neither party slows down enough to really understand the viewpoint of the other. For a fight to be resolved both parties must thoroughly understand the other's point of view without constantly presenting their own opinion.
A problem with seeing a marriage counselor if you work with your spouse is many counselors do not understand the business realities of running an organization. If you want effective help you are best off getting a consultant that does both marriage counseling and business consulting. Also these consultants often will do Skype sessions so you can work with a consultant anywhere in the nation from the comfort of your office.
If you want to turn around your marriage and your business, let your husband know you want to get help learning skills to resolve the conflicts in your partnership. Tell him you have every confidence that with better tools both your marriage and business will thrive. Remind yourself and him why you chose each other for both roles.
Couples often get discouraged when they fight because they falsely assume happy couples just don't fight. Be aware conflict is a perfectly normal and unavoidable part of intimacy and marriage. Couples that never fight are numb not normal.
The last word(s)
Q: My boss wants to move me into another position. I think he is demoting me even though it is the same level in my company. I'm hurt and offended. Should I tell him how I feel?
A: No, absolutely not. You are better off asking questions about your boss's decision because if this was not a demotion you will only alienate him by telling him your feelings.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's “Workplace Guru.”. She's the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.