The vast majority of American businesses are family-owned or controlled. Most family businesses fail before their 25th birthday. Whether they do or don’t endure, family businesses are often blamed for unleashing a wrecking ball on family relationships.
WHY ARE FAMILY BUSINESSES BLAMED FOR DESTROYING LOVING SUPPORT SYSTEMS?
When you work in a family business, you’re still the parent, child, sibling or other relative you’ve been since you became a member of your family. Unlike in most other businesses, a company official may have changed your diapers.
Sometimes, your professional roles contradict your family responsibilities. Family business conflicts and misperceptions are rampant, whether you’re a business owner, executive, investor, employee, salesperson, head of marketing, administrative assistant, the shipping clerk or janitor. Here are just a few examples of common problems when family members work together.
- A jealous sibling is still trying to gain more attention than you receive from your parent.
- Your spouse depends on you to take care of them at work like you do at home, even though you’re clearly overworked and overwhelmed.
- Although job responsibilities and accountability systems are foggy and faulty, the family dogma, “What’s good for the family is good for the business” triumphs over reason.
- The family member who delights everyone at family celebrations by playing the CFC role (Chief Family Clown) doesn’t have a clue how to be serious in the workplace.
- You have a toolbox of proven new approaches that would make the family business more successful, but policy-makers are unwilling to change outdated business practices.
- Key decision-makers refuse to fire an incompetent family member who is dragging the business into a minefield.
- You caretake everyone at work, just as you do at home, resulting in chronic exhaustion.
- Your children assume you’ll rescue them when they make mistakes at work.
- An older relative still perceives you as an inexperienced businessperson in spite of the M.B.A. diploma you hung on your office wall years ago.
- Your parent or older sibling refuse to notice that you’re more capable at certain tasks than they are.
- Other family personality conflicts, difficult people and gender-based communication glitches pervade both work and home environments. Instead of addressing their frustrations with clients or customers who cause problems, family members verbally assault each other because that feels safer.
- You made a commitment to the family business that you now long to leave behind so you can work in a beautiful green pasture surrounded by fascinating new people who’ll view you with fresh eyes instead of remembering your childhood mistakes.
- When your spouse approaches you, instead of feeling loving emotions, you want to run away because you associate them with constant work.
IS YOUR FAMILY BUSINESS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
If you and your partner work together or own a family business, it’s essential to carefully and vigilantly protect your relationship. Below are some serious alarm bells.
- Work-life balance is elusive. You and your partner eat, breathe and sleep your family business. You eat unhealthy meals on the run. Your health suffers from stress. Romance is “something other people do.” You frequently hear yourselves ask, “Who has time for a life?”
- You feel like you have no control of your life. Your partner always needs something, so you often feel like your life force is being drained.
- Your partner dumps their work on you when you’re already overloaded. They’ve become dependent on you personally and professionally. You often feel responsible for meeting their needs and ignoring your own.
- Income has become a destination instead of a tool. You and your partner either failed to clarify your mutual life vision or you filed it on a shelf where it’s covered by dust.
- You cannot remember the last time you enjoyed a real vacation.
HOW YOU MAY BE CREATING YOUR DILEMMA
Since it’s easier for most of us to assign blame than to take responsibility for co-creating painful situations, check for the following complicating factors.
- You‘re sensitive to the needs of other people. If you have a peacemaker personality, you meet other people’s needs and ignore your own.
- You’re uncomfortable standing up for yourself. Perhaps you fear rejection if someone doesn’t like your comments or actions. Maybe you’re eager to prove your value. Since you avoid conflict, you “people please” instead of standing your ground. This causes significant stress which can result in health problems.
- You’ve placed yourself in a position in which the business must be successful or you feel like your financial survival is threatened.
- You aren’t comfortable setting or maintaining firm boundaries regarding who will fulfill specific responsibilities.
- Your default is compassion for the other person’s story instead of standing up for yourself. You excuse rude or demanding behavior with the rationalization, “They’re under so much stress.”
- Since you’re a caretaker or rescuer by nature, in spite of your best judgment, you rescue the offending party, even volunteering for additional responsibilities. You fail to voice your opinion when your workload is unfair.
- If your partner has a combustible personality when under pressure, if you’re sensitive to other people’s emotions and if you fail to protect your energy field, their explosive energy runs through you like water through a colander. They’ve released their fury, dumping it on you. They feel better. You’re exhausted.
- Eventually, you explode emotionally. Your default is to then feel guilty and apologize.
- You feel like a victim or martyr. The cycle begins anew.
WHAT ARE YOUR HIDDEN OPPORTUNITIES AND SOLUTIONS?
If your partner is a narcissist or has serious anger issues that could endanger you, seek professional assistance. If you’re living with a partner who throws temper tantrums or tries to manipulate you like a small child instead of being an adult partner, we need to talk, so you can take advantage of the abundance of personal and relationship growth opportunities available to you right now.
- Identify what triggers your anger, anxiety and people-pleasing behaviors, so you can make intelligent choices including setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. Since we’re always training other people how to treat us, you absolutely must stop reinforcing inappropriate behavior.
- When your partner’s behavior is challenging, stop telling yourself, “It’s not worth trying to change anything. They’ll never change.” Other people seldom make a positive shift until we modify our response to their inappropriate actions (until we alter our own behavior).
- Notice and then delete inappropriate self-talk like, “They might become angry with me, so I’ll just do everything myself instead of asking for help.”
- Expect and require assistance with household chores, child care, etc. Remind your partner, “We’re a team. We both need love, support, realistic work schedules and time off.”
- Refuse to engage in unproductive arguments. If you partner tries to draw you into an irrational discussion, stand up for yourself by observing them without participating in their emotional drama. Be a role model of calm, factual, objective behavior.
- Most likely, you read your partner accurately. Since you probably can sense when they’re becoming irritated, separate your energy from theirs. Be the adult in the room instead of becoming involved in their turmoil. Observe your partner from a neutral, factual stance. Compassion is helpful but not essential if you’re new to this process. With enough practice, your compassion will be spontaneous because you’ll no longer feel vulnerable when they’re emotionally inflamed. (You’ll be protecting the integrity and authenticity of your energy.)
- This will also help those of you who are empaths. You’ll no longer unconsciously process your partner’s emotions and later realize they weren’t your authentic feelings. While you’re learning to do this, ask yourself, “Did I feel this way before?” If your answer is “No,” remind yourself, “This isn’t my stuff! I’m compassionate for my partner, but I won’t process their emotions or try to do their inner work for them. That would cheat them out of their opportunity to grow!”
- During difficult conversations, make sure you truly hear your partner’s point of view. Try to determine their positive intention. Practice using “I statements” to state your feelings because they’re factual and devoid of blame (which inflames people). This will ensure that you don’t disappoint yourself by becoming reactive under stress. Example: Instead of saying, “You make me so angry!” practice saying, “When you do ____, I feel angry. I care about you. I want our relationship to be better. Let’s figure out how to avoid so much stress so we can be a more loving couple.”
- Notice any attachment to feeling like a martyr or victim. That’s a self-sabotage trap you definitely want to graduate yourself from. It’s time to discover it’s safe to own your personal power instead of feeling like a victim.
- Courageously identify any ways you or your partner are hiding from relationship challenges by burying yourselves with work. With most family business couples, this happens over time, unconsciously.
- Assuming you value your relationship, identify non-work activities you can enjoy doing together and prioritize them.
- If you no longer enjoy doing non-work activities with your partner, let’s figure out how much of your unhappiness is related to the pressures of the family business, how much is associated with not liking your behavior in the relationship and how you want to make positive changes.
- Cultivate friendships outside of work and family. Make firm commitments. Schedule engagements on your calendar and then protect these opportunities for fun, meaningful, stress-reducing interactions with other people.
- Engage your partner in productive conversations about how to change your roles in the family business so both of you can enjoy work-life balance. If this is a family business involving in-laws and your nuclear family, brainstorm how you can set and maintain appropriate boundaries. What needs to change? Is it time to restructure the business model? The marketing plan? Hire additional personal or professional help?
- Identify the conversations you’ve been avoiding. To whom do you need to state your needs and ideas?
- Own your personal power to create the future you want by being brutally honest with yourself. What must change inside of you as well as in the family business environment so you’ll take better care of yourself?
SHORTEN YOUR LEARNING CURVE
Most women are conditioned by their families and society to take on more than their share of responsibility for the well-being of their families and to place other people’s needs before their own. Women in leadership positions must be especially vigilant when working in a family business. The need for supportive relationships and work-life balance is especially critical for women who are emerging leaders, striving to identify their ideal leadership style and overcome their inner critic.
Most of us need a sounding board when we’re learning a new behavior that challenges our hard-wiring or personality type (like conflict avoider, people-pleaser, or peacemaker). Imagine the rewards that will ripple across all areas of your life when you learn to stand up for yourself in your family business.
Just complete a short application form here so I can contact you for a complimentary 20-minute consultation. If we decide we’re a good fit as client and coach, we’ll discuss a coaching agreement.
© 2019 Doris Helge, Ph.D. as interviewed on “The Today Show,” CNN and NPR. Certified Master Leadership and Executive Coach Doris Helge is author of bestselling books, including “Joy on the Job”, “Transforming Pain Into Power” and “Conquer Your Inner Critic.” Doris has helped hundreds of people just like you meet every challenge you’re facing. Click here now to sign up for your complimentary Coaching Consultation.