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Marriage As a Business Proposal
People get married for all kinds of reasons. People enjoy getting married and stay married for reasons that evolve over time. Although studies have shown that being married is associated with a longer life (at least for men), I don’t believe, and there is no evidence, that a married life necessarily has more long-term happiness than a single life. lived alone However, marriage is challenging in a way that living alone is not. Because seeing the challenges of a given situation in the context of a parallel situation can generate new perspective and energy for problem solving, I thought I’d describe an analogy that, while unable to encompass or explain all aspects of married life, including the wonderful and necessary dimension of love, have nevertheless served my wife and I well: marriage as a business proposition.
HOW MARRIAGES ARE STRUCTURED LIKE COMPANIES
All of the following observations can also be applied to same-sex relationships.
Marriage is like a business, but not all businesses are created equal. A marriage is more like a partnership than an LLC, a partnership whose purpose is to manage a shared life. Partnerships are formed as a result of the merger of two companies. Mergers are always carried out to improve the profitability of the two companies involved. Profitability is defined as net profit. Good partnerships result from a careful selection of partners who have a shared vision for a company, complementary skills and similar long-term goals. How each association defines these parameters will vary depending on the type of association in question and generally defines your association’s business plan:
1. Net profit: Is it a lot of money? Lots of travel? Very romantic? Is there a lot of stimulating conversation? What does each couple see as the main benefit of marriage?
2. Vision: Will the partners spend a lot of time together or a little? What activities will you do together and what activities will you do separately?
3. Complementary skills: Is she a good organizer? Is he a good accountant? Is she a bargain hunter? Are you good with contractors?
4. Long-term goals: Do you want children? Want to live in the suburbs?
THE PRINCIPLE OF COORDINATION
If one company takes over another, you don’t have a merger, you have an acquisition. Acquisitions are not about the merger of equals. Acquisitions consist of one company absorbing another into itself while retaining the essence of its original identity, an identity to which the absorbed company remains subordinate. Certainly, many marriages are built on the acquisition model. And it’s not that it can’t work, but as people in general tend to grow more independent over time, the acquisition model can become problematic as the subordinate partner feels less and less inclined to follow – it
While acquisitions are difficult, true mergers, where two companies come together to create a combined entity that results in a new whole greater than the sum of its parts, are even more difficult. Although opposites can attract, as the saying goes, in my opinion usually (though not always) in a mutually pathological way (for example, the attraction between an overly dependent person and a person who needs to be needed). In general, to be successful as a new company, mergers must comply with the matching principle, which states that the two companies involved must be equal in certain key areas:
1. Physical appearance. We don’t like to think this matters, but if one of you is significantly more attractive than the other and one or both of you are insecure about it, the marriage could easily find itself poisoned by jealousy.
2. Intelligence. Too big a difference makes it difficult for pleasant conversation between partners.
3. Educational level. The same comments as #2 above apply.
4. Personal interests. Not that you have to have identical interests, but there should be some degree of overlap.
5. Beliefs. Religious, moral and political (in descending order of importance). Not that you have to have identical beliefs, but if yours are too far apart, the friction can generate enough heat to cause irreparable long-term damage.
6. Interest in children. It is difficult to have a successful marriage if there is no agreement on this issue.
7. Degree of happiness. If one of you is significantly happier than the other, it’s hard to create a happy couple.
8. Styles of mourning. A psychologist friend of mine once suggested that couples don’t divorce because they suffer devastating losses, but because they have incompatible grieving styles. (Or because one partner refuses to let the other grieve as they wish). Unfortunately, most couples will eventually grieve together over something. I discussed grief and mourning styles in a previous post, Letter to a Widow.
EIGHT STRATEGIES FOR LONG-TERM SUCCESS IN COLLABORATION
Certain business processes, if followed, will help safeguard the long-term health of your partnership. The problem most associations face is not that they do not fulfill these roles, but that they do not fulfill them consistently. The reason standard operating procedures (SOPs) work to make companies successful is that they are actually “standards,” meaning they are applied by everyone in the association. SOPs are not part of every business model, but companies that use them are generally more successful. Here are some important SOPs you may want to consider incorporating into your association:
1. Play to your strengths. Let her handle the finances if she’s better at math. Let him cook if he is the “eater”. Know who is responsible for each task that maintains a household and a relationship, and do your best to distribute tasks in a way that feels equal to both of you.
2. Set aside adequate personal time. One partner may need more, the other none. But agreeing before the merger how much everyone needs and is willing to give is essential.
3. Review your partnership goals. First, set some. Second, regularly ask if you’ve met them. If you haven’t, why not? Make business decisions. Fix what’s broken with ruthless precision.
4. Compete together. Studies suggest that when couples compete on the same team against others, whether it’s Scrabble or beach volleyball or whatever, it brings them closer together and makes them feel happier about the partnership. Choose activities that you both enjoy.
5. Plan “theme” nights. Examples include date nights, periods of alone time, and goal-setting discussions, as described above.
6. Periodically re-examine and reinvent your association’s business plan. How you define your partnership’s bottom line, vision, complementary skills, and long-term goals will change whether you talk about them or not. As an example, the way a start-up defines these terms will necessarily differ from the way a mature corporation does. Don’t let circumstances define them for you. Being proactive works to ensure that both partners feel that they are in control of the partnership and therefore that it will continue to meet their needs.
7. “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me.” This is my wife’s constant return, her point being that creating a successful partnership requires each partner to own the other’s important concerns. I struggle much more than she does to care about things that aren’t intrinsically interesting to me, but are only on the table because they’re important to her. But the reason I take the fight is because I think he’s right.
8. Define a communication strategy. Poor communication is the number one weakness of even the most successful companies. Companies often don’t have a clear method for getting their messages communicated internally (while email, for example, is ubiquitous, its consistent use is not: not everyone looks at every email they receive or has an efficient way to sort important messages from unimportant ones). . When making corporate changes, companies often don’t make communication part of their plan, or if they do, they put it at the bottom of their list of action items. But the best change strategy in the world will fail if: 1) no one knows about it, and 2) no one adopts it. To achieve adoption, actively involve key stakeholders in the change, so they don’t feel like the change is being done to them, but that it’s being done by them. You can’t communicate too much or too often. Get into the habit of cc:’ing or Bcc:’ing your partner in email correspondence with external vendors that involves relationship maintenance activities. If you need to send a key message directly to your partner that involves difficult or unpleasant feelings that need to be discussed, you can try, for example, writing the message as a note. Literally When you’re in the habit of sending each other messages about your relationship in the form of emails or written letters, communication often becomes not just SOP, but remarkably fluid and effective. Writing down ideas also has the beneficial effect of helping you clarify your position and analyze your feelings about it, as well as calming you down. I have written many notes that I have never sent, after learning in writing that the fault I attributed to my wife was actually mine. Have fun with it – maybe even create a corporate logo for your marriage.
Despite the use of these and other strategies, even the healthiest marriages remain in constant danger of failure. The truth is that marriages are not just like businesses; they are also like flowers: they need constant watering. But whenever you get fed up with your life and really angry with your partner, obsessively focus on their negative qualities, and find yourself happily fantasizing about leaving and finding a new partner at another superior company where those negative qualities are absent. –pause for a moment and remember why you chose your current partner in the first place. If you choose wisely (and admittedly this is a big if), you may find that all the positive qualities you saw in the beginning are still there; that the virtues that made your partner such a great partner for you in the first place still make them the best choice you could have made. At least, that’s what always happens to me.
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