Q. My business partner and I have built a successful company. Over the past few months, our relationship has moved from a purely business to romantic. We’re starting to talk about getting married, but we’re worried that if the marriage fails, we could lose our livelihoods as well, so the stakes are high. You two are married and you work together. Do you have any insight into the things that make a good relationship work?
A. Normally, we only respond to questions that are strictly business in nature. This one goes a bit beyond that. However, so many couples work together in small businesses, that we are willing to share our thinking.
We’re not psychologists or marriage counselors. So, relationships are not our primary area of expertise. With that said, we enjoy a wonderful relationship with each other and we have thought deeply about what makes for a good one. So, we’ll share what we think makes our relationship work so well.
Make no mistake, any relationship will take a lot of work—ours does, and unless you are the exception to prove the rule, yours will too. However, the work required to make a relationship succeed will be less if you are well matched in eight areas of compatibility. We’ll explain each:
Physical – This area includes sex, intimacy, physical touch and togetherness as well as appearance. Are you well matched in terms of the amount of intimacy you want? If one of you likes to hold hands when you walk down the street and the other doesn’t, that could be a red flag.
Financial – This area includes views towards money, spending, saving and attitudes towards risk. It also includes the lifestyle you are likely to obtain given your education and skill sets relative to what each of you wants and needs. We refer you to an outstanding website on the topic of money in relationships www.TheMoneyCouple.com. Scott and Bethany Palmer will help you and your partner understand and deal with your attitudes about money.
Emotional – This area includes your demeanor and whether or not you are able to supply the emotional support desired by your partner. We refer you to a great book, The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. Learn to understand what you need from a relationship and what your partner needs—it is okay if they aren’t the same, but you each should to be willing and able to provide what the other needs.
Intellectual – This area includes your relative levels of intellect and how important being well matched is to your long-term happiness. Some couples thrive on being intellectual sparing partners. In other situations, one partner needs to be the intellectual leader in the relationship and the other is a follower. Make sure you are both getting what you need.
Social – This area includes introversion vs. extroversion and the amount of social interaction you and your mate require. If one of you draws your energy from being in a large group, while the other prefers dinner alone or with one other couple, it could signal that one of you is an extravert, while the other is an introvert. This can be managed, but you’ll need a plan to ensure that each of you gets your needs met.
Parenting – This area includes the decision to have children and if so, the basics of how they should be raised. In what faith tradition will you rear your children? For second marriages, this also includes how you will blend your families. This can be, and in some cases perhaps should be, a deal breaker. The decision to have children or not is binary—you either will or you won’t. If you can’t agree on this critical point, it may be better for you to seek another mate.
Ambition – We call this the Ambition Factor. It is about what you and your mate want to achieve in your lives and what you are willing to sacrifice to get it. If one of you is committed to career success and is willing to work the late nights and weekends this demands, while the other thinks that 40 hours per week at the office is more than enough, you are on a collision course. We believe that the Ambition Factor is one of the most often overlooked killers of relationships—don’t ignore it.
We encourage you to work through each of these areas of compatibility. Before entering into matrimony, make sure that you have thought through how you will deal with each. Be open and honest with each other about what you want and need. Above all, neither of you should think that you will change the other after you are married. We’ve seen too many relationships end up on the rocks when one partner found out that he/she couldn’t change the other.
Relationships are complex. They take a lot of effort, but a great relationship is well worth the time and energy you’ll put into it. Becoming aligned on the eight areas of compatibility discussed above is a step in the right direction.