Personal relationships

Owning a business can place considerable strain on your personal relationships.

The responsibilities of work can consume so much of your time and focus that it can be difficult to ‘switch off’ and be present with those you love.

At the start, your partner and family may have been excited and supportive about the new venture, but over time, built-up resentment and conflict can arise, especially if financial risk is added into the mix. Even when you’re working together in a family business, the rollercoaster of business ownership can test even the strongest relationship.

All relationships go through difficult times and some conflict is normal. However, it’s important to take action if the conflict is frequent, ongoing and continuously left unresolved.

How do relationships affect wellbeing?

The social and emotional support from a close relationship is important for our mental health. Partners and family are often the most significant people in our lives, so problems within these relationships can be particularly distressing and lead to:

  • stress and lack of concentration
  • anger, sadness and anxiety
  • changes to appetite
  • sleeping problems and fatigue
  • increased use of alcohol or drugs to escape
  • feelings of isolation.

Taking action to enhance your relationship

All relationships are vulnerable to the impact of stress. Taking action early when you have relationship issues is likely to lead to quicker resolution of problems or conflict. And, if you are proactively trying to improve your communication and strengthen your relationship on an ongoing basis, you are in a better position to manage the inevitable stressful times.

Tips for strengthening your relationships:

  • Make the time to discuss the issue: It may be tempting to spend more time in the business to avoid confrontation or arguments at home, but this is likely to make things worse. Instead, try talking about what each of you is finding challenging and what you could change so you both feel more supported. Be prepared to compromise!
  • Learn and practice new relationship skills: We may use them every day, but relationship skills are not innate – we develop them through our experiences and interactions over time. Honing your skills will not only benefit your personal relationships, they’ll also assist in your business relationships. Relationships Australia run a number of affordable family and relationship skills courses.
  • Be a good listener: Improve your communications by listening and trying to understand where your partner is coming from. Avoid defensiveness, criticism, stonewalling (putting up a barrier to communication) and disrespect as these patterns of behaviour only make things worse. You can learn more about these communication saboteurs at the Relationship Institute Australia.
  • Start an ongoing conversation with your partner: Talk about your individual and shared goals and priorities as well as your expectations of each other. Be prepared to keep revisiting this conversation as your business and family circumstances change.
  • Nurture the relationship: Do things specifically for your relationship like scheduling time together without distractions and showing appreciation for each other.
  • Recognise external factors can and do impact your relationship: It’s important to find a healthy work-life balance. Make a conscious effort to minimise the impact of these factors, for example, by not always bringing work home, setting aside time for no technology interruptions, and seeking advice to address any financial stress (which is recognised as one of the leading causes of separation).

Talk to the experts

Relationships Australia and Interrelate Family Centres: Offer trained relationship counselling services at a low cost. Online and after hours services are also available through Relationships Australia.

Business Connect Advisors: To free up more time to spend with your family, you could get help to improve the efficiency of your business systems, or outsource parts of your business. Discuss your options with a Business Connect Advisor.

Join a Family Business Australia forum: These forums are made up of 10 family business leaders, meeting 10 times a year to share experiences and learnings on family business dynamics. You can find out more by visiting Family Business Australia.

Further information and links

Relationships Australia - video series

Topics covered: healthy relationships, managing conflict, communication and managing change.

Gottman Insitute: investing in your relationship

A video resource on what makes relationships work.

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