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December 29, 2017

Why You Should Treat Your Relationship Like A Business

Episode 40

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In this episode, Jess sucks the romance out of relationships and offers a practical, business-based approach to happier relationships. It may seem unromantic to treat your relationship like a business, but it’s far more romantic to plan for success than to close your eyes and hope for the best. Most couples invest their time and money into their wedding — but not into the relationship itself and the results are abysmal. Don’t be most couples! Treat your relationship like a business.

This podcast is brought to you by Desire Resorts

You can view this episode’s transcript below:

Marriage is a Business.

And from a financial perspective, it’s thriving. The wedding industry in China is estimated at $80 billion per year. In the US, it’s $161 billion — and that doesn’t even count the Kardashian year. Globally, our annual investment in tying the knot is over $300 billion and growing.

The numbers alone paint a pretty picture. The business of marriage is booming.

And why shouldn’t it? A marriage is a very good investment, especially for men.

  • Married men earn 11% more than singles in the same roles.
  • And both men and women reap health benefits from marriage including a 17% reduced risk of certain cancers, 12% lower rates of cardiovascular disease and longer lifespans in general.

But let’s take a look at some other martial data.

  • The rate of marriage is declining and more people are getting divorced across the globe.
  • In the last 50 years, the crude marriage rate in the EU-28 has declined by nearly 50%.
  • In 2011, there were 2.1 million marriages in the EU and nearly a million divorces — 986,000 to be exact.
  • In the US, some estimates suggest that the divorce industry is worth $50 billion per year.

It seems that while we’re willing to invest a great deal into weddings and to some degree divorces, we still aren’t profiting or successfully investing in marriage. We throw money at the start-up phase and then close our eyes and hope for the best knowing that we’ve got a 50/50 shot of losing everything.

Now I don’t think we’d do this in business, but you tell me.

  • Would you invest into a start-up knowing that no further financial or advisement investment would be made?
  • Would you purchase an investment property and let it take care of itself?
  • Would you sign on as a partner in a company without seeing their financial and strategic plans? Even if the company’s founder was an old friend and a great person, you’d insist on discussing the finer details.

You have a certain degree of business sense that helps you to mitigate risk and promote higher returns. In business, you plan and invest. You surround yourself with the right people. And you adapt to changing environments and demands.

What I’m suggesting to you, is that it’s time to treat your marriage like you do a business.

Yes. They’re different. But many core business competencies are transferable. You’re obviously successful in the business realm, so perhaps it’s time to look at how you can apply your business savvy to your marriage.

It’s time to invest and plan. It’s time to really look at the people involved. And it’s time to be adaptable and innovative.

Now I know that comparing marriage to a business isn’t romantic. But neither is divorce nor infidelity, nor misery in pairs, so hear me out.

Most businesses begin with a plan. Whether it’s a lengthy document to showcase to potential investors or a Lean Canvas designed to identify needs, every business has a plan. And every successful business revisits that plan from time to time.

Unfortunately, we don’t do this with our relationships. Your marriage may be the most important partnership to your health, well-being, happiness and life fulfillment, but if you aren’t specifically planning for success, then the odds may be stacked against you.

This doesn’t mean that you need to sit down and write a lengthy mission statement or map out your value proposition in great detail, but simply that you need to talk about what you want, what your goals are and how you think you can achieve them.

If every couple did this before they got married or moved in together, we’d probably see a dip in both marriages and divorces. And I see the decline in the former as a good thing — there is no point in getting married if you don’t have some shared vision.

Now if you’re considering getting married or you’re already married, I’m going to give you the first part of your three-part homework designed to help you to treat your marriage like a business and improve the quality and longevity of your relationship.

Your first piece of homework is to sit down and make a plan. It doesn’t need to be complex. We’ll start with three simple questions:

  • What are you two doing well in your relationship?
  • What change can YOU make TODAY to improve your relationship?
  • What is one of your relationship goals?

For the first question, what are you doing well in your relationship, your answer might pertain to the way you divide your time, share responsibilities, talk about problems, resolve conflict, make intimacy a priority or plan leisure time. Anything goes.

This question helps you to establish a positive foundation for the relationship and writing down what you’re already doing well can ensure that you keep it up.

The second question, what change can you make today to improve your relationship serves two purposes:

  1. It helps you to acknowledge that deficits or challenges in your relationship are on YOU – not your partner.
  2. And it requires you to look at specific behaviours as opposed to global ones. This means that you need to make specific — not general — commitments. For example, rather than saying you’ll make more time for your partner, you might commit to carving out 20 minutes technology free this evening to just hang together. Or you might commit to bringing your partner a drink in bed to show that you care. When you make global commitments, you’re less likely to follow through, but when you pick small, manageable action-items, you’re more likely to deliver and reap their rewards.

Grand gestures don’t compare to everyday thoughtfulness. If you can’t make 60 seconds a day to do something thoughtful for your partner, you really shouldn’t be in the business of marriage.

Now the third question in the marriage plan, is probably the hardest to answer: What is one of your relationship goals?

Do you want to retire together early?

Do you want to have more sex?

Do you want to resolve an underlying source of resentment?

Do you want to better divide household responsibilities?

Do you want to be so in love in thirty years that you still hold hands while shopping?

Do you want to have another child?

Even though this question is more abstract, it is still highly relevant. Research suggests that couples who create shared meaning — and goals are a part of this meaning — are more likely to have lasting, satisfying relationships.

These three questions don’t make for a full relationship plan, but they’re a start. If you only completed these three questions (recap: 1. what’s working? 2. What specifically can YOU do better? 3. What’s one of your goals?) and revisited them twice per year, you’d be ahead of most couples and perhaps more likely to fall into the half of married couples won’t divorce.

Other business principles that go hand-in-hand with planning and can be applied to the marriage include scheduling monthly check-ins, setting an agenda for tougher conversations, writing down the outcomes of your conflicts and recording action items that are designed to improve your relationship. You do this in business, why not in marriage?

It may sound formal and it is unromantic, but your relationship isn’t predicated upon romance. If it is, you’re in trouble, because the chemicals associated with passion wear off after 6-12 months. And as unromantic as it may be, writing down goals and agreements reduces the likelihood of miscommunications and increases accountability and your chances of following through.

The second business principle that you can apply to marriage has to do with the people. In business, you surround yourself with the best team and a marriage requires the same.

It’s not simply about picking the right partner, but about building the entire team. From support staff like nannies to in-laws, friends, neighbours and your social circle, research continues to emphasize the value of social bonds to our health, income, and happiness.

In picking the right partner, we have to let go of romanticized notions of soulmates. Soulmates are something you become. Compatibility takes work. It takes nourishment. It takes investment. Just as you invest in your executive team and staff, so too do you need to invest in your partner and yourself.

There is a reason you offer positive feedback, constructive criticism, evaluations, and incentives to team members based on performance. Fostering a happy home is much like cultivating strong workplace morale or corporate culture. Your staff will never know that you’re happy with them unless you tell them and the same goes for your spouse.

Compliment your partner. Praise him. Reward her. Though feedback in a loving relationship is different than feedback in the workplace, the rewards are even greater. Research in Japan and the US shows that the human brain’s response to a compliment is even stronger than it is to a cash reward. Even if you’ve taken the most basic of motivational management courses, you already know the advantage of articulating value and gratitude with employees – the same applies at home.

It’s your job to make your partner feel appreciated and important — these are universal human needs and as such, the cornerstones of every happy marriage.

I like solutions to be quick and painless. But more importantly, I like them to be doable, so I try to keep most of them to 60 seconds or less. The second piece of your homework is to simply tell your spouse why you appreciate them every morning before you brush your teeth. It will take less than a minute and have an exponential impact — as long as you mean it.

Studies show that practicing gratitude lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, strengthens bonds, heightens intimacy, reduces aggression, promotes empathy, enhances sleep and boosts self-esteem. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

When spouses feel important and appreciated, they reciprocate. They do more for another. They have more sex. They stay together.

And this is easy: I want you to commit to expressing some form of gratitude to your spouse every day for the next week before you brush your teeth in the morning. There is no right or wrong way to do it, but I want you to say yes right now.

And finally, the third basic business principle that applies to marriage involves flexibility and adaptability. You’ve mastered this in the workplace and now it’s time to bring it home.

In business and in life, it is not the strongest nor the most intelligent who survive, but the most adaptable. Darwin may have said it best, but it’s clear that adaptability is a must in business:

  • Paypal started as a cryptography company, but successfully adapted its model into the default online payment system.
  • If Apple was still in the business of making personal computers alone, they’d likely be out of business instead of the omnipotent brand that not only adapts to consumer demand, but shapes it.
  • Nokia, a telecommunications and technology giant started as a pulp and paper company, but embraced digital technology as early adapters and avoided going the way of most paper mills.

We all recognize brands that have struggled to adapt and paid the price: Kodak,  Blockbuster, Dell, Research in Motion, Oldsmobile.

Adapt or die — it applies to both business and marriage.

Adaptability is a must by virtue of marriage’s inherent longevity. Over time, you will change. And so will your spouse.

Kids. Moves. New Jobs. Changes in Health. The loss of loved ones. All of these will shape your changes and your relationship will be the first to feel the effects.

I often hear spouses complain that their husband or wife has changed. He’s changed. She’s changed. Lamented as though it’s inherently bad.

It’s not. What it is — is inevitable. Change, as we know, is the only constant.

This is where your competencies in both planning and adaptability will come in.

Check-ins can help to assuage the challenges associated with big changes. It’s too easy to let our lives go on without talking about our greatest fears, hopes, and vulnerabilities. We’re too busy talking about who is going to pick the kids up from school to dig down and share our most intimate thoughts. Check-ins create a mandatory discussion about the big issues. If you could check-in on your relationship, three times per year you’d likely find yourselves arguing less, dealing with far less resentment and connecting more deeply.

This is how I structure the check-in:

  1. You go someplace nice. A champagne brunch or a fancy dinner at a place you wouldn’t normally go. Whatever you do, you don’t talk in your bedroom late at night.
  2. You dress up and start the formal part of the conversation right away.
  3. You ask and answer 4 questions each taking turns and letting the conversation flow. I suggest the following:
    • How have you been feeling lately at home? At work? Generally?
    • Is there anything on your mind that you’d like to discuss? This could relate to the relationship or any other element of your life.
    • What can I do to make you even happier? Be specific.
    • What can I do to make the sexual connection stronger? There’s no denying that sex can be a source of strength or stress in a relationship.

These questions cover four core areas of the relationship: emotions, potential conflicts, specific behaviours, and intimacy. They are a good start, but you’re welcome to set your own agendas as long as you do so together.

The relationship check-in is similar to the quarterly meeting and should be treated with the same respect. You set a time and you honour it. You show up on time and prepared to work and be present. When you cancel, postpone or show up late for personal engagements with your partner, you’re sending specific messages about how you value their time. Think about it and plan accordingly.

Couples who have embraced the relationship check-in find that the greatest outcome involves a decline in resentment, as they nip potential problems in the bud instead of waiting for them to fester and eventually explode. The average couple waits six years to seek therapy once a problem arises and in some cases, there is such thing as too late.

Adaptability in marriage, as in business, is also about being open to new ideas. Richard Branson has testified to this in hundreds of speeches and he doesn’t just preach adaptability, but insists on innovation and shaking up the status quo. Applying these principles to marriage means asking the tough questions, having uncomfortable conversations and challenging stereotypes surrounding marriage, gender roles and sex.

If you haven’t talked to your partner about the meaning of life, your definition of monogamy, your views on porn or your sexual fantasies, for example, then now is the time. And even if you’ve had these conversations before, it’s always worth revisiting to see how being adaptable might open up new relationship horizons.

You may feel strongly about some of these subjects, but if you and your spouse don’t agree entirely, you need to talk about it. You need to know that there are no right or wrong answers or perspectives – as long as you’re being honest and respectful. The modern marriage doesn’t come with a standard set of rules — you have to write the rulebook with your partner. Don’t listen to experts or therapists who insist that there is only one way to live happily ever after. I’ve worked with thousands of couples and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some see monogamy as the ultimate bond and others see it as the ultimate impediment. Neither group could imagine living by the others’ standards.

If you don’t know where your partner stands (or you haven’t even thought about how you feel about the topic), you may be leaving yourself and your relationship vulnerable. Have the tough conversations. Pick your battles. And disagree. The toughest conversations yield the most fruitful results.

No business is a one-time investment. The same can be said of marriage. The investment is ongoing. Planning. Building a team. And being adaptable are non-negotiables.

Of course, marriage and businesses don’t have everything in common. There are remarkable differences, but I like the comparison between the two — especially for those who are successful in business. With all that success, some of those skills, some of that experience and some of that acumen must be transferable.

One salient difference between relationships and businesses is that in a marriage, you only have to worry about one other person, so the amount of investment in terms of time can be much smaller. You can improve your relationship in just one minute a day as long as you stay focused on how you’re making your partner feel.

Think of ways you can make your partner feel important in one minute:

  • Bring them coffee in bed.
  • Rub their feet.
  • Warm up their side of the bed.
  • Run up to them with a big hug when you walk in the door.
  • Tell them if you had to do it all over again, you’d pick them in a heartbeat.
  • Pour them a glass of wine.
  • Leave them an “I love you” sticky note in their car.

Unlike your clients who may demand that you go over the top, making your partner feel important can be quite easy.

It’s a good investment. And well worth it when you consider that a happy marriage is valued at $105K in terms of emotional value. And it’s all cyclical: a happy marriage often involves more sex and increasing sexual frequency from once per month to once per week is the equivalent in happiness to receiving a $50K cheque. Not bad for a few minute’s work.

In the end, you can’t put a dollar value on your marriage. If asked, you’d probably say it’s the element of greatest value in your life. If that’s the case, it’s time to ensure that you’re treating it as such. Make a plan. Invest in your people. And be adaptable.

Marriage is a business and like almost every job, it comes with after-hours work, so here’s a recap of your homework:

  1. Create a mini-marriage plan.
  2. Show appreciation to or compliment your partner every morning for the next week.
  3. Schedule a relationship check-in in the next two months and follow through with it.

If your marriage is as important as you claim it is, you can afford 60 second days and 60 minutes a quarter to formally work on it. And if you do, I’m confident it will be the best investment you’ve ever made.