Dear Keeping Sober,
Kudos for asking the right question: What is my role in contributing to the problems? Taking accountability while acknowledging the problem will help you figure out the changes needed to improve your relationship and partnership.
Whenever you both start behaving like adversaries, invite yourselves to think back on the original dream of becoming partners who leverage one another’s strengths. Bring back the “we-ness” that helped you to develop a loving marriage and a satisfying business partnership.
Let’s face it: managing a business with your romantic partner is as challenging as it is rewarding. Try as you might to keep the personal and the business roles separate, it’s impossible. These roles are interdependent, always interacting with and impacting each other.
So what do you need to simultaneously develop a strong personal identity and a successful business partnership?
Contrary to popular belief, relationships are made up of three distinct entities, not two: the two individuals and the life they share between them. A healthy relationship cannot exist until both have clearly defined personal boundaries. In short, remember that you both have an identity separate from the relationship, and your relationship – both as spouses and business partners –can only be as good as the individuals in it.
The antagonistic behaviors you described also suggest that there are deeper, unresolved issues at work here. So let’s break it down:
It seems that your “type A” wife learned to be overly responsible, depending and trusting primarily on herself, because of her experience and potential trauma dealing with alcoholic parents. Given her need for control and self-reliance, it’s surprising that she was agreed to share her business with you. However, as you experienced, she quickly resented sharing control with you once you were on-board.
As a former employee in a large company, you weren’t used to being an overall decision-maker. The clearly defined expectations and daily routine served as a comfort zone for you. As a former drug addict, your mindset and learned coping mechanisms cycled through dependency, helplessness, and avoidance. In contrast, being an entrepreneur requires a very different mentality and skill set, relying on good decision-making and communication abilities.
Being on the path of sobriety for so long now (congratulations!), you must know that progress is a journey, not a destination. Being drug-free is just the beginning. It’s time to take full responsibility and control over your life and keep honing your ability to make decisions.
It’s by no means an instant solution, but a very good start to resolving the situation is continuing to work on yourself by taking ownership as a major decision-maker alongside your wife instead of deferring or avoiding confrontation. Develop your communication “muscles” so you can better manage your feelings and get on the same page with your wife.
Whenever a relationship is in trouble, remember that it is a true reflection of the kind of people who are in it. Once you have developed a secure relationship with yourself (and she with herself), you’ll both be in a strong position to be true partners living the live they dreamed about.