An old friend that I’ve known since primary school is getting married this weekend, exactly one week from my own anniversary. Whether to get married, and more importantly, who to marry, is one of the most important decisions a person will ever make. Marriage can have profound effects, both positive and negative, on your well-being, happiness, fulfillment in life, health, and of course, your finances. On the flip side, getting divorced is ranked as one of the top traumatic, stressful, and financially devastating events.
I married young, right after graduating uni. And while many “young marriages” lead to divorce, I’m grateful that ours has stayed strong after all these years. It has been a critical component of many positive outcomes we’ve seen in our lives. I owe a lot of its strength and success to this one very unconventional thing we do as a couple. When I tell people, it often shocks them (don’t worry, it’s not kinky).
How to Have a Solid Marriage
You might guess the answer is “we practice frugality”, but that’s not so unconventional. More and more couples and families today practice frugality. And the answer, “continuously loving and respecting one another” is the sort of idealistic response you’d expect to a beauty pageant question. The unconventional thing we do is that we treat our marriage like a business, with both of us as co-directors.
How Businesses Start Out
Great businesses all start out the same way. They begin with individuals coming together to co-create something with a clear purpose and mission. The core members are the directors, and each has a stake in the business and are committed to it. This means they also share in the successes of the business. Likewise, they are also responsible for its liabilities.
Each director brings a set of individual values, skills, requirements, desires, and goals which need to be reconciled and prioritised with respect to the business as a whole. To determine whether the business is meeting its goals, operates in line with its mission, is solvent and profitable, and is meeting the needs of its members and stakeholders, the directors need to continuously measure and monitor specific key performance indicators (KPIs). This usually means that one director will also need to assume the role of the company secretary and accountant to report these indicators.
Here’s What We Do to Grow Our Marriage
This is just an example of some of the things we do to maintain a solid and strong marriage. This is by no means a comprehensive list, neither is it a must-do list. It’s just what works for us. The important thing is to proactively explore what works for your relationship, rather than assuming it will all just fall into place somehow.
1. Having a Mission Statement & Vision
“The power to share and make the world more open and connected” is Facebook’s mission statement. “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” is Google’s.
As a couple (or family), what is your mission statement? Do you have a clear and unified vision of what your marriage and household will accomplish and how it will operate?
For my husband and me, our mission statement has changed over the years, as most do from time to time. Today, it is “to achieve security, sustainable happiness, and fulfillment; to create an environment where each of us can be the best versions of ourselves.”
Mission statements help an organisation focus on what really matters. They often shape policies, and provide a template for decision-making and improvement.
2. Setting Roles and Team Expectations
No one person is good at everything; each person has his/her own role to play in a business entity. Because we all have strengths and weaknesses, splitting tasks equally 50/50, for the sake of “fairness” isn’t always the best for the business as a whole.
In a marriage, specialisation can result in a more efficient and meaningful division of labour. For example, both my husband and I enjoy cooking, but it takes me less than 30 minutes to whip up a meal, compared to my husband who takes twice as long and produces twice as many dishes. We both agreed that I should cook, while he washes the dishes.
Had we evenly split the responsibility of cooking, which we both like, and washing dishes, which we both hate, on average we would spend more time cooking and washing dishes because we are underutilising each others’ strengths while ignoring weaknesses.
Defining roles based on strengths and weaknesses is important, though people often see it as a “fairness competition”. But if your goal is the overall success of the business, does it really matter that one party is always doing a certain task, and the other never does it?
Similarly, setting team expectations is also critical. What do you expect of your partner? What does your partner expect of you? How can you meet each other’s needs? What are your boundaries, the things you are willing and unwilling to do?
It’s good to be reminded that you are one team. It’s not a competition, a transactional comparison, or a win-lose scenario between directors. Who cares if one director wins when the team loses?
3. Regularly Holding Meetings
No, this section is not about romantic dates, although those are important to maintain too. After having a clear mission statement, vision, and well defined roles, responsibilities, and expectations, you still need to addresses the management side of marriage, or how it will run.
So to manage our marriage, my husband and I hold regular monthly meetings. Most of the time, these meetings go over our monthly financial statements. Yes, as my “company’s” accountant, I produce profit & loss (P&L) statements and balance sheets which I share with my husband every month. Like a business, marriages also must maintain financial solvency and security. Transparency and open communication are absolutely essential, especially regarding financial matters. If these financial matters are poorly practiced or neglected, they often lead to the dissolution of businesses as well as marriages.
Additionally, throughout the month we check in with each other and discuss any problems or challenges we’re facing. Other times we talk about ideas or aspirations. Sometimes we do team-building exercises.
Because we set aside a time and an agenda for the meeting in advance, we come mentally prepared and are focused during the meeting. The meetings also provide an outlet and time for honest feedback and open communication in a setting that hopefully makes potentially sensitive feedback feel less personal.
4. Tracking KPIs and Other Data
Performance monitoring, setting of realistic targets, and measuring against benchmarks and past performance are all things good businesses do on a regular basis. We do this twice a year – once around the start of the year, and again midyear.
Originally, this habit developed out of writing new year resolutions. We would each write up a few personal development goals, a few financial goals, and a few career goals. These goals were written as SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-Bound).
After sharing these goals with each other, we would reconcile and align them. By midyear, we would revisit our progress, and determine whether we needed to adjust our goals, change our approach, change the timeline, or abandon the pursuit.
As time went on, we realised how powerful this was and we got better and better at it. Tracking resolutions was what helped us reach so many of our life targets and milestones before any of our peers did.
All businesses go through cycles. To say that your business will always go in an upwards trajectory is unrealistic. Successful businesses understand this and they anticipate change and disruption by preparing for it at all times.
Not many people prepare for critical illness, disability, family tragedy, job loss, divorce, or other disastrous (but common) events. We do. Just like how my will specifies my wishes in case of death, we have written, discussed, or made preparations for each hazard. We even have plans for various midlife crises and ageing scenarios.
Some people may not feel comfortable with this as it involves discussing taboo topics. Perhaps a good way to ease yourself (and your partner) into this process is to start with some basic estate planning forms – the nomination/beneficiary form, the LPA (Lasting Power of Attorney), the AMD (Advance Medical Directive) and the last will and testament.
Businesses always need to plan for disruption, and cannot rest on their laurels for long. They are constantly asking themselves what will change in the years to come, and how will they adapt and survive that change?
Feeling Overwhelmed? Here’s a Summary
What do all these things have in common? They all require both parties put in a lot of time and work into building, sustaining, and advancing the marriage and household. They are based on transparency, open communication, practice, and repetition. Both director-partners share in the success of the marriage and assume responsibility of its liabilities. Treating your marriage like a business provides a framework on how to deal with problems and how to meet goals and objectives, that would otherwise be unattainable.
Where Does Love Fit In?
Up to this point, there’s very little mention of “love”. Yes, love is important, and I used to think love was the most important foundation in a good marriage. But over the years, I’ve seen friends who were “madly in love” get married and later “fall out of love” and get divorced. I’ve also seen strangers in an arranged marriage, work at developing “the business management side of their marriage”, and as a result developed a deep love and commitment to each other.
Some studies even cite that arranged marriages are more successful than traditional marriages. An Indian friend of mine once told it to me this way, “You [Westerners] date, fall in love, build a relationship, and decide to marry when you think the relationship has reached a certain point. You spend time in courtship building the relationship, and you view marriage as its culmination – a finished product. We commit to marriage, then we build our relationship, and we are never finished with it.”
This is not to say that all arranged marriages work out. But it’s interesting to note the difference in perspective, when love is not a prerequisite for starting a marriage.
But love is indeed necessary for a marriage to last and grow. Love fulfills the fundamental human need for belonging and connection. This connection fosters trust, acceptance, and commitment, and serves as an emotional currency that can be spent during difficult times and situations.
Other People’s Perspectives
For a long time, I thought I was odd to think this way. But I recently found another person who shares similar views and published a book on it. It’s called “Spousonomics” and you can download the audiobook free from NLB here. Some of her views are different, and it’s nice to read or listen to another person’s perspective on the matter.
To my primary school friend, I wish you a strong, fulfilling, and sustainable marriage, and I congratulate you on your new “business”. 🙂