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Sibling Talk:

The Business and Politics of Family


By Michael Wayland and Catherine Wayland
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She said: This year I celebrate my 9th wedding anniversary. The day after John and I we were married, something immediately changed.  We became business partners. We didn’t own a business together but all of sudden we felt like we had entered a business deal of sorts. Things shifted away from our romance into buying property, making financial decisions, etc.

He said:  In the process of "the two becoming one", you take on responsibilities together.  This can be a significant blessing, or it can become a major problem in the marriage.  In my first marriage, we started an actual business together and it was a marital disaster.  We ended up in divorce.

She said: I think it was fortunate that John and I had worked on creative work projects together prior to our marriage. We had already negotiated a very non-romantic business space, and found some great energy in it together. Sometimes it even excited us. But we also learned to separate the spaces.

He said:  It seems that many people have the vision of being in business together.  Unfortunately, they don't negotiate the roles and responsibilities the way you guys did. Also, many people don’t enter marriage thinking that there is a business side to creating a family. I think a lot of people think it should always be in the courtship phase. I think when it moves into those deeper waters, and things get more complicated, people jump ship.

She said: John and I have certainly faced a difference of business and political styles. There have been clashes.

He said:  Well, there is that whole male / female thing going on, as well as different negotiation styles, conflict management styles and even the gender and sociological expectations.

She said: John and my styles are very different. John likes to go over the details and he is much more conservative in his risk-taking. I always like to think from a 20-thousand foot level and if I have weighed the variables, I jump in with both feet. One thing we had to negotiate very seriously was my desire to stay with the children for the first years. If I was going to have children, I was going to give it 150%. John was used to his sister-in-law and sister working.

He said:  The intrinsic and extrinsic gender expectations can become a serious issue. 

She said: In that issue, I saw it less as gender and more as my own work ethic and sense of commitment. I think there are times when one of us has had to suspend our opinions if we sense that our spouse is more emphatic in the debate as long as it feels authentic and trustworthy. I remember when Jackson was only 7 weeks old, and I was sensing PPD (post partum depression).  John had an offer to go to Germany for three weeks.  I knew he had to go, and wouldn’t if he heard I needed him.  I made sure that Jax and I would be supported.  And then I got excited as he packed his bags. I knew he could make it home in 12 hours.

He said:  I started my career in the Fortune 500, and never had that choice of whether or not to accept an assignment.  I went where I was sent.  That eliminated the conflicting choice that you and John experienced over the Germany assignment, but at the same time, I think it left my ex feeling as if she had no control.  Then there were always the constant corporate transfers and relocations.

She said: Moving a lot must have been a hard issue to negotiate. I remember, John and I ended up in a New York Times article about the politics of couple's deciding where to live and buying real estate.  I didn't want to ever buy in New York City.  Yet, New York City was John's love affair.  I relented, and so did he.   We got a smaller apartment in New York and I got a small getaway place on the beach outside of New York. I am now thrilled I own in New York. And John loved having the boys on the beach.

He said:  That was a great compromise.  Rather than looking at the pie as fixed, (New York or not New York), you expanded the pie and did both.  That was a great solution.

She said: There are other business issues and politics in family life. There is also the blending of two families when a couple marries. Whether the groom and the bride's families have social, economic or ethnic differences.  There is also the blending of step-families after a second, third or fourth marriage takes place.

He said:  Yes, the discussion of blending families could be a whole other article.

She said: What I am starting to realize is that family life, if it is successful, is a fair negotiation between parties.  If you think it is only about your own needs or winning, you might win, but the victory might be to end up alone.

He said:  Unfortunately, I see many people in my divorce mediation practice that spent their marriage looking at conflict as victory or defeat, and then they end up alone.

She said: There have been times since my sons were born that I have wondered, "Have John and I grown apart?"  We believe in couple's therapy, and we have a great therapist who is also a great mediator.  Often, at times of conflict with John, I look at my left hand.  On a recent anniversary, John gave me another celebratory Russian engagement band that is three bands intertwined.  That makes four bands on that finger which for me represents all four of the people involved in our marriage - John, Jax, Brody, and I.  I have to make sure to measure my own happiness into that equation, but everyone else as well – four equal parts.

He said:  Keeping your focus on the success of your marriage rather than the business and politics of marriage certainly helps.  The ultimate challenge is to manage the intersection of both.


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