5 Business Strategies That Can Strengthen Your Marriage

By Jenna McCarthy, REDBOOK

My husband, Joe, loves business books. They line our bookshelves and sit in stacks on his nightstand, some with violent-sounding names (e.g., Guerilla Marketing, Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, and Rules for Revolutionaries) that make me really glad I work for myself, at home, where it's safe.

I've never cracked a single one of them. But recently, when Joe was talking my ear off about the ideas in Daniel H. Pink's Drive, it occurred to me that running a company is a lot like managing a marriage. You have to budget, delegate, motivate, and reward. You have to stock the supply room (with everything from beer and good coffee to nice sheets and sexy lingerie) and deal with the depreciation of, um, assets. You must coordinate vacation schedules, allocate resources, outline the division of labor, and agree on whether to fire insubordinate underlings. (Just joking about that last one, kids!)

I decided to test my theory, so I asked a bunch of top management experts what business strategies they would apply to relationships. Then I tried them out on an unsuspecting Joe, and enlisted some game girlfriends to do the same. After hearing—and living—the results, I'm a fervent believer in these best practices for happy couples. See for yourself…

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PRINCIPLE #1: Know your VIPs.
We all have things that bug us about our partners, but how much do they really matter? Bonnie Bruderer, founder and CEO of VISS, a leadership training organization with big-deal clients like Visa and Wells Fargo, suggests making a list of the top five things you need from your spouse — listening, compassion, earlobe nibbling, whatever. She calls this your "VIP" (Very Important Principles) list, and says that writing them down creates a handy guidebook for your husband. "At work, you need to be told what is expected of you and you have performance reviews to evaluate whether you're meeting those expectations," explains Bruderer, who helps her managerial clients clearly lay out their VIPs for employees. Approach your marriage this way and you might realize that his leaving off the toothpaste cap isn't a big deal because it doesn't violate one of your VIPs. Or maybe it is, and it does, but your partner has no idea you care so much.

PRINCIPLE #2: Think four-to-one.
If you want someone to change their behavior, focus on the positives, says Scott Blanchard, executive vice president at the Ken Blanchard Companies, a top leadership development firm. (His dad, Ken, cowrote the classic biz book The One Minute Manager.) "Harping on bad behavior might cause someone to comply out of fear, but they won't thrive," he says. The "magic formula," according to Blanchard, is to deliver four positive messages for every negative one. "I find that when I do this in my work and in my marriage, everyone is happier."

PRINCIPLE #3: Don't send your duck to eagle school.
Nobody would say that a duck is better than an eagle, or vice versa; they are simply different creatures. Each has his own talents, but neither could do the other's job well, explains Frank McNair in his book The Golden Rules for Managers. Similarly, effective managers help employees identify their gifts and then match them with jobs they'll excel at. The same idea applies in relationships: Don't expect a Nurse Ratched type to coddle you when you have the flu, or ask a shopaholic to handle the budget—unless your favorite pastimes are head-banging and hair-pulling.

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PRINCIPLE #4: Conduct a 360-degree review of your relationship.
A 360-degree review uses evaluations from a variety of sources—such as coworkers and clients, not just a supervisor—to assess an employee's performance. "Bosses learn things they wouldn't otherwise," says Lynda Zugec, managing director of the Workforce Consultants, an international HR consulting firm. Getting some outside perspective on your marriage can be just as beneficial, she says, because sometimes you're more open to receiving constructive criticism from close friends and family than you are from each other. (But don't include your mother if she refers to your husband is That Guy You Live With.)

PRINCIPLE #5: Win the client.
You're an ad exec vying for a billion-dollar client's new campaign. Do you show up and wing it? Of course not. You stay up late for weeks doing research, watching videos, and taking notes. Why? Because you want that client to love you. Julie Spira, a former tech exec turned business speaker and entrepreneur, suggests that couples treat each other like important clients by taking turns planning a date night each week. "I'm not talking plane tickets to Paris," she insists. "But the idea is that your partner doesn't have to do anything but show up." Get tickets for a concert or visit a museum one week; try a new restaurant or play tennis the next. "You'd get fired if you put zero effort into your job," Spira adds. In marriage, that's called divorce—yikes.

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