A wife's role in business
- 1999 9 Sep
I would venture to say that in most businesses today the wife's role is nearly zero. It may well be that she was involved in the early stages of developing a business, but as the business grew and prospered that involvement was lessened or eliminated. Through the intervening years, most wives become involved with raising the children and maintaining the home while the husband builds a business. In itself this is not wrong, provided that the wife stays actively involved in the decision making and direction of the business. Unfortunately, few do, and later in life, when she would like to be more active again, it's nearly impossible.
Correcting an imbalance
When women are not included in the decision-making process, a real imbalance can occur in a business. If, as Christians, we believe that God provides a helpmate with strengths that offset our weaknesses, then not to include them ultimately causes great imbalances. Of course, many men refuse to take counsel from their wives. This is usually a product of training and observation in their homes as youths; but, it is also a by-product of something called PRIDE. Most men, particularly those who control others, want to be independent, to be able to make the snap decisions that usually result in disaster. This is not to say that all errors are eliminated merely by including the wife in routine business decisions. But without hesitation I can say that most of the problems I have observed in Christian-owned businesses would have been lessened or avoided if the men had been willing to seek their wives' counsel before making major decisions, particularly those involving borrowing large amounts. Why didn't they? Because they knew they would not be able to rationally convince their wives that such risks were appropriate. So instead, they sought the counsel of men of like mind who assured them that they knew at least one other "gambler" who had done the same thing and had gotten away with it. "House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord" (Proverbs 19:14).
It may sound like I'm coming down too hard on men in business, but I believe it cannot be stated too strongly: When a man and wife are joined in marriage, they are no longer two; they are one. "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Therefore, each brings a necessary part of God's wisdom to every decision.
Exclusion of the wife
What commonly happens in our generation is that, as the business either prospers or fails, the wife is the last to be consulted. In our past agrarian society, both husband and wife were acutely aware of how they were doing financially. Usually, the man plowed and planted while his wife managed the home; but, come harvest time everybody got involved. Consequently, she knew about as much about their finances as her husband did, on a year-to-year basis. Today, many men build successful businesses only to find that they have little in common with their wives of many years and end up divorced when the kids are grown. All too often the catalyst is a younger woman in the office who seems to be all the things that the wife is not. Few Christian men would ever actively solicit such a volatile situation, but one-sided decisions often allow such situations to develop.
The other extreme is when news of a failing business is kept from the wife until the collapse is imminent. Obviously, most women realize that a business is in trouble but usually are not aware of the extent of the crisis. The result is often conflict and deep hurt when she realizes that even the office staff knows more about the difficulties than she does. Her reaction may well be one of distrust and withdrawal at the very time her husband needs the most support. The result, too often, is divorce.
By observation, it would appear that most couples practice only extremes in business involvement: total or none at all. This means that the wife is either immersed in the day-to-day operation of the business or totally isolated from any meaningful input. It is not necessary to go to either extreme. A wife can become a vital factor in decision making without functioning as a part of the daily office routine but only if she is knowledgeable and informed. In reality, the wives who are actively involved in the office constitute only about 10 percent or less of the total; the other 90 percent represent the norm today. They are to be helpmates.
In Proverbs 31:10-31, an excellent wife is described. Above all others, her husband respects her counsel because she "fears the Lord," and fear of the Lord is a sign of great wisdom. A wife should be her husband's primary counselor. She provides balance to his decisions that can be provided by no one else. A husband who never, or seldom, accepts this counsel has not honored his wife, and according to 1 Peter 3:7 his prayers will be hindered.
This does not mean that a wife's counsel is always right and must be followed to the exclusion of all else. But it does mean that it should be considered and weighed as the highest priority.
I have been seated across the table from enough couples to know that if most men had consulted their wives before plunging into their get-rich-quick schemes, they would have saved a lot of money, time, and anguish. In one counseling session a businessman asked if I felt it was all right for him to borrow against his home to expand the business. My response was to ask him if he had asked his wife how she felt about it. No further discussion on that particular issue was necessary. Inside, he knew it was a bad idea, and he also knew that his wife would say so. In discussing it, his wife did say she thought it was a bad idea, but she also said she would support whatever decision he made. He was shocked! He discovered at that point that she was willing to leave the results to God and share the outcome. He decided not to borrow the money.
To wives I give this counsel: Don't allow yourselves to be ignorant of your spouse's business. Don't demand though; ask. As a counselor, you must be willing to give advice, offer alternatives, and leave the results to God. If your advice is sound, you won't have to continually remind your husband about it; he'll know, believe me! Unfortunately, when a wife feels neglected, she goes "historical." Some wives have the ability to recall the most infinite details about events as long ago as 10 years, especially when she gave advice that was ignored. Avoid the temptation to do so; it will only drive a wedge between you and your husband in the future. "The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands" (Proverbs 14:1).
I believe one of the least taught principles in Christianity is accountability. This means being responsible for our actions. Many businesspeople are not held accountable for their time, money, or attitudes today because they report to no one. Throughout God's Word are directions that we hold each other accountable. "If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother" (Matthew 18:15). The more knowledgeable someone is of our routine the more accountable we become. That's why a great many businesspeople do not want anyone to know too much about what they do, lest they become accountable according to God's standard. A Christian man who is truly seeking to serve God will find that, next to the Lord, his wife provides the maximum accountability. After living in the same home with their husbands, most wives do not miss even a small thing. For instance, don't just ask your wife to sign the joint tax return each year; explain how that tax shelter is really questionable if the IRS checks. See if she has peace from the Lord about it too. However, if you're not willing to be totally open and honest, forget it. All you'll get is bad advice. Bad advice is worse than no advice at all!
If husbands can get to a point that they are willing to share every major decision with their wives, they will have made themselves accountable. Since we all are accountable before the Lord, this will save a lot of grief later.
Wives must be able to accept their responsibility to give counsel. If their feelings are easily hurt, they'll probably be excluded from most decisions by their husbands, just to avoid the grief. I've often delayed asking my wife's advice when I knew I'd gone further than I should have into a decision, for fear I'd hurt her feelings. The more I find I can trust her reactions to be under God's control, the more liberty I feel to share a decision. Sometimes I sense she is avoiding telling me how she feels because she knows it's not what I want to hear. I then remind her of Philippians 2:2, which says we must be of the same mind for God to bless us. If she shares what she believes is God's wisdom and I don't listen, then I am accountable. But if she agrees with a decision, believing it to be wrong, then she's accountable. Total honesty is very rare in this life because we live such isolated lives from each other. The one relationship in which honesty is possible is between a husband and wife.
How to get started?
First and foremost, don't get discouraged. You may be one of those fortunate couples who discuss everything, but if you fall in the other 90 percent category, it will require a reeducation. Make a commitment to make Christ the center of your marriage. If you do, then making decisions together will become a fundamental part of your marriage and business. Even if the wife doesn't want to be involved (rare case), she must be--in order to reach God's balance. Remember this as an incentive: Wives outlive their husbands over 80 percent of the time. Ultimately, she will be the decision maker.
Set aside a regular time to discuss current events in the business and any pending redirections or problems. If you find you can't discuss things rationally right now, then write them down. I have found with many couples, when emotions flare and old hurts are dredged up, having the wife write her counsel helps considerably. If a major decision is pending, schedule time together to discuss it. Don't get sidetracked by feelings and neglect God's promise: "Where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst" (Matthew 18:20).
To the husband I say that the commitment to begin involving your wife is up to you. If you don't want to make that commitment, then be honest with God about not desiring His best in your life. To the wife I say that, to the degree you are able to put aside old hurts and let God be the enforcer of your "rights," this plan will work. Be a counselor and a comforter, not a faultfinder. "Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband" (Ephesians 5:33).