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How Much Should You Tell Your Spouse About Your Company's Finances?

Two experts disagree about the right approach to keeping your better half informed. Whose side are you on?

Pretty much everyone agrees that honesty is the foundation of any functional relationship, but anyone who's actually been in one for awhile can also tell you that a pinch of discretion sometimes doesn't hurt either. Really don't feel like seeing your mother-in-law this weekend? Smile anyway. Not sure about that new haircut? Nevermind, say you love it.

Strategic management of information can be a kindness, but does the "of course you always look ravishing" principle apply to what you disclose to your spouse about your company's finances? Is brutal honesty best, or should you administer a small dose of sugar to make the news a little more palatable for your partner?

Love Is... a Little Bit of Discretion

Two experts recently came down on opposite sides of this debate, with Barry Moltz kicking off the discussion on the American Express OPEN Forum blog. A firm member of the "less information is sometimes more" camp, Moltz offers readers seven things to never tell your spouse about your business finances.

These include day-to-day cash-flow problems (just give him or her the big picture instead, i.e., "cash will be tight for six months" or "things are looking up through December"), updates on your own incompetence (keep your mouth shut and learn what needs learning instead), and too many details about early-stage negotiations for an acquisition--lest you get his or her hopes up.

The bottom line for Moltz: "While I never suggest lying to your spouse, the details of running a small business always change. You have to deal with it, but why should your spouse?"

No Delicate Flowers Around Here

On the other hand, Tim Berry, founder of  Palo Alto Software, thinks limiting your spouse's exposure to your own financial stress isn't always the right way to play things. Besides taking issue with Moltz's consistently referring to spouses as "she" (which is pretty obviously neither accurate nor cool), Berry objects to the underlying tone (and perhaps deeper assumptions of outdated relationship stereotypes) in Moltz's post.

"The whole 'don't worry your pretty head' motif is 1.) offensive and 2.) obsolete," he says. These days, small business owners' partners aren't all wives, nor are they generally delicate feminine flowers in need of gentle handling. Your spouse, in other words, is probably tough enough to take the unvarnished truth.

But Berry sees other reasons for openness as well, primarily among them, mitigating your own loneliness. Moltz advises against telling your partner straight off if you lose a big client or deal, for instance, but Berry strongly disagrees. "That idea makes for an incredibly lonely entrepreneur. Nobody normal can help fretting over that kind of situation. Not to share it with the most important person in your life, who is by definition a person who is going to share the consequences if you go under, is horrendously bad advice," he argues.

Plus, if you're completely open with your partner, there is less risk of resentment when things get rough. "Being candid has immense benefits," Berry concludes, referencing his own relationship. "At several key points along the way, [my wife] made it clear that we would take the risk together. There was never the threat of 'I told you so, why did you leave a good job, you idiot!' What she said was 'if you fail, we'll fail together, and then we'll figure it out. We'll be okay.'"

Do you agree with Moltz or Berry?

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Last updated: Jul 9, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in Cyprus with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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