Making Romantic Relationships Tick: Objective and Subjective Time Use and Relationship Quality Among Business Owners

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Virginia Tech

This study assesses the contextual aspect of working in a family business on intimate relationships. Guided by principles of ecological theory, this study explores the unique situation of individuals who work with an intimate partner in a business they own and how this situation manifests itself in their close relationship. Individuals in a family business are confronted with a potentially unique family-work experience, especially for spouses/partners who work together in a business. It is hypothesized that objective and subjective work time influence couple relationship quality.

Six specific hypotheses centered on the connection between family and work microsystems as well as the influence of macrosystem beliefs regarding family, work, and gender were assessed by regression analysis. Ninety-nine individuals completed a demographic and daily diary online. The sample was 52.53% men, 78.79% White, and educated (63.63% held at least Bachelor degrees). The majority of the sample was legally married (91.92%), with an average relationship length of 16.20 years (SD = 12.74 years).

Regression analyses revealed limited support for the hypotheses. For people in family businesses, working more hours was associated with greater withdrawal from their intimate partner. Perceiving work time as sad was linked to more withdrawal from partner and more anger with partner, but not linked with feelings of closeness to partner. People who felt time at work as appreciated reported feeling closer to their intimate partner. The more respondents believed it was meaningful to distinguish between work and family, the less closeness to their partner they reported. Finally, age was significant for relationship quality, with younger individuals reporting more withdrawal and anger with partner and less closeness to their partner than did older individuals.

This study contributes to research exploring the connection between family and work among individuals who work together in family businesses. While objective work time was associated with the measure of withdrawal from a partner, objective work time did not significantly contribute to the report of anger with a partner or closeness to a partner. Overall, how individuals felt during work time had an effect on their spousal/partner relationship, with feeling sad at work associated with more relationship withdrawal and anger, and feeling appreciated at work associated with more closeness. Limited support for the model suggests there may be unique processes of work and family operating within family businesses. Although work and family microsystems were connected in this study of family business owners, the links between work and family were different from previous research on dual- and single-earner families. Future research should untangle the processes through which work and family and time are connected, with attention to larger cultural influences, particularly how individuals within family businesses do work and family and how families ascribe to and enact gender within family businesses. In addition, further research should assess the degree to which microsystems can be differentiated in populations characterized by an extreme mesosystem connection between work and family.

Intimate relationships, family business, time, ecological theory