THE OLD BALL AND CHAIN: Tips for a Healthy Marriage or Association

By: Rachel Luoma

In April, my husband, Erik and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary.  It has been a wonderful seven years! I have a lovely home, two beautiful children and at least 30 extra pounds to show for it!  As I think back on our years of wedded bliss, it makes me think of the parallels between association management and marriage.

My wonderful husband Erik

Come to think of it, I have actually been in associations longer than I have been married – in January, I celebrated eight years as an association management professional.  I have worked in almost every facet of associations from membership, meetings, publications, finance, operations, communications, marketing, board relations – you name it and I have some experience in it.

Hopefully all that variety was helpful as I took my Certified Association Executive (CAE) examination in May. The CAE designation is offered by the American Society of Association Executives and is “designed to elevate professional standards, enhance individual performance, and designate association professionals who demonstrate the knowledge essential to the practice of association management.”  If I pass, you can expect another blog on the topic later this year.

A marriage has many similarities to association work.  Both require you to be a “jack of all trades”, utilize a tremendous amount of heart, patience and communication and aim to develop strong and long-lasting mutually beneficial relationships.

I wanted to share a few tips that I have picked up along the way that have helped me in my marriage and also in my career as an association professional.

TIP #1: Express Your Honest Opinion

I always tell my husband that if I have broccoli in my teeth and he sees it, to tell me. Of course, I ask that he convey it in an appropriate and respectful manner – but at the very least – tell me!

The same holds true in association management.  At times we, as association professionals, will be called upon to provide an opinion, on a contentious issue, that may differ from other staff or leadership.  While it may not be an easy thing to do, our responsibility as staff is to be honest and to provide our perspective.

Strong relationships are built on a foundation of honesty, trust and appreciation.  It is imperative that when we are trying to build and maintain a strong relationship in our association careers that we are honest – even though sometimes it can be difficult.

TIP # 2: Don’t Fight in Front of the Children

My beautiful boys – Jacob (4) and Matthew (2)

There are times in every marriage where there is disagreement.  One day it is because the dishwasher wasn’t unloaded, the next day it is because the toilet seat is up.  It is inevitable that something makes you angry or that there is some topic that warrants additional discussion or debate.

However, my husband and I made an agreement before we had our children that we won’t argue or fight in front of our children. Instead, we wanted to present a united front so that our kids understood that we were together on the issues.

This is very similar to association management.  At times, amongst staff or within leadership, there may be contentious issues that require a great deal of debate and discussion.  It is important that deliberation and debate, takes place privately, such as at a board meeting, not necessarily out in the open.  It is also important that once a decision is made, all parties, regardless of whether or not they agree with the outcome, present a cohesive and united appearance.

TIP #3: Always Kiss Goodnight

My husband and I resolved early in our relationship never to go to bed angry and to always kiss each other goodnight.  It doesn’t always happen, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try.  Relationships take work and open communication whether in marriage or in associations.

The same holds true for association work.  You may have that member who calls and is angry about a situation or openly disagrees with the association.  But at the end of the day, you still have to try to diffuse the situation and end the call on a positive note (i.e. with a kiss).

It doesn’t always work out like that (i.e. sometimes we want to tell the person where they can kiss it), but as association professionals, we have to make every attempt to resolve a situation in a respectful and positive manner.

Rachel and Pig2
Kissing a pig in Sedona, AZ

TIP# 4: Give Him the Pretty Cookie

Before my husband and I got married, my best friend, Liz, gave me this sage advice.  What she was saying is that presentation matters and sometimes you have to put the wants of others before your own wants.

Rachel and Liz
With my best friend Liz

 For those of us that like to cook for our significant other, we know that sometimes we have various outcomes –  the first batch of cookies may not be as great as the second batch of cookies or vice versa.  However, make sure that you select the best looking cookie and give that to your significant other. They will appreciate the gesture and you get an extra cookie.

The same holds true for associations.  Not everything that we do for our members is gold.  Newsflash, you can’t please every member.  However, it is important that we always put our best foot forward and in the event we make a mistake, we take accountability and then work on the next batch of cookies.  Hopefully, the member will appreciate your vulnerability and desire to improve.

In closing, no marriage is perfect – they take a lot of hard work and dedication. But in the end, it is well worth it.  Association work is no different.  There are good days and bad days, highs and lows, mistakes and celebrations.  But like a marriage, association work can prove to be extremely rewarding for all.


6 thoughts on “THE OLD BALL AND CHAIN: Tips for a Healthy Marriage or Association

  1. Thoughtful and valuable, Rachel. I learn something meaningful (and fun) every time I’m with you, virtually or face to face. Keep observing. Keep writing! Judy Gray

  2. Thanks so much Judy! You have taught me so much throughout the years! I am glad I finally got to return the favor!

  3. Rachel – have you considered presenting this as an Ignite session with ASAE? It would be perfect! Anyway, I’m planning to pass this around to our other staff members as well as the staff of our affiliate organizations. I think that what you’ve written is insightful and will resonate with so many. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for the kind words Jamie! I am slowly building up courage to submit a presentation to ASAE, but am not quite there yet. I appreciate you sharing the blog and hope that you and your staff find it to be both to be helpful and humorous! Take care – Rachel

  5. Hi, Rachel.

    What a fun article! I could see V2 talking about lessons from marriage that apply to working in an AMC, specifically – or lessons from an AMC that apply to family life,

    Good luck on the CAE! Results should be out soon (if they aren’t already) as the Exam Cmte met towards the end of May. I’m looking forward to seeing you at ASAE. I finally got up the nerve to present to speak – please come to my session on Sunday: 30 Ideas To Innovate the Workplace.

    Liz Langston

  6. Hi Liz! Thanks so much for the feedback on the blog! Getting anxious about the CAE results, but regardless of how I did, I learned SO much about association management during the process! I would recommend the CAE to anyone because of that alone! If I make it to annual this year you can expect to see me in the front row of your session! Go get ’em! – Rachel

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