In Love and In Business Together

Going into business with a partner has its own set of challenges, but when that person is someone you love, an even greater level of complexity is introduced. Yet there are many couples who say this is the best thing that has happened for them and their marriage. Certainly mom and pop businesses have been the mainstays of our society for centuries. There are many large enterprises that started just this way.

With the advent of big chain stores in the mid-twentieth century, however, there was a sharp decline in the number of small, couple-run businesses. At the dawn of this century, that trend seems to have bottomed out and started the swing back upwards as more and more couples reject the long commutes and demands on time of corporate America. Couples starting stepping back into small businesses first as franchises of the big chains, then as entrepreneurial businesses in their own right. Mom and pop businesses are back and doing well.

Running a business with someone you care about is not something to jump into lightly. There are a lot of hazards that can stress the relationship, including resentment and frustration about business issues, household chores or money problems, communication problems and disagreements about how to manage the business.

Support groups for couples in business together are available on the internet and in many large metropolitan areas. One on the internet is the Entrepreneurial Couples Success Newsletter, a free online newsletter dedicated to helping business owners build a thriving business while enjoying a rewarding intimate relationship. Also helpful are the family business web sites and centers that are springing up. I list a number of the most comprehensive sites in my list of Family Business Links. The About Guides to Marriage also provide some good Communication Skills links to help develop a dialog about how to handle the challenges you face. They set a good example themselves, jointly running their portion of About as a couple.

Words of Advice

Advice abounds. One of the soundest suggestions is to write down basic guidelines for how the business will be managed, similar to any partnership agreement that one would undertake. List every item that you think could cause disagreement for either or both of you. Then determine how you are going to resolve disagreements in each of these instances. The written document should also include what the financial commitments are for each of you, what hours of work each of you will be working, what your job responsibilities are, and how changes in the agreement will be handled. Putting this in writing will go a long way towards preventing problems in the future and will help you anticipate challenges that might arise.

Other items above and beyond the normal business operations issues that you might want to include in such an agreement are:

  • Who deals with emergency child care situations?

  • How are vacations handled?

  • Who deals with home emergencies and repairs?

  • How do you differentiate between working time and home time?

  • Who goes back to work if the business doesn't work?

  • Are there off limits times and/or spaces where business is not discussed?

  • How often do you meet to discuss what is happening in the business?

  • How do you resolve conflicts?

The other most common piece of advice is to recognize that you will disagree -- learn to respect and learn from those differences. Couples who are successful at running businesses together seem to enjoy the different perspective. They not only deal well with the differences, they thrive on them. Finding the humor and joy in interactions that are not always ideal will go a long way towards keeping both of you on track towards having both a successful relationship and a successful business.