Should You Mix Business with Pleasure?

While watching Shark Tank, I noticed a trend — many budding entrepreneurs have partnered up with their significant others. The more I thought about it, the choice seemed to make sense. Having a partner that lives in the same house, who you can trust, and are both 100% invested in the business is a huge advantage.

Often with non-spousal business partners, troubles arise when:

  • Egos collide
  • Roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined
  • Communication breaks down
  • Trust erodes
  • There’s an inequality (or even perceived inequality) of output or outcome
  • and on and on

Most of these problems shouldn’t exist with your spouse provided you are in a healthy relationship since your criteria for entering a romantic relationship with someone should have already pre-qualified them for entering a business relationship.

In other words, if you and your romantic partner have poor communication, lack trust, have a different set of values and work ethic, and have diverging ideas on most things, chances are the relationship won’t even make it to the business stage. In effect, entering a relationship should pre-screen a lot of the poor business partners well in advance.

Although poor communication, lack of trust, etc. can occur in both kinds of relationships, the difference is that you may not know a non-spousal business partner in the same way, so many of these traits may be concealed from you, only revealing themselves once it’s too late.

Avoiding two constants in human nature

Two constants about human nature are:

  1. Everybody wants to make more money
  2. Everybody wants recognition for their work

When you work with your spouse, money shouldn’t really be an issue. What difference does it make how you divvy up the pie when you are both on the same team?

In a normal work setting, if a person isn’t getting the credit they feel they deserve, they may not say anything for fear of damaging their reputation and avoiding confrontation. Instead, they will typically bottle their feelings up and complain about it to their spouse when they get home. 

However, this problem may not exist with a business partnership with a spouse since the two would naturally be open to expressing their feelings to each other.

The Pros

1. Complimentary skillsets

Often people get together with others who naturally complement them — their strengths are your weaknesses, and vice versa. This makes a natural scenario to transition from a spousal partnership into a business partnership. By determining what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are, you can then assign different job functions accordingly.

As with any partnership, it is important to establish clearly defined boundaries from the beginning that you both sign off on. That way, if a conflict arises, there is some objective benchmark that can arbitrate.

2. Trust

Being able to trust someone is a huge advantage. In typical business partnerships (with a friend or colleague), there may be a risk your partner will leave for a more lucrative opportunity, or they are secretly undermining the business’s goal. Generally speaking, this will not apply in spousal business partnerships.

3. Communication

Communication is key. Having such a close connection with someone you work with can be a blessing since you can understand situations that non-spousal partners and employees may not.

4. Differing perspectives

Having a different perspective can allow you to see problems and solutions from other view points. In business, we call this a ‘second sober thinker’.

The Cons

1. More stress

Let’s face it, starting a business puts a lot of stress on people. When decisions need to be made under pressure, a person can lash out at those around them, especially when those decisions can make or break a company. In fact, a person may feel even more inclined to take out their frustrations on their partner.

2. Blurred lines

The lines between personal and professional may become blurred. Some people may become too consumed in thinking about the business that they forget to be sweet and tender. Another scenario may arise where a person may be blunt and direct at work, and then continue to speak this way when not at work. Adversely, a person may speak bluntly at work, and the other person takes personal offense to it.

A disagreement can arise in one arena and then carry over into the other. In either case, it could end up ruining both relationships.

3. Double-edged sword

In heterosexual relationships, men and women often think differently. This is a double edge sword. It can be a blessing if handled correctly; however, it can also cause a lot of frustration and tension when a couple has diverging opinions on important decisions.

4. More vulnerability

Most couples do not work together so a large portion of their day is spent apart. So when you come home and talk about work, generally your partner must rely on your word alone as to how you preform. It is a natural temptation to paint yourself in a certain light so that you come across as the good-guy (or girl) and that nothing is ever your fault. You want to look like a hero in your partners eyes. 

However, once you work together, that veil is lifted and you become completely exposed. Your partner now sees all aspects of you —your intelligence, competence, creativity, and work ethic. This can make a person feel very vulnerable and hostile if their ego is threatened. If you perceive your spouse to be smarter than you, more creative, better at client acquisition… you may become embarrassed, bitter, hurtful, resentful, etc.

5. Frustration

Working with your spouse may cause a person to not treat their partner the same way that they would a colleague. They may not show the same level of respect, take them for granted, have unrealistic expectations, and get frustrated easier.

6. Secrecy

If the company grows, having your spouse in a high-ranking position can cause problems with other colleagues ranging from favoritism to stifling communication. An employee may not be completely open about an issue with one partner for fear of being reprimanded by the other. Over time, this could create secrecy within your company.

Last Word of Advice

If you work with your partner, try to keep the relationship professional, productive, and drama free.