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Taking Care of Small Business: Relationships and Partnerships

Business and pleasure don't always mix, but here are some tips to help.

Amber Mae Petersen weighs an order of fish for a customer at The Fish Monger's Wife in Norton Shores, Mich., on July 23, 2013. Amber operates the business with her husband Eric Petersen who is a fourth generation Lake Michigan fisherman.Photo Credit: KEN STEVENS/AP

You love someone, you trust someone, but should you then work with that someone? Many couples evaluate mingling their personal and professional lives, whether jointly starting or buying a new business, having one person join the other in an existing business or even working at the same established entity.

But should the couple that lives together work together too? While there is no one-size fits all answer, after working with my husband for a 10-year period before parting ways (professionally, not personally), I can share with you some of the pros and cons to consider in your risk/reward evaluation.

[sharequote align="center"]But should the couple that lives together work together too?[/sharequote]

The Pros - 'Til Death (or Bankruptcy) Do Us Part

I will start with the glass half full. There are a number of attractive aspects to working with a spouse or a significant other. These include:

Trust: Finding a business partner or fantastic co-worker requires putting your trust into another person, which is a challenging thing to do. Hopefully, there is nobody that you trust more than your spouse (if you hesitate on this, you have some other issues to consider.) If you can trust someone with your heart, you should be able to trust them in business as well.

Easy-Breezy: Not only is trust an issue, but it's grueling and hard to find partners or employees. The easy way out is to go with someone you already know to save you time in the search process.

Bonding: Working jointly on projects can enhance your relationship. When you create something of value together, you deepen your bond and connection.

[sharequote align="center"]When you create something of value together, you deepen your bond and connection.[/sharequote]

Empathy: It's much easier to have compassion and support for your spouse when you have front-row tickets to understanding what the other person is going through. This can make it easier to deal with some of the pitfalls of business, or at least lessen the burden on the home front from a rough day at the office.

As a practical matter, you can save gas money by carpooling too, which is not a trivial thing in this economy.

The Cons -  Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

There are always pros and cons in every situation, and layering a business relationship atop a personal one will change the dynamic of the relationship and can create some unintended consequences. Some of the not-so-great aspects of going into business with your life partner include:

Amplification: Mixing business and pleasure can become exponentially stressful when there are two people riding the same roller coaster. Problems in business may morph into problems for relationship. Additionally, if you have problems at home, those can seep back into the business as well. It's hard to draw a clear line between your personal day and your professional one.

Amber Mae Petersen weighs an order of fish for a customer at The Fish Monger's Wife in Norton Shores, Mich., on July 23, 2013. Amber operates the business with her husband Eric Petersen who is a fourth generation Lake Michigan fisherman.Photo Credit: KEN STEVENS/AP

Diversification: Working in the same company puts your family's financial "eggs" all in one basket. If something happens to the business or industry goes through downfall, all of your income is at stake. Dual-income families can benefit from the spouses working in different companies and industries.

Politics: As an employee, it's tough to work with or for couples, because they are naturally protective of each other. How do you tell your co-worker or your boss that their spouse is incompetent or ineffective? Working as a couple can make it difficult to attract top talent to your business or create challenges with your other co-workers in the office because of the personal connection and history between you and your spouse.

Overkill: This is potentially one of the most under-appreciated issues, but should not be taken lightly. Not having independent lives can put out the relationship flame with couples. You may tire of each other from seeing one another nearly every waking hour or become bored from constant business talk day and night. Having some mystery and independence is good for a healthy relationship.

[sharequote align="center"]Not having independent lives can put out the relationship flame with couples.[/sharequote]

Fewer Benefits: Especially if you are working in or starting a small business, you may not benefit (pun intended) from the great benefits of your spouse's employer, because now you are working together. This may seem trivial, but having access to great health care, paid vacation and other perks isn't called a "benefit" for nothing.

If you do decide to take the plunge together, I have found there a couple of scenarios that may lead to more success.  This includes pinch-hitting, where one spouse helps with the start-up of a business or from time-to-time, but there is a clear plan for one person to exit the business (this is only a short-term solution). Also, if your company is large enough, consider working in separate departments and have limited daily interaction.

While only you and your spouse or significant other can decide on the best scenario for you and the relationship, take into account those pros and cons as well as any that pertain to your situation very seriously and if you do take that next step, set clear guidelines to make sure you make the most of both your personal and professional lives.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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