5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start a Business with Your Spouse (or Romantic Partner)

James O'Brien

Starting a business with your romantic partner is a matter of the heart. That is, launching an enterprise with a spouse or loved one is not only about the legal and practical considerations, it’s an inherently personal event. There’s more than just profit and quarterly growth on the line.

Consider the balancing act you’re about to begin. Beyond the structure of your business and how roles within it are mapped, in what ways will you handle the emotional and personal side of this new enterprise?

For insight and help, let’s turn to small-business owners who’ve managed to start a company together and steer it to success — what follow are five key questions to ask before you open shop together.

1. Does spending all day, every day engaged in the same location and/or effort scare you?

Prepare to say goodbye to much of the together/apart rhythm that separates work experiences in most relationships. “For many people, going to work might mean a necessary break from the significant other,” said David Dewhirst, CEO and co-founder (with his wife) of ThreeTwelve Creative. “Think carefully about whether you can handle not having daily extended breaks like that.”

2. Can you set work/home conversation rules?

Conversation about work will encroach upon every facet of your lives together. “You will talk about it in the shower, on vacation, in line at the bank, over breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Amber Sawaya, partner and creative director at Sawaya Consulting (which she started with her husband). And so, discuss the rules. Maybe it’s fine to talk about the new enterprise all the time. Or, maybe you allow for one hour of business talk after getting home and then agree to leave it out of your dinner discussions.

3. Are you able to leave part of your relationship at home?

“Simple things like a comment on appearance, eating habits, etc, which are normal in a romantic relationship, can cause unnecessary issues for other employees,” warned Anand Ramdeo, who founded Planned Departure with his partner. “They might get the impression that it’s the culture of the company. So it’s important to leave that part of your personal relationship at home.”

4. Do you share the same ethical stance?

What if one of you is a shark about business decisions and the other is a gentler kind of dealmaker? Understanding your own approach to workplace ethics and practices — and then confirming that your partner shares them — is not only critical to your business’s success, it’s probably crucial to your relationship’s health as well.

5. How do you react to the ups and down of business?

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? “Honestly, it helps to have one of each,” said Soren Ryherd, who started Working Planet with his wife. “The pessimist will ground things in hard realities, and the optimist will see apple pie everywhere. The reality of running a business is in the middle ground, and both views help get you there.”

Finally, be certain that your confidence is born out of a sense that your spouse or partner possesses the brand of business acumen you’d want in any co-ownership arrangement. Then, run an emotional/relationship checklist, like the one above.

If you’re on the same page, get ready for a lot of hard work — but also the privilege of building something together that can bring you even closer to the one you love.

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