05/26/2011 03:49 pm ET Updated Jul 26, 2011

'Til Death (or Bankruptcy) Do Us Part: The Pros and Cons of Mixing Marriage With Business

Many couples consider working together, 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. If you and your significant other have talked about this, you may be wondering if this something you should consider.

While there is no "right" answer for balancing this intermingling of personal and professional lives, after working with my own 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.

'Til Death (or Bankruptcy) Do Us Part

There are several factors that make working with a spouse or significant other very attractive. These include:

The Trust Factor: Finding a business partner or fantastic co-worker requires putting your trust into another person, which is challenging 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, it is probably safe to think you can trust them with your business affairs too.

It's Easy: 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.

Compassion: It's much easier to have compassion and support 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 homefront from a rough day at the office.

Go, Team: It can enhance your relationship to work jointly on projects. When you create something of value together, you can deepen your bond and connection.

And of course, you can save gas money by carpooling too, which is not a trivial thing in this economy!

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 of Problems: Mixing business and pleasure can be extra crazy 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.

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.

Political Strife: 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 a slacker or incompetent? Working together 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.

You Again?: This is potentially one of the most underappreciated issues, but should not be taken likely. Not having independent lives can make the marriage flame burn out with couples. You may tire of each other from seeing each other nearly every waking hour or become bored from constant business talk day and night. Having some mystery and independence is good for a healthy marriage.

Not Benefitting from 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 healthcare, paid vacation and other perks isn't called a "benefit" for nothing.

If you do decide to take the plunge together, I have found that spouses or partners working together often works best in these scenarios:

The Pinch-Hitter: One spouse helps with start-up of a business or in a pinch, but there is a clear plan for one person to exit the business (aka, this is only a short-term solution); or

The Departmental Divide: The company is large enough that you can work in separate departments and have limited daily interaction.

While only you and your spouse can decide on the best scenario for you and the marriage, 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 relationship.


Carol Roth is a business strategist, deal maker and author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. She has helped her clients, ranging from solopreneurs to multinational corporations, raise more than $1 billion in capital, complete hundreds of millions of dollars in M&A transactions, secure high-profile licensing and partnership deals and develop brand loyalty programs.

Carol is a frequent radio, television and print media contributor on the topics of business and entrepreneurship, having appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, Fox Business, WGN TV Chicago and more. Additionally, Carol's Unsolicited Business Advice blog at was recently named as one of the Top 10 small business blogs online.