Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationships — with romantic partners, family members, co-workers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]!
Q: My partner and I have been talking for a while about the idea of starting a business together, but until recently, it was just talk. He recently addressed the idea more seriously, and I’m starting to get cold feet. We have a great relationship, and rarely fight — and I don’t want to compromise that by going into business together. Is it a bad idea to work with your loved one? How can we navigate a romantic relationship and a professional one without ruining both?
A: Starting a business with your partner can be a wonderful and rewarding experience, professionally and personally. AND… You are rightfully concerned about starting a business with your partner. Many people delve into “profam relationships” — my term for people who have a professional relationship with a family member — without recognizing both the professional and social liability of such unions. Be aware that adding a “social” contract with an “employment” contract is not without its complexities, and tensions. The boardroom does not operate under the same rules as the bedroom.
In and of itself it is not “a bad idea to work with a loved one.” What’s most important is that you are aligned with the vision of the business and have similar goals and values. If there is anything less than solid congruence on vision, goals, and values, and this remains unaddressed, a later upheaval is likely — actually just like what happens in partner relationships! Differences in these realms should be ironed out now. Having open, honest discussions with one another is table stakes for profams and forms the foundation upon which the complexities will be navigated together, potentially becoming very rewarding rather than extremely detrimental.
Ask yourself, what is the motivation behind becoming a profam couple? What skillsets do you have an as entrepreneur versus those that your partner possesses? The more complimentary those skills are, the better.
Ideally, learn how to fight productively before embarking on a business venture together. Objectivity can be comprised as conflicts from home can seep into conflicts from work and vice versa. “Rarely fighting” in and of itself is not a marker of a great relationship, at work or at home. John Gottman’s work has taught us that “effectively repairing” fights is the real marker of success in relationships.
Problem-solving and decision making are essential to running a successful business. Check that you are unimpinged in your approach and, ultimately, your perspective. Are you deferring to, or on the contrary, opposing your partner’s perspective based on last night’s amazing tryst under the covers, or was last night’s huge fight over the socks on the floor a factor that led to your stance? Taking the time to think through how you arrive at your opinions is important in family owned businesses since objectivity can be compromised by the dual roles that you play.
Many a profam couple have lamented about losing their romantic spark because the only thing that they ever seem to talk about is business. It’s hard to keep a work-life balance, but having your partner as your co-founder can now make that balance even harder. Creating boundaries such as prohibiting one another from talking about work during the hours of 7-9 p.m., for example, can create the space necessary to engage with one another as partners again.
Creating a business is not unlike having a baby — it requires lots of dedication, patience, love, and sleepless nights. If you are ready to embark on this tumult together it will need lots of attention and heart, those very qualities that you led you into considering this union in the first place!
More from Asking for a Friend here.