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The Pros and Cons of Working With Your Spouse

Aaron Guerrero

Working with your spouse can be bliss or a nightmare, depending on how you approach the endeavor. On the one hand, the burdens of your job can be lightened by the daily sight of the one you love. On the other hand, a relational souring in either realm can leave you trying to avoid each other not only at home but in the office, too. As you cross the threshold from spouse to colleague, here are some potential drawbacks and solutions to consider.

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Physical distance is important. The forces of home and work may put you and your other half side-by-side from sun up to sun down. And a round-the-clock viewing of your other half could transform the one you love into the one you can't escape. "Spending 24 hours a day with one person, you need to break it up with other people," recommends Susan Heathfield, a management consultant and human resources expert for

You may want to make your lunch hour the separation hour. Sure, breaking bread doesn't have to be taboo. But your temporary time off the clock can be used as an opportunity for catching up with another co-worker who isn't your spouse.

Early-morning drives to work are a toss-up. Slurping your coffee while discussing the challenges of an upcoming project or the closing of a deal with an important client can become a therapeutic exercise. At the same time, cleansing the discussion of anything work-related may be more beneficial for the both of you. If the temptation to speak about work is too great, consider commuting separately.

Power structure. In any organization, there are clear lines of authority. A business started from scratch by you and your spouse shouldn't be any different.

Like your marriage, make the power-sharing agreement one defined by cooperation and consultation rather than one-sided authority. Regardless of the strength of your marriage, being business partners will inevitably lead to a butting of heads.

"No matter how devoted you are to successfully working with your spouse, you are going to disagree about things," says Heathfield. "You have your human egos that will occasionally get in the way."

The recipe for limiting the damage is to delegate responsibilities that play to each person's strengths. That's the approach Brian and Michelle Mattingly took in 2003 when they founded Welcomemat Services, an Atlanta-based marketing company that uses direct mail to lure new neighborhood residents to local businesses. With Brian as the CEO and Michelle as the vice president of operations, the company has expanded into 21 markets throughout the United States. "We do know where our strengths fit," Brian says. "Michelle and I are very different in personalities and she has a lot of skills that I don't, so I think we both have a very good understanding of who needs to take what and run with it."

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Financial risk. If one spouse receives a pink slip, half your income is gone. With both of you working for the same employer or serving as the partnering brains behind your start-up business, all financial eggs are in one basket. In this economic climate, that's a significant risk.

Ideally, a couple on the cusp of jump-starting a business would first explore whether the market is receptive to the product. Before Welcomemat Services fully went live, the Mattinglys test-drove their product in their local community to gauge the interest of local businesses and organizations. The experiment produced demand and verified that the couple's idea was a practical reality. "We knew the market was there," Brian explains.

If you anticipate that your new business will be slow to reach profitability, you and your spouse could also decide to keep side jobs. Build a nest egg, then game out when both of you've decided that your new venture is sustainable and profitable. Don't let unbridled professional wants cloud your financial well-being.

Food and family at the dinner table. Once the time clock has been punched and the two of you arrive at home, extinguish the office talk. The work grind has consumed enough of your thoughts and energy. Let the casual and relaxed environment of home put your mind at ease, at least for a few hours. "For us, the biggest challenge is maybe turning work off," Brian explains. "We have to remember: Don't bring up something that happened at work today."

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