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In the past decade, more couples are going into business together than ever before.Glenn Muske, an Oklahoma State University professor who has spent six years studying the topic, estimates that 3 million of the 22 million U.S. small businesses in 2000 were couple-owned.
Mariam Hawley and Jeffrey McIntyre, a married couple of 30 years recently published “You and Your Partner, Inc.“, a book about the growing trend of entrepreneurial couples.
What they found after conducting over 50 interviews with couples of all ages in all types of industries is that for the most part, the co-partnership actually strengthens their romances and businesses.
Our interview with Hawley and McIntyre shed some light on the reasons for this emerging trend. Part of it is that corporate America sometimes stifles couples’ options for the type of lifestyle they want to lead. Long hours and structured workplaces leave little time for them to spend together and less opportunity to express and use multiple parts of their personalities, skills and talents.
Hawley explains, “In corporate America, while there are some pockets that really nourish the whole person and give space to the whole person, and some companies in particular that have put a fair amount of energy into doing that, it’s not the model across the board. If you want to take charge of your life, your whole life, then going into business for yourself as a couple gives you some opportunities to make sure your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being is handled well, and to make sure you spend the kind of time you want with your kids.”
Some people also want different lives than the ones their parents led. They’re deciding to experiment with different lifestyles. Hawley says, “People also saw their parents just married to their work and don’t want that. So we’re looking for new ways to live life and live a whole life. And I think as a couple starting a business for yourselves, it’s one really appealing option. It’s not the only one, and for some couples that would be the worst choice.”
These changes are coming with changes in corporate culture and expectations of relationships. Hawley says people in their 20s and 30s look at their parents who worked for one company for 30 years and then got a gold watch. But, she points out, this type of work life is long gone.
When couples go into business together they have the advantage of knowing each other’s skill sets, proclivities and interests, says Hawley. They can therefore put more parts of each other’s talents and skills to use. Hawley says these strenghts really need to be honored by both people and at the same time, they need to be willing to hire others if neither partner has a particular skill needed for the business.
But the one thing you need to be sure of if you decide to go into business with your significant other Hawley says, is that you enjoy spending a lot of time together. This seems obvious but a lot of couples value their separate careers and time spent apart. If that sounds like you, it’s best to avoid an entrepreneurial partnership.
Hawley explains, “If you absolutely don’t enjoy spending a lot of time together or enjoy having a lot of conversation, then you probably ought not to be in business together. But couples that chose to be in business together or want to join in the other’s business that the first had begun, are people who enjoy spending time together, communicate well, and know how to take care of themselves and support each other.”