Watching a stranger emerge from your lover

I dropped in on an old friend who, since I’d last seen him, has not only gone into business for himself, but is working with his wife. Couples who can manage to do this sort of thing fascinate me.

So I asked him, “How is she as a co-worker?”

“She’s great,” he replied. What else is he going to say?

Working with someone with whom you’re already entangled is the reverse of the workplace romance as we usually know it. Instead of watching a lover emerge from a stranger, you watch a stranger of sorts, a professional self, emerge from your lover.

That’s exciting, sure, and many couples’ complaints won’t be yours anymore. You’ll certainly see enough of each other, be more involved in each other’s lives, but we should always be careful what we wish for.

Is your attachment strong enough to survive a highly personal office brand of politics? What happens to your relationship — or your business — when one or the other fails? The exit interview could be remarkably unpleasant. How do you make your partnership more Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, less Ike and Tina Turner?

Times like these, in which jobs evaporate and self-employment beckons, tempt more couples to experiment with working together. It’s been tried often enough that there are countless how-to articles, written by successful power couplers, usually with lists of rules.

Alas, since these are relationships after all, everybody’s rules are different, and often contradictory. “What happens at work stays at work,” advises one guru. “What happens at home stays at home.”

Another warns, “Don’t separate work from the rest of your life … The idea that ‘work time’ and ‘time off’ are separate is a false distinction.”

Thanks for clearing that up, gurus.

I’ve never tried this particular setup myself (I prefer to be the one listening to the complaints about work than the subject of those complaints) but I’ve seen many couples do it with style. Unsurprisingly, they tend to be married. Any marriage, after all, is already a de facto small business.

My friend and his wife, when I visited, were not showing any adverse signs from months of being cooped up together day and night. The division of labour has gone smoothly and, naturally, she’s got the business’s paperwork in unprecedented fettle.

They work mostly from home, but he’s also got an office, so clients can be entertained somewhere other than the kitchen with the kids.

She’s also looking for work in her own field, so this team-up isn’t likely to last forever. The relationship, from all indications, will.

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