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The Pros and Cons Of Working With Your Significant Other

In an age were we are blending more of our work and life together, could working with your romantic partner be the ultimate career move?

The Pros and Cons Of Working With Your Significant Other
[Photo: Flickr user Sascha Kohlmann]

Freud defined normality as the capacity to love and work. What if you could kill two birds with one stone and date a work colleague, or go into business with your romantic partner? In an age were work-life fusion has become a desirable and aspirational substitute for work-life balance, could this be the ultimate career advice?

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Let us first consider some of the benefits of work-love integration, as highlighted by scientific studies from organizational psychology.

The Case For

Increase Stress Resistance
Research has shown that work-linked couples are generally more resilient in the face of stress. The main reason is that they tend to perceive that they have their partner’s support, which helps them cope with difficult moments at work. In addition, partners are more likely to be more supportive about each other’s work problems when they work together. Thus working with your spouse can help you navigate difficult job situations.

Lower Chance Of Burnout
Meta-analytic studies have shown that people are less likely to burn out in their careers if they experience support from their work colleagues. In line, burnout rates are generally lower in work-linked couples than the average employee population. A further reason explaining this finding is that couples who work together need to invest fewer psychological resources on integrating their work and family lives, which enables them to use more resources in both areas of life.

Higher Engagement At Work
Given that work-linked couples have more integrated work and family roles–their behavior, attitudes and values don’t change much between work and family contexts–they are more likely to be engaged at work. Conversely, when employees experience a psychological distance between the role they play at work and the role they play in personal contexts, such as at home, they are at risk of experiencing disengagement, and even alienation, at work. People strive to maintain a coherent self-view, and that is always easier when they behave in consistent ways across different settings.

Importantly, many of the above benefits still hold when couples don’t share a common workspace or organization. Indeed, even sharing an occupation or profession can reduce stress and burnout while increasing engagement levels.

The Downsides

There is also a downside to working with your romantic partner, particularly if you are a woman. Research shows that women tend to earn and advance their career less when they cofound a business with their romantic partners. These data suggest that women who go into business with their husbands may be less independent and assertive than those who pursue a separate career.

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Another obvious disadvantage of working with your romantic partner is that relationship problems are likely to spill over to work. This can range from minor couple disputes to major relationship issues, including break-ups and divorce. The closer the couples work together, the more these personal issues will interfere with their work, and these problems will also affect other colleagues who may often be trapped in the middle of their conflicts. It is not uncommon in such cases for one of the partners to be forced to change jobs and even careers, just to avoid being with their ex.

Finally, when work-linked couples have senior management roles they will almost inevitably increase the level of politics in the organization. As many employees will have experienced, it is not easy to forget that your bosses are married, or that one of them is married to your colleague. At times work-linked couples make an effort to behave as if they were just colleagues, but other employees generally struggle to pretend that that is the case.

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