Karen Elliott had the perfect job, but then she listened to her husband.
For five years, she worked as a department secretary at the New Mexico School for the Deaf, a position she loved. Then, one day, her husband expressed a desire to launch his own business selling vinyl designs that could be stuck on car windows and asked if she would join him. As Elliott recalled recently, “I said, ‘If this is what you want to do, then I’m all for it.’”
She quit her job and together they began working 60 hours a week to launch a business called Vet Expressions from the 36-foot RV trailer where they lived. They took all the necessary steps, incorporating the company and hiring someone to create and manage their business’s website. Yet, in a matter of months, both the company and the marriage began to go down in flames.
“We had the business and the marriage and our lives in that RV. So we never got away from each other,” she said. On top of that, Elliott’s husband proved to be a control freak. She claims he refused to listen to any of her ideas for improving the business and was a terrible business partner. “We had duties divided up at his direction. But even the duties that were assigned to me, he was never satisfied with and he was constantly looking over my shoulder and criticizing me.” Ultimately, the business failed within a year and the couple was divorced shortly thereafter. Now, all that’s left are a few of the company’s designs on her car that are just now beginning to peel off five years after the demise of their business and life together.
Elliott’s story is a case study in all that can go wrong when trying to launch a business with your spouse. It’s difficult enough to defend a relationship against the stress that comes from a normal family’s money worries, but that stress is only amplified when your spouse is also your business partner.
"Virtually all relationships are challenging, but when you add to a relationship the stress of a business partnership, there are just more opportunities for disagreements and stress to add to the mix,” said Beth Schoenfeldt, the co-founder of Collective-E.com, an online community for entrepreneurs. “Plus, there is just no way to escape when you both work, live and raise children together.”
Yet, for everything that can go wrong, many do try and make it work.