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Will Working with Family Ruin Your Family Life?

Todd looked at me bewildered, as if to ask, “Can’t you make her see reason?” The tension in my office had been mounting between Todd and his wife, Laura, as they discussed the likelihood of divorce. They had been at odds for years and everyone — friends, family, employees and business associates — knew it. This couple never kept their disagreements a secret. In fact, they openly fought in front of others while on the job.

When the discussion got even more heated, I stepped in and tried to offer help to Todd, who seemed confused about Laura’s request for a divorce. “It’s simply that your wife doesn’t want to be your business partner any longer if she files for divorce. She doesn’t trust you anymore,” I said, “as a husband or a business partner.”

This couple had built a successful business over many years of hard work. But as the business had grown successful, the marriage had foundered. Now Laura wanted out — out of the marriage and out of the business.

Todd again looked at me as if I were speaking in riddles. “What’s trust got to do with it? I know that she wants a divorce. I’m OK with that. But can’t she learn to be civil and still be my business partner? We stand to lose a lot of money if we have to split up the partnership.”

Don’t Ignore Your Personal Life

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common among couples and families who work together. The focus is so much on the business, so much on business success, so much on financial profit, that the family fails to keep tabs on the loving relationships that made the business partnership possible in the first place. As they ignore the signals that their personal life is sinking into oblivion, these couples and families seem to put even more energy into the business. It’s as if they are trying to save a sinking ship by slapping on a new coat of paint.

Entrepreneurial couples and families are starting businesses at a phenomenal rate right now. There are powerful incentives to do so. Not only are there terrific financial and ego rewards from self-employment, but couples also find that there is great joy in working with the ones you love. Where else can you find a more trustworthy, reliable, confidential business partner than your spouse or a close family member?

Todd and Laura started out this way. They had a dream and worked hard to make it a reality. They wanted to provide a quality of life for their children that would enable them to achieve even more than their parents had. They wanted the freedom to create something out of nothing. They wanted to go beyond the limits employers always placed on them. They wanted to help each other grow as individuals and in their business and professional lives.

At first, Todd and Laura were ecstatic with their new lives. They looked forward to each new day. They worked long, hard hours but they were doing it together. This “togetherness” was inspiring. Somehow, their combined efforts created even more than either could have achieved alone.

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Then something happened. It didn’t happen with a bang, but snuck up on them. Gradually, Todd and Laura lost track of themselves as individuals and as a married couple. Instead, they were business partners only. The business consumed them. Vendors, customers, employees, business associates, the CPA, their attorneys — all came before Todd and Laura and their love and friendship.

Will Working with Family Ruin Your Family Life?

Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D.

Licensed psychologist Kathy Marshack, Ph.D. has worked as a marriage and family therapist for 34 years. Asperger Syndrome is one of her specialties, and she has counseled hundreds of couples, families and individuals who are on the Spectrum. She has authored three books and has been interviewed in The New York Times, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CNN, the Lifetime TV channel and NPR. She practices in Portland, Oregon. To learn more visit or download a free chapter of her new book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome,” at

APA Reference
Marshack, K. (2020). Will Working with Family Ruin Your Family Life?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.