By Jann Blackstone Tribune News Service.
Q. My partner and I have decided to split up after 11 years of being together. We have no children, but we do have a business we built from the ground up. Neither of us wants to give up the business, and we are considering continuing to work together once one of us moves out of the house. Do you think this is a good idea? What's good ex-etiquette?
A. If you think your predicament is rare, it's not. I have often drawn up agreements between people who have severed their personal relationship, but have continued to work together. How good an idea it is depends on how hot the emotion is running after the break-up. If this is an amicable split, there's a good possibility it will work. If it is not, the chances it will work are close to nil, and it could be pretty stupid to attempt it.
The emotion generated from a bad break-up will make it next to impossible to interact civilly, and working together will force you to see each other on a daily basis. There's always the possibility of an online component that might prevent physical interaction. But you have to ask yourself, why do you see continuing to work together as an alternative? Do you truly love the business or are you looking for a way to stay in contact with an ex? It may be easier to just cut your losses and start another company alone.
In terms of good ex-etiquette, your predicament is one of the reasons I designed the 10 rules of good ex-etiquette. They are a code of good behavior for people who break-up but still must stay in contact with each other. The most obvious reason exes must stay in contact are the children they share, but they may also share a house or an animal, or as in your case, a business, after a break-up.
If you do decide to go forward, the biggest hurdle you'll face is distrust. If you don't trust each other it will be difficult to share the profits and even more difficult to share losses. Successful business relationships are built on trust and respect. Two rules of good ex-etiquette to use as your guide are Ex-etiquette rule #5, "Don't be spiteful" and #6, Don't hold grudges." Another is, #3, "Don't badmouth each other." If you have employees it could be very easy for people to take sides. Badmouthing just perpetuates that sort of behavior. Bad ex-etiquette and bad business practice.
Statistics tell us that "money issues" are one of the primary reasons couples fight. But couples tend to make up because they have a mutual interest, keeping the relationship intact. You won't have that motivation, but you will have a business together, and that may motivate both of you to, "Be honest and straight forward," (Ex-etiquette rule #8), and "Respect each other's point of view" (Ex-etiquette rule #9). Remember to be clear on all assigned responsibilities and get everything in writing! That's good ex-etiquette. ___ (Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com)