Sunday, February 12, 2012

Is working for your boyfriend a good idea?

Beth a 21-year old college student is considering dropping out of school to work full-time for her boyfriend’s computer company. She’s been working towards a degree in health sciences with the goal of becoming a physical therapist. Last summer her boyfriend hired her part-time to create websites for his clients. She discovered she enjoys this work and is good at it. Now she’s experiencing doubts about her chosen career path and hates the idea of spending additional time and money (she will need a master’s) for a degree she’s no longer sure she wants. She thinks dropping out of school will be a win-win. She will spend more time with her boyfriend, determine if web-site design is the career for her and perform work she enjoys without the burden of additional college loans.

Beth is not asking me for advice, but I so want to give it - I don’t think working for a boyfriend or significant other is a good idea. Here is why:

Working for a significant other changes the dynamics of a relationship:
In addition to boyfriend and girlfriend Beth and her boyfriend are now manager and employee. Beth’s boyfriend critiques her work and it is not always favorable. Also, he no longer refers to her as “Beth” or “Hon,” instead he calls her “Elizabeth.” And more often its, “Elizabeth I need you to ….”

Co-workers will perceive the boss’s girlfriend as receiving special treatment or favoritism:
At my company we have a manager who supervises his girlfriend. Almost every employee in the company feels the girlfriend receives special treatment. She is perceived as coming and going as she pleases and not doing her fair share of the work. This boyfriend/boss is constantly called to HR to discuss complaints about her. He gets defensive and repeats these conversations to his girlfriend. She no longer speaks to most of her co-workers. This entire situation has been a fiasco. HR is currently in the process of formulating a plan to reassign the girlfriend to an alternate manager.

- It will be hard for Beth’s boyfriend not to give her the afternoon off when they both are required to attend a function together (or want to go to a baseball game).

- Beth will have 24-7 access to the boss, since they do live together. Her opinions of co-workers will make a difference. If she doesn’t like them, their jobs could be in jeopardy.

You will never be away from work or each other:
This is just a fact, when both parties in a relationship work for the same company conversations tend to always be about work. Disagreements or relationship problems become work problems and work problems become personal problems.

What happens if the relationship doesn’t work out?
In the event of a breakup the entire company will be affected including co-workers and clients. And what about Beth? She will no longer have a boyfriend or a job.

What should Beth do?
I know of ONE couple who have a successful business they built together. This couple was married five years and had careers of their own prior to starting their business. The business is a partnership, not manager and employee. I also know several other women whose biggest regret is never obtaining a college degree.

- Before Beth does anything she should talk to her college advisor. Discuss alternative career paths. Shadow workers in a variety of careers including physical therapists. Apply for internships.

- If Beth does decide website design is the career for her, she should consider pursuing a degree in graphic design. I would also recommend including several business courses in her curriculum.

- Instead of working FOR her boyfriend Beth should start her own business. Website design is not her boyfriend’s core business. If she is needed to perform work for his clients she should do so as a consultant rather than an employee while pursuing additional clients of her own.

Have you ever worked for a significant other? Was it a positive or negative experience? Do you have any advice for Beth?

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
Favoritism in the Workplace
Workplace Hook-ups
Mom Worried About son's Startup Business


  1. I share both your concerns and your advice.

    The fact that he is calling her "Elizabeth" is NOT a good sign for the relationship, and I suspect she will soon have to choose love or money.

    She should definitely look at curriculum at her school and get a degree - of some kind before she quits college. If she goes to "General Studies" so that she can maximize the courses she has taken, she can probably add the graphic design and business (absolutely vital!) courses now and not lose a lot of time. (She would probably save time compared to getting the Masters.) In this economy having a degree is so important. college grads have the lowest unemployment rate of all right now.

    All that said, my husband and I worked together (partners) for eight years and LOVED it. Like your friends, however, we started it together and grew it together - which is not the case here.

    You give good advice, Girl!

  2. Love you advice on this, the idea of her starting her own consultancy side business is brilliant. She can still work for the boyfriend but expand her client. I was thinking how even if she enjoys this kind of work, if something happens, however will she get another job? Even if they stay friends if it ever comes out that her boss for her first job in this career is/was her boyfriend...just makes things so complicated.

  3. Webb,
    I agree on all counts. I have behind the scenes information that Beth’s boyfriend has claimed she is not “the one.” (Yes I totally agree he is a jerk) Beth is wasting both her time and her brain, but since I have only met her once I can’t be the one to tell her so. Granted Physical Therapy may not be the career for her, but if she drops out of college now I am almost certain she will regret it later.

    And similar to your experience with Mitchell, a business with a significant other needs to be like marriage a partnership.

    I agree. If she does decides to go the route of computer design, the sooner she establishes a business of her own the better.

  4. Anonymous2:14 PM

    Speaking from personal experience, I worked for my bf for several years and it was one of the worst decisions
    I have ever made. It most definately affected our is near impossible to separate the work from the personal and find a balance. Our relationship eventually ended and I was fired without reason. Needless to say, a life lesson learned.

  5. Anon,
    Sorry you had to go through this. I hope sharing your story prevents someone else from learning this lesson the hard way.

    I hope things are better for you now.

  6. I don't think I could ever work with my husband. I like keeping work life separate from family life.

  7. Coming from SITs today. I so agree with you 100 percent.

  8. Anonymous3:24 PM

    My daughter is now involved in a very hostile breakup with her long time fiance (7years) whom she worked for. He is denying her right to claim unemployment benefits and things have become threatening ( I am going to ruin your life) going to the lenghth of saying she used company points to fly off to see other people. When actually all was agreed that instead of using cash she could use points etc...really a very terrible and scary situation as he is extremely hurt and revengful. So no do not ever work with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Starting a business together once married is way different. Hard to know what to do because he is powerful (money) and spiteful enough to follow thorugh onhis threats...horrid

  9. Anonymous:
    Your daughter’s story is an excellent cautionary tale of why someone shouldn’t work for their boyfriend, but her situation has turned serious and needs to be treated as such.

    Has your daughter’s ex-boyfriend threatened to harm her? If he has she needs to alert legal authorities immediately. Also, I suggest she contact the domestic violence shelter in her area. To find the nearest shelter please see:

    According to the WomensLaw.Org website, shelters provide many services other than shelter. Most have support groups, crisis counseling, and safety planning assistance. Many also provide legal support (and sometimes representation), help getting back on your feet with government benefits like food stamps and housing, job training referrals, child care, and more.

    Your daughter should ask for assistance in working through her denied unemployment compensation claim and for help getting reestablished in the job market.

    If the organization nearest you isn't helpful, try calling another one. If you do not find what you need in your community, you may also call these national organizations:

    - National Domestic Violence Hotline -- 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224

    - National Sexual Assault Hotline -- (800) 656-HOPE

    - Stalking Resource Center -- 1-800-FYI-CALL, M-F 8:30 AM - 8:30 PM EST, or email

    There have been far too many stories in the news lately of women being harmed by an angry ex. In this case, your daughter’s boyfriend no longer has control and power over her and is fighting to keep it. She needs to seek assistance from others in her community to help keep her safe and strong as she recaptures control over her life.

    I have started a new post covering your daughter's story, so others may offer advice. Please see:

  10. Um No, I totally agree with you that Beth should not work for her boyfriend. There is a reason why many companies see this as a conflict of interest. To protect both Beth's rights and her boyfriend's she should stay away for working for him. Find another job that will help her get the experience she needs in web design and STAY IN SCHOOL! It doesn't matter what her degree is in but some degree is better than none. My hubby was a biology major and now does project managment, website analysis working his way up through IT companies. If he had to do it again, sure he'd get a degree in IT, but the degree got him in the door.

    Thanks for linking up with #throwbackthursdaylinkup. Always great to hear from you and hope you link up again tonight!