Divorce is painful already, but it can take on an extra dimension of tragedy when the couple runs a business together: If there isn’t a way for one spouse to buy the other out, the enterprise often folds or gets sold off.
It doesn’t always end so badly, however.
Rhonda Sanderson has had success over the years running a Chicago public relations firm, Sanderson & Associates, with her ex-husband John Amato III. Amato joined the business several years after the couple split in the mid-1980s, but Sanderson says they’ve managed to maintain a healthy business partnership now for more than a decade, according to a feature by National Public Radio.
Sanderson and Amato’s story matters because 3.7 million U.S businesses are owned by married couples, and about half of all marriages end in divorce. The key to their success in working together appeared to be their ability to compartmentalize, and frankly act like grownups about the situation.
Sanderson told NPR that though they may have not been good marriage partners, she greatly respects his marketing and business savvy. Though the pair still have disagreements, they are able to let go when it comes to their differences because they’re related to the business versus their marriage.
"We don't get along very well in certain ways, but we still love each other as people, there's no question," Sanderson told NPR.
That seems to have been the case, too, in the case of Judy Rosenberg and Elot Winograd, who were married for only two years but have run Rosie’s Bakery in Boston for more than 36 years. Rosenberg says on the bakery’s website that Winograd “came and rescued me from the administrative stuff that I hated doing and brought me from the red into the black.”
Rosenberg told BloombergBusinessweek last year that she and Winograd both wanted to keep the business going despite their divorce, and they recognized that their skills complemented each other.
It can also help to preserve a basic trust in one another and maintain separate roles to minimize conflict.
Granted, extra emotions can cloud the picture. Workers can be confused when business partners continue to work together post-divorce, and there is always potential for hurdles when new significant others come into the picture.
Still, working with one’s ex might be better than having to close or sell a cherished business.
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