Boyfriends and business

My partner is my partner, if you know what I mean, and it's time to renegotiate

Published December 7, 2010 1:20AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

First and foremost, I echo the many readers who have wished you good luck on your journey to recover from cancer. Good luck and we are all pulling for you.

A little background ...

I started a business about eight years ago. The first few years were very tough. Very. Tough. I was naive and not prepared financially. For three years the expenses mounted and I used personal money to support the business. Retirement money, Visa, tax, etc. All gone or run up to their limits. $130,000 worth of business debt. Ouch.

Somehow things changed in the fourth year. The business began to prosper and I began to make a decent income. In addition, I had the good fortune of selling my house in a very favorable sellers' market and I reaped almost half a million dollars in equity. Out of that equity I paid off all of the loans and liens the business had accumulated. I do not take my good luck lightly. I know I am fortunate.

As things improved I needed a salesperson. My boyfriend joined the business. When he joined I halved the business earnings with him every month. It seemed fair that we split it. At the time, the monthly recurring revenue, before we had ever made a sale, was about $500. That had been generated exclusively by me after much effort. It wasn't much but I happily split it with him. All the sales we made during the month we also split 50/50.

The business was then and remains now, stressful. After three years my boyfriend left the company and pursued another opportunity. This was very amicable and taken as a good move by both of us. I would have left as well as the stress was staggering but since I own the company I had to continue on. We do not live together as we both have children and we have been concerned about combining households with teenagers involved. We are engaged and we do love each other. We genuinely do plan to marry.

I was used to splitting the business income down the middle with him and we simply continued on along this path. He wrote me a check for half his pay every two weeks and I wrote him a cheque for half the business income once a month. He is on his company benefits for medical and dental, etc., and I am not as, again, we do not live together. He also receives a check every few months for company expenses like car allowance, etc. He keeps 100 percent of this as he is the one incurring the gas expenses, etc.

Here is the problem. Resentment has started to set in on my side. His income from work has not kept pace with mine from the business. So when we "share" I lose out by at least $600 a month. This has been the case for over two years now.

He did contribute mightily for the three years he was with my little company. When some months were tough financially he stepped up to the plate and lent the company upward of $2,000. This was always paid back to him quickly. I continued along with the business after he left, even though it was stressful, because I owned it and if I left as well, the residual income would have stopped.

I feel guilty, terrible actually, that I am becoming resentful but dammit ... I have grown tired of giving him extra money every month. I should also mention I was a single mom for the last 20 years and my parents died many years ago. I am completely independent. He, on the other hand, has parents who continue to help him and his sibling every month. They pay one-third of his mortgage and are on the title for one-third of his home as well. They are good parents to him and have taken him and his sibling and their respective children on holidays, etc. He is in his 40s. He has no equity in his home as the market has, to say the least, changed.

I need to know if I am wrong. I feel resentful that I give him more money each month than he gives me. It was OK for a long time but as the years go by it just seems to me that he is taking advantage of me. I know he loves me. I love him. He didn't start by taking advantage of me and if he knew I thought this he would be hurt and, I'm sure, furious.

Today I told him that I would give him 60 days' notice but after that I won't be income-splitting anymore. He sounded very dejected.

I feel rotten.

Am I a bitch?


Dear C.,

No, you're not a bitch. You're a businessperson. You and your partner have been operating with an informal compensation agreement. The agreement was based on certain conditions. Conditions changed. Now it's time for the agreement to change. It's only fair. You and your partner should negotiate a new agreement.

This time, I suggest you make it more formal, with a timetable for periodic review. That way, as things continue to change, you can continually update the agreement.

Can you enlist the help of a business advisor, mediator, accountant or lawyer? I'll bet you'd find it easier to do this if you have a third party involved.

I know you're uncomfortable now, but this can be a very positive thing. If you and your business partner take the time to make a new agreement, it will give you a chance to talk about all the big issues in front of you.

There's a lot to talk about. Each of you has kids. Each of you has a home. You're engaged. You're getting married. You have a business. That's a lot. Plus, things will keep changing. The unexpected will happen. The kids are going to grow up and move out. The business is going to change. You're going to get new ideas. You might suddenly want to go to Brazil. Nothing is certain.

This is also a good time for you to ask yourself if you want more participation or less participation by your boyfriend. If you want more participation, the agreement could spell out incentives for your boyfriend to become more active. If, on the other hand, you'd rather his participation remain as it is, you don't have to include such incentives. If you're going to get married, address tax and financial factors in the agreement -- including what happens if you divorce or separate, and how the business is to be passed on to your children.

Your letter shows a good grasp of the facts. It sounds like you've kept a lot of information in your head. It's admirable that you've been able to keep so much of the business in your head so far. But writing it down will make negotiating easier in the future. And if you set regular dates for revisiting it, then you won't have to wait until you're bursting.

You're concerned about being unfair. But you have a legitimate self-interest. The trick is to balance your self-interest against the interests of others.

So I encourage you to first contact someone who can serve as a good third party and help you draw up an agreement. Then tell your boyfriend that it's time to renegotiate.

It might feel a little tense, but I really believe it's the best thing to do and that you'll be much better off when you've aired all your concerns and made plans for the future.

That Special Time of Year

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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