First comes love, then comes marriage - then comes incorporation, payroll, and staff meetings.

The mom-and-pop shop may seem like a relic of business days goneby, but that ever-so-traditional setup is alive and thriving in the modern world of work. Only now, it goes far ­beyond the corner candy store. Couples are banking on their partnerships in farms, medical practices, law firms, and yes, the corner cafe. In honor of Valentine's Day, we checked in with some business-minded couples to see what makes all that together time work.

DESIGNING A FUTURE
This is devotion: Emma Gardner and Patrick McDarrah spent the summer of 2002 driving 8,000 miles - along with their 15-month-old daughter - to see if they could interest top interior-design showrooms in Emma's rug designs. It worked. The rugs, along with new products like throw pillows and blankets, are now sold around the country and are often featured in national magazines. And, as a nice side project, they had a second child.

The couple has been together for 14 years and married for eight, and had often "talked dreamily about what we could do together," says Emma, 38. They didn't realize that Emma Gardner Design was that something until the business was off the ground. Patrick, also 38, had been looking for a new job. "In the spring of 2002 I was spending 20 to 40 hours a week looking for work, and we thought, Why don't I devote the effort to this business and see where it takes us?" It took them far enough that, when a job offer came in December 2003, Patrick turned it down.

"Our skills are so complementary," says Emma. She designs the products and handles all production, while Patrick does "everything else," including marketing and distribution.

The couple and one full-time staffer work out of a dedicated space in their house. Like most people who work from home, the lines can get blurred. While Patrick and Emma were on a conference call with a client one day, Patrick was also doing laundry. The noise made it hard for Emma to hear, and she shifted momentarily from business-speak to couple-speak. Later they found out that, though initially surprised, the client had a good laugh when she realized their relationship went far beyond business.

Why does their coupling of business and marriage work so well? "Lack of ego" and "We're both committed to it," she says. "We're making of our life what we really want."

Says Patrick: "There's a great satisfaction in accomplishing things together."

TILL THE COWS COME HOME
Muscling 1,000-pound Jersey cows were never part of Leslie Kurtz's plan. "I never imagined myself a dairyman's wife," says Leslie, 41. But she met Howard "Bubba" Kurtz 22 years ago, and her plan changed.

The couple married 19 years ago and, in 1990, started Kurtz and Sons dairy farm in Live Oak, Florida. Leslie focused on raising their three kids - now 13 to 18 - but when economic factors forced them to lay off their help in 2003, Leslie changed her plans again by taking an active role in the business. "We pretty much pitch in and get everything done together," says Bubba, 41. They also help bolster each other when business gets tough. "When one feels like quitting, you lift each other up," says Leslie. "You take turns as to who is the bummed-out one."

Between milking 73 cows and selling nearly 4,600 gallons of milk per month through a variety of outlets - including the commodity market, local retailers, and farmers' markets - they certainly stay busy. The commodity market product is trucked off the farm; therest they bottle themselves with machinery they recently installed.They even sell some on the farm through the honor system: People can pull up, get milk, and leave the money in a box.

They have hired back a full-time employee who milks five days a week, "which has freed us up to bottle the milk," says Bubba. The Kurtzes "rarely spend any time apart"; they even act in tandem at farmers' markets. Though they've considered splitting up to hit twice as many markets, "we've found we're a marketing team," Leslie says. "We finish each other's sentences."

The key to their success: "We don't cut each other down," says Leslie, adding that though the communication might get high-pitched, they never make it personal. "We're still in love -madly in love," says Bubba. And, Leslie adds, "We like each other."