FORTUNE Small Business:

Two businesses, one marriage - can it work?

A small business owner asks FSB for advice on mixing love and work.

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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: My husband and I manage separate small businesses. Will this hurt or help my marriage?

- Reykah, San Diego

Dear Reykah: Having two CEOs in the house can actually be less stressful than cohabiting and sharing management of the same business, says Kathy Marshack, a psychologist and family business coach in Vancouver, Wash.

Spouses with separate businesses "can be successful in their own regard and share their successes with one another without feeling like they are in competition," she says.

However, our experts admit that it's rare to have two CEOs at the helm of a household - and they recommend a few strategies to help prevent tension.

Being a small business owner is often a 24/7 job. Family Business Institute president Wayne Rivers suggests sitting down with your spouse to discuss familial responsibilities. For instance, who will handle the household duties, such as cooking and cleaning? Who will take care of the kids if one has to stay home sick?

"Love is not enough to get you through everything," he says. "Crystal clear over-communication should be the rule of the day."

If your spouse owns a business in your industry, it's important to establish professional boundaries. While writing her book, Entrepreneurial Couples: Making it Work at Work and at Home, Marshack studied a husband and wife who each owned trucking brokerages. New business was up for grabs, but the married couple agreed never to go after each other's clients.

As many of the pairs in our cover package on entrepreneurial couples do, married CEOs should set aside no-business-talk time and vacations.

Michelle Hege, COO and partner at public relations firm Desautel Hege Communications, keeps business chat to a minimum during her regular Saturday date night with husband Richard Beaven, co-owner of Signia Capital Management. However, she values the fact that Richard understands firsthand the trials and tribulations of running a business.

"You can talk about an issue with clients, or finances, and you have a live-in counselor who can contribute perspective and talk you down off the ledge," she says. If one half of this Spokane couple has to end a business trip or meeting early to look after their four-year-old son, Cadane, the other one agrees to make that sacrifice the next time around.

One item of business that Rivers suggests you plan and discuss with your entrepreneurial spouse is your exit strategy - especially if you envision a retirement spent enjoying time together.

"If your spouse is going to work another 10 years, you can't spend that retirement time together," warns Rivers.

Rivers cautions that problems may arise from personality clashes.

"If they are both CEOs, there's a chance that each has a domineering personality," Rivers says. "They've got to figure out how to switch that off or, at least, compromise."

However, Marshack believes that headstrong personalities can contribute to a healthy marriage.

"When you've got two boss-type people, they are pretty good at negotiating deals - even in the home," she says.  To top of page

Do you have ideas for how Reykah and her husband can keep their marriage and businesses separate? Join the discussion.

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