Save your business and your marriage

@FortuneMagazine June 28, 2011: 6:50 AM ET

FORTUNE -- Operating a successful business is supposed to be a ticket to the good life -- but sometimes it comes at a cost. Stephen Adele was too busy building his $20 million Golden, Colo., nutritional supplements company, iSatori, to spend much time with his wife and three children.

"I would try to compensate by buying her and my family things," he recalls. The cars and jewelry didn't work, of course, and the couple just got divorced. Adele is now, finally, spending more time with his three daughters. Here's a little advice that might help you avoid matrimonial discord.

1. Keep a flexible schedule

You may not be able to work less, but you probably have time to take a few items off your spouse's to-do list. Brad Dresbach, co-founder of the Columbus branding and marketing firm 42Fish, tackles such daily errands for his family as picking up birthday cakes -- relieving stress for his wife, Danielle, who has a much more inflexible corporate job.

2. Ration e-mail time

When you're home, be present. Jeff Booth, CEO of BuildDirect, a 63-employee building materials retailer, has a wife, Kelly, who posts what a great dad he is on Facebook, though he spends 60 hours a week working. He attributes that to shutting off his phone as soon as he gets home so he can enjoy activities with her and their children-- instead of checking e-mail poolside.

3. Hold family summits

D.J. Rezak, founder of KB Building Services, a commercial cleaning company in Omaha, credits weekly meetings with keeping the family organized and freeing up time for him to spend with his wife, Lisa. The family pauses during Sunday dinners to talk about the week, discuss upcoming plans, and hold an occasional talent show. "It makes it feel like our family is a priority," says Lisa.

4. Share your interests

It's easy to get so caught up in your own thing that you ignore your partner's pursuits. Razor Suleman, CEO of I Love Rewards, a Boston rewards and recognition business with $50 million in sales, tries to avoid that mistake. He joined his wife, Kari, a web developer, at a summit she needed to go to for work. "It was amazing that Razor took an interest in an event that I was excited to attend," she says. "It sparked a dialogue we would not have had otherwise."

5. Schedule regular vacations

Brad Feld, founder of VC firm Foundry Group, started scheduling regular vacations after his wife, Amy Batchelor, almost dumped him for working during an entire weekend trip. They now have one-week vacations each quarter -- known as their "Qx vacation." The ground rules? He unplugs completely, giving her his smartphone. "She gives it back the following week," he says. Colleagues work around it, and Feld stays married.

--Verne Harnish is the CEO of Gazelles Inc., an executive education firm.  To top of page

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