Work, Wedlock & Co.
Linda Leier Thomason and Ken Thomason knew it was true love when they discovered they both dreamed of running a business.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"That was partly what attracted us to each other," says Ms. Leier Thomason, who met her husband in corporate America.
Five years ago, they launched A Wonderful Wedding, a bridal consultancy in Charleston, S.C. It started as a two-person operation run in the spare bedroom and now says "I do" to $145,000 a year in sales and eight part-time employees.
The Thomasons aren't alone.
More couples than ever are setting up shop together, putting the test to both business acumen and marriage vows.
Many reflect Americans' growing discontent - spurred by continued downsizing - with corporate careers. Others simply want more than a few exhausted hours together in the evening.
Such togetherness is hardly new. Mom-and-pop operations have been around for generations. But as women gain more business experience, more couples are sharing control.
"Now it's very common to have husbands and wives running a business as full and equal partners," says Azriela Jaffe, who runs an entrepreneurial consulting firm in Bausman, Pa.
The trend also gets a boost by the rise in women entrepreneurs, who launch businesses nearly twice as fast as any other group. Lots of them end up pulling their spouse in for the ride.
"There are lots of men who are dying for their wives' businesses to become successful so they can quit their jobs and join them," says Ms. Jaffe, author of "Honey I Want to Start My Own Business: A Planning Guide for Couples" (HarperBusiness, 1996).
For Shel Horowitz and wife Dina Friedman, running a consulting firm for 10 years has meant more time with their two children.
In fact, they divide the afternoons into two-hour blocks, with one watching their preschool-age son while the other holds down the fort at Accurate Writing & More in Northampton, Mass. "That freedom is very special," Mr. Horowitz says.
Others think running a business will be more successful with a partner they know and trust.
"Presumably you share similar values with the person you married, and that's a very important part of a company's growth and success," says Ann Ehringer, director of the Family & Closely-Held Businesses Program at the University of Southern California.
Yet, while work and wedlock can be exhilarating and gratifying, it can also be incredibly tough.
"A lot of laundry that may have gone unspoken in a family relationship can surface in a business setting," says Paul Karofsky, executive director of Northeastern University's Center for Family Business in Dedham, Mass.
While strong marriages often survive - even thrive - on the job, marriages on the rocks often don't, and neither does the business.
The pressures of business can test the weak points in a marriage. Think carefully about a personal relationship, Jaffe says, before making it a career.
For starters, make sure you like spending time together - lots of time.
"People have a tendency to assume, 'We have a happy marriage, why wouldn't we want to spend time together?' " Jaffe says. But for some couples, too much togetherness spoils the intimacy, she says.
Ronald and Angela Oltmanns know all about 24-hour togetherness.
When the Abilene, Texas, couple married five years ago, she was a TV producer and he was getting a graduate degree in theology.
"Breakfast was the only time we said hello," Mrs. Oltmanns recalls.
So two years ago, they launched Oltmanns Research Associates, a firm that coaches other entrepreneurs.
Suddenly, they were side by side, all day.
"At first it was very uncomfortable," Ms. Oltmanns says, admitting that they fought frequently. "But we learned to communicate in a more authentic way, because you can't be dishonest and tell your spouse, 'You're not bugging me,' when he really is."
Even if couples have mastered the art of "honesty," a professional relationship brings new challenges.