Entrepreneurship Can Put Stress on Your Marriage. Here Are 8 Ways to Keep It Intact
This Valentine’s Day, ditch the flowers, candy, and cards. Try these ideas instead.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Being married to an entrepreneur can be hard. That's an understatement.
There are clear advantages to having a stable home life: It can help entrepreneurs (myself included) live with risk, stress, and uncertainty at work. But all too often, it's hard to maintain.
Neither the U.S. nor Canada tracks the divorce rates of entrepreneurs, but Andrew Feldstein, a divorce lawyer with 20 years of experience in the field, estimates that the divorce rate of entrepreneurs is probably five to 10 points higher than the national average.
That's why, in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I asked two dozen entrepreneurs who are successful in both business and family to share the tips they use to build success at home. A few declined, saying they (like so many entrepreneurs) are still a work in progress when it comes to work-life balance and family. But the majority in my network sent in ideas. Some were so common I won't attribute the suggestions, but some were so novel I feel obligated to credit the source.
1. Listen, don't solve.
Regardless of gender, entrepreneurs are problem solvers by nature. But your spouse isn't always looking for problems to be solved--they're just looking for someone to share things with and vent to. Don't underestimate the value of listening without generating solutions. Sometimes being heard is all that's required.
2. Appreciate your partner's passion.
If your partner's employment stability gives you the foundation for success, make sure to appreciate it regularly. Don't scoff or ever undervalue the freedom and benefits your spouse's employment allows. Instead, celebrate spousal success, no matter how small.
3. Master date night.
Spend at least three hours off the grid each week with just your partner.
4. Send cards.
Buy, write in advance, and send quarterly thank-you cards to your spouse. Invest time personalizing each one before sending it.
"You spend hours doing this for your board and investors every quarter. Why not do it for the people you are really doing this all for?" says David Bloom, founder and CEO of LevelJump (a portfolio company of Ryerson Futures, where I mentor).
5. Share your experiences.
Allow your spouse to share in your experiences. When you come home from a 16-hour day, you are spent and just want to turn off your brain for a while. The last thing you feel like doing is recounting the ups and downs of your day one more time.
However, "if you don't share your ride with your partner, they will never understand the roller coaster you are on," says Les Hansen, a serial software entrepreneur. "Allowing them to be part of the ride will enable them to be more understanding in the times when you need them."
6. Treat spouses like investors.
Matt Golden, serial founder and VC, says startup founders need to be proactive and transparent with their spousal communications. Try treating your spouse almost like a first investor when it comes to communicating--this means always keeping him or her in the loop.
7. Appoint them a co-founder.
Years ago, a mentor of mine suggested that the best way to deal with founders who are being moved out of management was to ensure the title "co-founder" remained on their business cards and email signatures.
Taking that idea a step further, I suggest giving the same respect to your partner at home. Consider printing a small run of business cards with your startup's brand on them, and list your partner's title as "Spousal Co-Founder" to really give them the respect they deserve. It may not come with an explicit salary, but doing so acknowledges the impact your spouse has.
8. Seek equilibrium, not balance.
The phrase "work-life balance" loses all meaning once you become an entrepreneur. As VC and serial entrepreneur Bruce Croxon put it, "Work-life balance for an entrepreneur is work 24/7 for 10 years, then, post-exit, take the next 10 years off."
For business owners, there is a constant need to find equilibrium between a demanding career and a vital personal life. Being successful in both areas doesn't mean equal hours at home and at work. Instead, it means finding a rhythm that fulfills both sides.
Don't focus on having a 50/50 balance of personal and business life every day. Each day will skew in a different direction, but you should seek to balance it all out over time.
So this Valentine's Day, forget the flowers, forget the candy, forget the dinner reservations. Instead, do something new--something that lets your spouse know how important they are. Try some of the ideas above to make it a little better for your better half.