When I first learned that one of my sister Redbuds planned to write a book about entrepreneurs and marriage, I mentally added it to my must-read list.
After all, I grew up in an entrepreneur family. I saw first-hand how many hours my dad poured into his snack food manufacturing business, how much my mom was there for us as primary parent, how many times Dad arrived home when I was already supposed to be asleep, but as soon as I heard him in the hallway, I would stand up on my bed and call out to him.
Today as a writer, I’m part entrepreneur too, and I know many entrepreneurial couples. What might I learn about the unique stresses and rewards of being married to an entrepreneur? And how much of my own experience would I see in this new book?
I’m pleased to recommend Start, Love, Repeat: How to Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Start-Up World by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun (Hachette Center Street, 2017). This is a well-researched, practical book, an excellent resource for entrepreneurial couples and those who love them. Thank you, Dorcas, for sharing your experience and wisdom. It’s a pleasure to welcome you to my blog for this guest post.
START, LOVE, REPEAT:
How to Stay in Love With Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Start-up World
By Dorcas Cheng-Tozun
The stereotypical picture of the entrepreneur in your head is likely the brilliant, unmarried, twenty-something-college-dropout-turned-billionaire. In reality, seventy percent of business owners are married, and almost all of them also have children. The average age of someone starting their first business is forty.
As a result, the risks and challenges of starting and running a company—especially financially and emotionally—are borne by not just the founder but by his or her entire family.
Start, Love, Repeat
I had been married to my husband entrepreneur, Ned, for nine years when I hit a wall. Our lives had been turned upside down by his business, and I had wrestled with anxiety and depression as a result.
I was desperate for advice from someone who understood what it was like. But there are so few resources for entrepreneurs’ spouses out there; those that exist are unrealistically optimistic.
I wanted a resource that was completely honest about how hard it can be to do life with an entrepreneur but also provided practical advice and offered tangible reasons why all the hardship was still worth it. I wanted someone to acknowledge that I could simultaneously love and support my husband and still hate the ways in which his business turned our lives upside down.
As I talked to other entrepreneurs’ spouses, I heard the same thing from them. They couldn’t find the support or help they needed. They couldn’t find a book that reflected the experiences they had lived.
So I decided to write what I would have wanted to read when I first married Ned. I wanted to tell the whole story of what marriage to a creative, inspired, ambitious business founder looks like, in all its imperfect glory.
The Greatest Challenges for Entrepreneurial Couples
The two most common challenges faced by entrepreneurs and their partners relate to finances and time. New businesses seem to require a black hole’s worth of both. If spouses never see one another or their bank account is always hovering around zero, their relationship inevitably suffers. As a result, both partners are more stressed and less connected, which impedes their ability to communicate well or to make thoughtful decisions together.
As you can imagine, over time these circumstances lead to resentment and loneliness. This can cause conflict and misunderstandings, or even serious betrayals like infidelity. It’s not uncommon for partners to find that the ideal family lives they each want are fundamentally incompatible, which means that both of them have to be willing to make major concessions and compromises.
Assuming that both spouses are committed to trying to make things better, what do you need to work through the challenges? Time, first and foremost. Some money to help pay for counseling or childcare or just to ease the stress in your lives. But these are exactly the two resources that most entrepreneurs and their families are short on. As a result, many couples feel stuck and may start acting out in really unhealthy ways.
If you or your spouse is an entrepreneur, or has a very demanding career, the good news is that there are some very simple things you can do to keep your relationship strong and healthy.
One of the most helpful things I learned as I conducted research for this book is that small steps can make a big difference. Oftentimes the most effective ways to strengthen a relationship are small actions, done with love and intentionality, over and over again.
Marriage researcher John Gottman claims that you just need to spend six hours of quality time with your spouse each week to have a strong marriage. This can come in the form of brief check-ins or longer conversations.
And the same goes for children. If you can invest some focused time with your kids, you can still maintain a strong relationship with them, even if your time is limited.
Talk It Over
Every marriage-family therapist I spoke to also recommended making agreements with one another. These can be agreements on how you’ll treat one another, what you’ll communicate about, what boundaries you’ll set between work and home, and more. They can be very simple: “I agree to be home for dinner 3 nights a week.” “If the business requires a loan, I will discuss it with you before making a decision.” But agreements are very effective in setting realistic expectations and giving partners a point of reference to work through conflict.
Ask for Help
Another essential strategy: ask for help. No one can make it through the start-up journey alone. Entrepreneurs should seek out trusted mentors and business partners but also be willing to delegate as soon as the business grows beyond a one-person operation. Your family life and your own health will be so much better if you can learn to rely on a team to help the company move forward.
For significant others, because their partners are simply not as available, it is wise to rely on a larger community to help with moral support, childcare, or other responsibilities.|
The Upside of Marriage to an Entrepreneur
Being married to an entrepreneur certainly isn’t all bad, even though it’s easy to focus on the challenges.
When I reflect on the twelve-plus years of my marriage, I see how our relationship has matured and been positively transformed because of all that we’ve been through. Ned and I were forced to confront personal weaknesses, mismatched expectations, and conflict early on in our relationship. Thankfully, we were both willing to make adjustments along the way, and we have been able to create a healthier and more fulfilling relationship.
I also saw how profoundly Ned cared for me each step of the way, even when I felt isolated and neglected. I realized that he had done many things, big and small, to try to make things easier for me or to respect my wishes. He has made plenty of sacrifices as well, like booking crazy flight itineraries so he could get home twelve hours earlier, or saying no to amazing business opportunities so he would have more time to spend with our kids and me.
The Risks are Worth It
Being married to Ned has also pushed me to live with more boldness and courage, and to take more risks. I don’t think I would have been able to write this book without Ned encouraging me and cheering me on along the way.
Ned taught me, and continues to teach me, that taking risks is worth it if the work is meaningful and personally fulfilling. He has encouraged me to keep pursuing my goals even in the face of rejection and failure. Most importantly, he has never once doubted me. He gets what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
It’s a little tricky sometimes to juggle both of our careers with being parents and the other demands of life, but it’s pushed us to become that much better at communicating with each other and making time for investing in our marriage.
I think this is true of all couples in which both partners are entrepreneurial. Both the benefits and the challenges are amplified. You understand what drives each of you, and as a result you will hopefully be willing to support one another’s careers. But you may also wrestle with greater uncertainty and financial instability. This can lead to more stress and pressure, but it is also an opportunity to deepen your level of partnership and trust in one another.
There’s Always Hope
One of my greatest hopes for Start, Love, Repeat is that entrepreneurial couples—especially those who are struggling in their relationship—will recognize that they’re not alone. No matter how crazy your life is because of the business, it’s likely that someone else has been through something similar and found a way to make it through with their marriage intact. With few exceptions, there is always reason to hope, and there are always changes you can make to try to improve your relationship.
It’s never easy to change ourselves or our relationships, of course, and it takes a fair amount of dedication and effort. But I hope readers will realize that it’s worth it. And if you can move toward a relationship that is healthier and nurtures both of you as individuals, in all likelihood you’ll experience rich, long-lasting benefits—in your family and your career—from living the adventurous start-up life.
Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is an award-winning writer and a columnist for Inc.com. She and her entrepreneur husband, d.light CEO and co-founder Ned Tozun, have been married for twelve years and have two adorable sons. Learn more at www.chengtozun.com.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: In what way(s) do you identify with the challenges, risks, and rewards that Dorcas outlines? Who would you like to share this article and book with? Start, Love, Repeat launches tomorrow, November 7, 2017, and is available for pre-order. Order before November 30, and you’re eligible to win some great prizes!
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy thanks to the publisher, and as always my comments and the decision to review are my own.
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