The typical marriage has a 50-60 percent chance of lasting. But marriage with an entrepreneur isn't typical.
Startups Make Marriage Harder
Entrepreneurs often spend a lot of time away from their families, working long hours and traveling. One U.K. survey found that entrepreneurs are on the clock 63 percent longer than the average employee.
Less quality time with your significant other makes it far more difficult to stay connected and communicate well. The resulting emotional distance can easily cause a relationship to fizzle.
The instability of a startup can also exacerbate financial concerns. Not being able to pay the bills, going into debt, losing all your savings--all these circumstances can lead to conflict and stress in a marriage.
And as many famous entrepreneurs demonstrate, business success does not automatically translate into marital success. In fact, an influx of sudden wealth can cause plenty of problems for couples as they wrestle with new expectations and responsibilities.
There's even a name for all the unpleasant emotions and experiences that come from hitting it rich: Sudden Wealth Syndrome. Unfortunately, you can fight with your spouse over an abundance of money as easily as you can fight over a shortage of money.
On top of this, the reality is that entrepreneurs tend to be more tempted by divorce. The very traits that help enterprising individuals succeed--spontaneity, curiosity, a desire for the new and novel--can weaken their commitment to a long-term relationship.
No wonder, then, that entrepreneurs are at an 8-10 percent higher risk for divorce.
Divorce Creates Its Own Problems
It's easy to understand how couples can get to a place where divorce seems like the best and simplest solution. When subjected to ongoing conflict and stress, we will all look for ways to escape.
But in three years of research on marriage and entrepreneurship, I found that therapists, executive coaches, and psychologists were surprisingly consistent in their views of divorce: it's not as easy or simple as you might think it is.
For starters, most couples do not divorce because of genuine hardship in the marriage. The vast majority separate because they feel bored or they think the spark is gone.
The pain that divorce causes for both partners is real and includes a higher risk of depression, anxiety, cancer, and heart disease. Divorce is also a leading cause of bankruptcy. The damage it causes for children is even greater and more lasting.
One study found that, of teenagers whose parents had separated or divorced, 29 percent of boys and 39 percent of girls experienced high levels of post-traumatic stress. Children of divorce also report having more strained relationships with their parents and are at higher risk of divorcing themselves.
Unless there are serious, unresolvable issues involved, such as domestic abuse and substance addiction, divorce is not necessarily the best option. "There can be a value in defaulting to staying," one longtime Silicon Valley therapist told me.
The Benefits of Staying
There is actually scientific evidence to support the idea of sticking with your partner through challenging times. A recent study followed more than 1,600 spouses over twenty years. Researchers found that, while couples often struggle in the first five to ten years of their marriage, the quality of most relationships actually improves over time. Couples who have been together for twenty or more years had higher rates of happiness, less conflict, and more shared activities.
If you or your spouse is an entrepreneur, chances are that you two have plenty to disagree about. The good news is that addressing these challenges head on--even if it results in conflict--means you are ten times more likely to have a happy relationship.
If you and your spouse are struggling, it's worth carefully thinking through if divorce is truly the best option. You may be giving up on decades of future happiness--for you and those you love most.