Dorothy Greco is a longtime pastor and writer who has counseled many couples over the years. Her recent book, Making Marriage Beautiful, details the crazy, ridiculous, and profound challenges we face as we endeavor to create fulfilling marriages. I asked Greco what entrepreneurs in particular need to nurture their relationships.
Many entrepreneurs are so busy they feel like they aren't able to invest in their marriages. How do you respond?
Most of us create long-term plans for our businesses but fail to do so for our marriages. If we want this relationship to survive and thrive, we need to envision where we want to be in five, ten, and twenty years, and then make intentional choices to move in that direction.
Maybe this means going to a marriage conference every year, reading a marriage book together, or prioritizing a weekend getaway. Obviously, there's no formula, but intentionality and vision are key.
Additionally, both partners have to be willing to sacrifice. It's not tenable for one partner to make all the sacrifices. By paying attention to inequitable dynamics and talking about them--rather than pretending they don't exist or are inconsequential--we can move toward relationships where both partners' needs are met.
Another reality of startup life is stress. How can we cope with stress in a way that doesn't harm our closest relationships?
In order to minimize stress, we need to be aware of our expectations and our limitations. Regarding the former, we tend to get pulled into the narrative that more is better. More house. More power. More prestige. More money. But the pursuit of more can often have a disastrous effect on us.
It's important to acknowledge the cultural vortex and then step back and ask ourselves some hard questions. For example, is it possible that owning or achieving less would allow us to have the kind of relationship that we long for?
We all need to recognize when the yellow warning light begins to flash--and then address the causality rather than ignore it. If you are under fifty, the assumption is you can continue to push yourself indefinitely. But we're all limited, and the sooner we accept this, the better it will go for us.
Stress is often synonymous with fear. Failure is always possible with start-ups, but if we ease off the gas pedal just a bit by choosing to get a good night's sleep, changing our diet, prioritizing our family on the weekends, we'll actually be in better shape for the work week.
You and your husband come from pretty different backgrounds. What's the secret for making your relationship work when you and your partner are so different?
Humor, malleability, forgiveness, and humility. We have to be able to laugh at each other and not take everything so seriously. We have to be willing to change because rigidity thwarts transformation.
And, as we all know, no matter how much we love each other, we will hurt one another. By admitting our failures and extending forgiveness, we prevent bitterness and resentment from seeping in. Additionally, when we come from different backgrounds or have different personalities, we have to guard against pride and thinking that our way is superior.
Why is self-awareness so critical to a relationship, and what can we do to cultivate it?
Self-awareness means we are willing to see and acknowledge our broken patterns or habits--whether it's greed, selfishness, impatience, or addictive tendencies. But it's not enough to be aware of our foibles. We have to be unsettled by what they cost our partner (and children) and then work to become healthier and more mature.
For example, time management has been an issue in our marriage. If we've just had a conversation about how irritating it is when my husband fails to let me know he'll be two hours late, and then the same thing happens a week later and he fails to apologize, that drains my grace reservoir.
If he can remember to send me a text, I'll be a happier wife when he finally walks through the door. He might not ever change his behavior, but if he acknowledges the cost to me, that's a game-changer.
Empathy is key to developing self-awareness. If we are indifferent to what our limitations cost our spouse, there's little reason to change. If we pay enough attention to realize how our behaviors are hurting them, hopefully that will motivate us to grow.
For couples who have been struggling for years over aspects of the business, what hope can you offer them?
There are two things that consistently give us hope and pull us back from despair. The first is understanding what we can and can't control. The Jesuit priest Richard Rohr writes, "Life is a spectacle of helplessness." This becomes increasingly clear as we age.
I've been fighting health issues for eighteen years. I've tried every treatment I can think of, and my health issues have not abated. But I can control my response and my attitude. Will I descend into self-pity and despair? Or will I face my limitations head on, learn to live within them, and fully embrace my life?
This is more than a perspective shift. It's a discipline to choose gratitude, joy, and generosity.
My husband and I are also huge advocates of stitching yourself into a community. We all need loving, supportive friends. These kinds of vulnerable and intimate friendships help us to become our best self and infuse us with hope when we most need it.