"It's going to get better."
These five words have been the origin of dozens of arguments I've had with my entrepreneur-husband. He would say this whenever I complained about his travels, his depleted energy, or how little attention he was giving to matters at home.
It was a promise he couldn't keep. No matter what phase his business was in, the hours and the intensity didn't let up. And I felt let down time and time again.
We all know how things look when your startup isn't doing well. The more you fall behind in cash flow or product development or sales, the more energy--physical and emotional--your distressed company requires of you. You will not be able to give your significant other the amount of attention or support she wants.
Unfortunately, though, the workload isn't that different when your business is thriving. All those new people you're hiring? They need to be managed and be given standard policies and procedures to follow. That huge order you landed? You'll have to bust your tail to fulfill it. Those investors who just alleviated your funding concerns for the next two years? They're going to want significant, profitable results--and they will want them yesterday.
A venture capitalist once warned a roomful of aspiring entrepreneurs: "There will be a moment in time, if the startup takes off, that will be like drinking out of a fire hose." The experience is thrilling and completely overwhelming--and chances are you won't be spending much time with your family.
Regardless of struggles or success, it's not going to get better. If your business is doing poorly, you will be consumed with trying to keep it alive. If your business is doing well, you will be consumed with trying to manage the explosive growth. (There is the occasional lifestyle business or low-maintenance app that gives founders plenty of down time, but this is the exception more than the rule.)
No matter how the company is doing, your loved ones will see just as little of you, and your spouse is going to have to keep picking up the slack in other areas of your life.
I know it's tempting to reassure your significant other that you will have more to offer him soon. But saying those five little words--"It's going to get better"--creates an expectation that simply can't be met. And, as every marriage-family therapist can attest, setting realistic expectations is essential to the health of a relationship. The bigger the gap between expectation and reality, the greater the resulting dissatisfaction and conflict. Unrealistic expectations between spouses can even lead to divorce.
Instead of the overly optimistic prediction, try giving your spouse an honest dose of reality, even if it's far from ideal. This is what I wish my husband had said instead: "I'm sorry. I know this is hard. I don't know when it will get better. Let's carve out some time this week to check in with each other."
It would have hurt to hear him say this, but it would have been far more accurate. I would have better known what we as a couple were signing up for, and I could set my expectations accordingly.
Even more importantly, knowing the truth is empowering: the sooner you recognize the reality of what daily life will be, the sooner you and your loved ones can find strategies and resources to make the startup life more sustainable for everyone. Even if it doesn't get better, it's possible to get through this together.