This week the hi-tech world was rocked by the news that Jeff Bezos and his wife of twenty-five years, MacKenzie, were divorcing. This was quickly followed by revelations of an eight-month affair between Bezos and his friend's wife.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story in the start-up world, and can happen as easily to a struggling first-time entrepreneur as the world's wealthiest man. Because of their propensity for novelty-seeking, entrepreneurs generally struggle with commitment and are at higher risk of infidelity and divorce.
The Bezoses had a few other things working against them: wealth and fame. Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos married shortly before he founded Amazon. While they were well off, they probably hadn't ever dreamed of the $136 billion that would someday be theirs.
Some couples may be tempted to look to money to help solve their problems, but the reality is that having a lot of financial wealth can create plenty of problems, from new complexities and increased opportunities for infidelity, to changing the very character of people.
Multiple studies have shown that affluent individuals have significantly less empathy than average. This can be particularly harmful to marriages, where, according to marriage expert Dr. Les Parrott, empathy is one of the most essential ingredients for success. Empathy for your spouse alone can resolve up to 90 percent of marital conflict, according to Parrott.
In addition, fame can stoke egos and lead to extremely busy schedules, both challenges to consistently showing up and caring for your significant other.
If you and your beloved share some of the same risk factors as the Bezoses, though, that doesn't mean your relationship is doomed. There is plenty you can do to strengthen your marriage so that it lasts far beyond twenty-five years.
Here are a few key steps to begin with:
1. Be genuinely committed to one another.
In his multiple relationship books, Dr. Harville Hendrix discusses the importance of safety in a relationship. Out of safety flows the ability to be vulnerable, share, and connect. Safety is experienced by spouses when they know their partners are committed to stay, no matter what. Commitment can be expressed through the simple but intentional act of showing up, being present, and showing love to your partner each day.
2. Make your time together quality time.
Entrepreneurs and their spouses are busy people. But you only need a few hours of quality time together each week to keep your relationship strong. Make sure that isn't time spent discussing logistics or the kids, but rather time in which you really talk to one another--asking questions, listening, reflecting, offering affirmation and encouragement.
3. Have people in your life to help keep your partnership on track.
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to maintain a marriage. Each of you needs family members, friends, and mentors who can encourage you and hold you accountable when the relationship is struggling. Professionals like executive coaches and therapists can also push you toward personal and marital growth.
It is always painful when a relationship ends, no matter how rich or famous--or not--you are. Fortunately, even small steps can have a positive impact. And, as a result, your marriage could have a very different outcome than that of Jeff Bezos.