About three years ago, I hit a wall. I had been married to my entrepreneur husband for almost a decade, but things weren't getting easier for us. We struggled as much with balancing his business and our relationship as when we first married.
I knew we weren't the only entrepreneurial couple with these difficulties. I began talking to other entrepreneurs' spouses to learn about their greatest challenges and the most important lessons they've learned along the way.
Over time I interviewed more than 70 entrepreneurial couples, whose wisdom and insights helped inform my book on how to balance marriage and start-up life.
Many of the entrepreneurs' significant others reported similar challenges. These challenges often came in multiples, compounding the painful effects and potentially doing long-term damage to the relationship.
Fortunately, the vast majority of these couples had found effective strategies to overcome these difficulties and emerged with even stronger relationships. Their approaches were affirmed by a number of marriage-family therapists and executive coaches.
Here are 4 of the most common challenges that entrepreneurs' spouses face, and easy-to--implement solutions that can help couples stay on the same page:
Challenge #1: Resentment
This may be the most common emotional struggle for entrepreneurs' spouses, as their loved one gives the best of his or her time and energy to the business rather than the relationship. Spouses feel ignored and under-appreciated, often for years on end, which can lead to deep resentment.
Solution: Regularly demonstrate affection
Above all else, your spouse wants to know that he or she is still important to you. Intentionally do at least one thing a day to show your spouse how much you care. It could be as simple as saying some loving words or giving a long, heartfelt hug. If you don't know what to do, ask your spouse what acts of affection would be most meaningful.
Challenge #2: Stress and exhaustion
Significant others are also on the wild start-up ride and experience the financial and emotional stresses alongside their entrepreneurs. They often take on additional responsibilities to enable the start-up dream, such as working extra jobs or being the lead parent. This can cause severe stress, exhaustion, and eventually burnout.
Solution: Ask for help
No one can make it through the intense start-up journey alone. You both need a small army of people to support your practical and emotional needs. Figure out what you can delegate to others at work and at home. Ask friends and family members to be mentors or to pitch in with logistics. Hire outside help if you're able to.
Challenge #3: Loneliness
Because of their long work hours and frequent travels, entrepreneurs don't spend much time at home--and their spouses may feel like they're the only one in the marriage. Loneliness, when mixed with resentment, can lead to infidelity or other behaviors that deeply harm the relationship.
Solution: Prioritize your time together
Almost every entrepreneurial couple I spoke with has a regular date on the calendar, and the healthiest couples were the ones who made sure to honor that commitment. According to marriage researchers, it's okay if you don't have much time for each other as long as you make the most of the time you have. Minimize distractions and really focus on having meaningful conversations, the emotional benefits of which can last for one to two weeks.
Challenge #4: Feeling overshadowed
While entrepreneurs are off chasing their dreams, their significant others may feel stuck at home with the kids or in a job they don't like. They may wonder when it will be their turn to do what they want. This can leave spouses feeling unfulfilled and frustrated, personally and professionally.
Solution: Invest in meaningful work or activities
Having something meaningful to do is equally important for both partners. Rather than wait for the business to settle down (and it may never settle down), spouses should feel empowered to explore their interests now. If they have limited time, they can start with a hobby or volunteer opportunity that appeals to them. Relationships are far healthier when both spouses feel fulfilled.
The biggest takeaway from the many interviews I conducted: Small steps can make a big difference. Taking these simple actions on a regular basis could save you and your partner from a lot of heartache and greatly strengthen your relationship.