In the current season of "This Is Us," cracks in the seemingly rock-strong marriage of Randall and Beth Pearson have become exposed. Their tension comes to a head in the penultimate episode of season three, which showcases the uneasy dynamic that has run throughout their relationship and culminates in a vicious argument.
If you are an entrepreneur or you're married to an entrepreneur, the accusations Randall and Beth throw at each other, and the pain underlying those accusations, are probably quite familiar:
"Our lives don't work unless I'm doing the bending...and we both know it," Beth says, referencing the many sacrifices and compromises she has made to support Randall's dreams.
Randall has a different perspective. "In what universe have I been steamrolling you for the past twenty years?" he challenges. "I refuse to be blamed for the fact that you had your awakening twenty years too late."
When two passionate, ambitious people find themselves tied together, such conflicts are all too common. One person's dream may consume the other's life. Or the ambitions of both are compromised to the point where they're barely recognizable.
It can be easy for one partner to feel like he or she is constantly sacrificing and compromising for the other. This then leads to resentment that can simmer for years, until it finally boils over.
There is no perfect solution to this challenge. The reality is that both partners need to be willing to compromise for family and career ambitions to coexist.
Through my extensive research of entrepreneur couples, I've found several strategies that partners have successfully used to ensure that neither feels consumed by the dreams of the other:
1. Make sure each of your passions are being fueled on a regular basis.
When one partner completely relinquishes their interests for the other, it leads to unhealthy codependency. Even the closest of couples need some measure of individuation--and investing in the passions of each is a key part of that. This doesn't mean that both must pursue full-time careers, but it does require that each has at least some time and space to do something that they love.
2. Take turns being the dream-chaser.
When it's not possible for you to pursue your ambitions at the same time, one good option is to take turns. I've spoken to several entrepreneur couples in which one of them started a business while the other took care of the kids; a few years later, they switched. Or maybe one of you goes back to school while the other works to pay the bills, and the breadwinning responsibility switches after matriculation.
This isn't an easy path, but it is more equitable and fair, and helps each partner to better appreciate the other.
3. Each partner gets decision-making power in one key area.
If only one of you can pursue his or her dream job, then the other partner should be given decision-making power over another important area of your shared life, such as where you live or quality of life or how you spend free time. I know one entrepreneur whose business was in the U.K., but he moved with his spouse and children to Australia so they could be closer to family. It made for a pretty crazy commute, but the level of empowerment and agency his spouse felt made a huge difference in their relationship.
4. Know your limits and communicate those to your partner.
If at all possible, you and your beloved should try to avoid reaching the breaking point of resentment. One important way to do that is to know your limits: What is okay for you and what is not? What is non-negotiable? What are your most important needs? Share this with your spouse and agree to honor each other's boundaries.
When your spouse's choices threaten your limits, you can refer to your previously agreed upon boundaries. This may lead to compromises that are less than ideal for both of you, but you'll be able to stave off the worst of resentment-creating circumstances.
When one or both of you has a deep-seeded, all-consuming passion, family relationships are inevitably going to be a bit messy. But you can still love and support each other through it. You can find a dynamic that works for you--and helps you avoid the kind of blowup that Randall and Beth's relationship may or may not survive.