Success is measured in a variety of ways. Money and status are both forms of success. But so is a deeply nourishing and fulfilling relationship--in fact, it's arguably a far better yardstick when it comes to a successful life than numbers in a bank account.
Branson counts his relationship with his wife as one of his greatest successes. And yet, when he was young, he says didn't really know what love was:
"Had you asked me what I thought love was when I was younger, I would have told you it was an overwhelming emotion that grips and squeezes your heart till it sings with an erratic beat," says the now-billionaire.
"Perhaps it was my hormones, but this was what happened when I was a teenager, lusting after girls with pretty eyes and coy smiles. I even wrote dramatic poetry, waxing lyrical about my unwavering passion and desires. Here's my first love poem to prove it."
When Branson first met his wife, it was not love at first sight on her side. He was into it, but she was far more reluctant. The story of how Branson and his wife fell in love is one of persistence, not instant romance.
But it was worth the wait. In fact, Branson suggests that the healthy relationship with his wife was one of the biggest reasons for his fearlessness in business:
"Having spent 40 years with Joan by my side I have had the courage to do so many things others would deem impossible. I have been able to take risks--that have been fundamental to my success in business--which I probably wouldn't have dared to make without Joan's love."
In other words, the relationship itself was a platform for Branson's massive success.
I recently watched the film On the Basis of Sex, the story of Ruth Bader-Ginsberg's early success as a lawyer. It was an intimate and quite personal view of the background for her ultimate success at becoming a Supreme Court justice.
What struck me the most about the film wasn't The Notorious RBG's immense courage, but the strength she derived from her partnership with her husband, Marty.
It became increasingly obvious over the course of the film just how fundamental it was that she had a supportive and genuinely loving partner by her side. Not only did he believe in her, but he provided material support--like being the one to cook for the family. He was ahead of his time in terms of gender roles, and that kind of contribution allowed Ruth to shine.
She was able to change the world because of their love.
Branson says he has had a similar experience in terms of being loved by his wife:
"[Joan] has taught me that love shouldn't just squeeze your heart, it should cradle it. It should prop you up, not bring you down. It should make you strong, not weak. The way I see it, love is a steadfast boat that allows you to make safe yet exciting passage across wild seas."
In other words, their relationship has been a safe place to land for Branson. It has been a source of comfort and support, a place where he feels safe to express himself and be truly at home--which then allows him to take big risks and fail.
A healthy relationship can become a constant reminder that who you are isn't what you do. It's the way your partner delights in the fact that you snort a little when you laugh; the way she remembers that you like your popcorn a little bit burnt; that he picked up your dry cleaning without being asked because he knew you had a big meeting in the morning.
In Branson's words, "Love should be supportive; it should lift us and inspire us to be the best possible person we can be. Because if you can be the best version of yourself, your partner will benefit too. That's the cornerstone of a great relationship--wanting the best for and bringing out the best in each other."
That last part is 12 words that encapsulate some of the most profound relationship advice out there: that the cornerstone of a great relationship is bringing out the best in each other.
It's not being perfect or expecting perfection in your partner. It's recognizing that there's genius and beauty in there, and that you can help to elicit it. That you're there, in part, to facilitate your partner's greatness...simply by loving them.