Relationships require communication, cooperation and patience in every iteration, but relationships where one or both parties are entrepreneurs are on a whole other level. The day-to-day experiences are different, the insecurities are unique, sleep schedules and finances are unpredictable, and the potential for miscommunication and disaster seems amplified.
So how do you build a healthy and successful relationship when one or more party is on a quest to build a healthy and successful business, too? Here's a few things I've learned along the way, and picked up from my fellow entrepreneurs.
The Business Is Not The Relationship
The life of an entrepreneur comes with natural ebbs and flows. As a business grows and evolves, there's good news and bad news. There are days filled with feelings of freedom and elation, followed by waves of doubts. There's money when clients are plentiful, and stress when there's gaps in income.
Any of these things can cause stress on a relationship, but it's important to acknowledge that the fluctuations of the business are not necessarily reflective of the relationship itself.
It's not uncommon to go on a quiet walk alone to think through a problem, or to put headphones in and block out the world for hours to meet a deadline. But these things can easily be misinterpreted as a need for "space" and "time" away from the relationship.
Without open communication on these topics, a last-minute date cancelation can leave one spouse feeling disappointed, left out, confused and hurt, while the other feels stressed, pressured, and insufficient. It's incredibly important for both partners to be open and honest about their expectations, their needs, their plans, and the changes in state to those things, not only in the long term but on a day-to-day basis as well.
Learn About Their Business
Entrepreneur spouses can sometimes feel like a third wheel, like their partner is in a relationship with their business. But you can change that dynamic by learning about and being interested in what your partner does and understanding their motivation for doing it.
This tip comes from my other half, Yasin Abbak, a fellow entrepreneur and CEO of the Fantasy Life App. Our businesses couldn't be more different--I consult for publishers and brands on native advertising best practices, and he's building a mobile community for sports fans--but because we've taken the time to ask questions and understand one another's industries, we're able to have better conversation, be better listeners and sounding boards for one another, make better introductions for each other, and to better support the work that the other does.
Spend some time getting to know the basics of your entrepreneurial partner's business. Do a bit of research online for relevant articles in the news and to help familiarize yourself with the lingo and key players of your partner's industry. With a better understanding of their work and what they're facing every day, you won't feel so disconnected while they're in business mode and you may even get to have a deeper conversation that allows you to see more of the passion that pushes them forward every day.
Work Together AND Play Together
An entrepreneurial or freelance life is a busy one; if you're not working, you're not making money or getting any closer to it. Many entrepreneurs have a difficult time unplugging, or are simply unable to step away from their work mindset during certain phases of their business. This is normal, but it can take some getting used to.
For many couples, especially couples made up of two entrepreneurs, this may mean that time spent together becomes time "working together." This time--whether in a shared home office or across from one another at a cafe--allows you to spend time together while also getting work done; working on or starting a business, working on a side project, reading a book, writing, researching, or even just watching a movie with headphones.
And while this might seem like a convenient win/win for productivity and bonding, it's important that you carve out some time for non-working dates. Even if you're only able to carve out an hour or so a week, it's important for the health of your relationship that you put guardrails around a certain time period where you'll get to share a special activity, and agree not to check phones obsessively while you're at it.
Just like your business, your relationship needs time, attention and work to continue to grow, develop and evolve. And if you're in a relationship with an entrepreneur, chances are they aren't afraid of a little hard work to make it happen.