Would you say your marriage is thriving? Or, just “OK”?
There is a series of commercials that AT&T is running which drive home this idea. Their message is, “Just OK is not OK”. We don’t want a doctor operating on us that isn’t competent, nor do we take off in our car, knowing if our brakes don’t stop us, something else will.
If you are an entrepreneur, “just OK” is usually not part of your vocabulary. You are constantly thinking about improvements, increasing efficiency and margins. You seek out trusted advisors, read books, attend peer boards to ensure the success of your business. You meet with your team and set measurable goals, reviewing them on a regular basis.
Do you do the same for your marriage?
The entrepreneur's most valuable asset
One of the common characteristics of thriving entrepreneur marriages is shared goals/vision. Successful entrepreneurs focus on the pulse of their business, knowing that “constant, gentle pressure” (Danny Meyer, Setting The Table) is required to keep growing in the right direction. They can become so focused, however, that they sometimes blast ahead, without including their most valuable asset: the support of their spouse.
Men and women entrepreneurs have different assumptions about spousal support. Jodyanne Kirkwood notes in her research, “Findings show that women and men tend to have different expectations of their spouse when contemplating starting a business. A woman looks to her husband for business advice, for support, and encouragement and considers the effects that starting a business may have on her spouse. A man tends to assume support is forthcoming, and some men start businesses without explicit spousal support” (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10834-009-9169-4).
It is not my intention to pick on men, but as this article suggests, sometimes men forge ahead, assuming their wife is on board. My husband, a high D (dominance) on the DISC profile, has sometimes moved ahead with something before there was confirmed agreement. When I would express my confusion about why he pulled the trigger, he would often respond, “Well, we talked about it.”
“Yes” I would say, “but we hadn’t AGREED on it.” I don’t think I’m the only one to experience this.
So, to avoid any confusion about shared goals, here are a couple of things to make sure you are moving in the same direction.
Setting and reviewing goals
Short term goals
Using the method described here is a quick way to assess whether you are both on the same page. Write down the 3 things you both agree to Stop, Start, Continue, and post it someplace where you both will see it. Posting on the refrigerator, bathroom mirror, in your car, or even a daily reminder on your smartphone will keep the 3 things in view, and top of mind.
Annual (or quarterly) review
Because our anniversary falls in January, we often spent time on an anniversary getaway talking about goals for the coming year and beyond. We weren’t super formal about it, but we usually included these 3 elements
What do you want to accomplish individually? Fitness goals, losing weight, books to read, travel—these are just examples of individual goals you might have.
What do you need from your partner to make this a reality? Support may look different, depending on each personality and the goal involved. Make sure your partner is clear about specific action needed. Adding this to a visible list is helpful to keep it a priority.
How are things going with each child? What one thing does each child need to encourage their healthy development? This is where revisiting goals and needs every quarter is helpful—focusing on one thing allows time to see growth, and keeps the process manageable.
When there’s an entrepreneur in the family, it is imperative that the business be discussed in depth. And because money is one of the most divisive areas for many couples, don’t shy away from the realities of where the business has been the previous year, and where it is going. It is not uncommon for much of the “profit” to be going back into the company, and not your family’s budget. This is a common frustration for the spouse of an entrepreneur.
Maybe the company is in a growth mode, or there’s a temporary dip, requiring money from some source to keep things afloat. Make sure to include your spouse in these decisions so there are no surprises later. If there isn’t clear communication about the path ahead, the spouse of the entrepreneur can become disillusioned, resentful, or anxious, not knowing what to expect. Granted, even with the best laid plans, there are unforeseen twists and turns which will require adjustment, but if you are wholly committed as a team, these pivots can be made much easier.
Some spouses don’t want a lot of information about the business. This makes it harder to feel like a team, and may even indicate that the spouse wasn’t fully on board with the decision to launch the venture. If you find yourself in this situation, working with a marriage counselor or coach may help you develop more of a team approach.
What do you each need to accomplish professional/business goals? Again, be very specific about asking for what you need, not assuming your partner knows.
Vision for longer term goals—5 or 10 years down the road, is another essential factor in a thriving entrepreneur marriage.
Creating this vision together is one way to keep momentum and hope alive when there are challenges in the business. It is not easy to look around at your friends that appear to be stable, planning vacations, purchasing homes, or other things with which we often measure success.
If the longterm vision is clear, it provides fuel for the fire to keep going, even when the business isn’t yet profitable. Did you know “that Amazon consistently lost money for its first several years as a public company”? Your business may never be the size of Amazon, but we tend to look at the success of others, overlooking what happened along the way.
Reviewing this long term vision, along with regular goal reviews/updates, allows a couple to see that they ARE making progress, and celebrate victories, however small, along the way.