Takeaway episodes are a summary of important highlights from a longer episode. If you're short on time, this is a great way to learn from other couples that are thriving in their entrepreneur journey.
This is another takeaway episode, where I summarize the highlights of an interview through my perspective as a marriage coach. It’s a quick way to get straight to the takeaways for those of you short on time. Or patience.
Ashley & Jeff Corn have been married 7 years, together 12. They live with their 2 young kiddos in Denver, CO. Jeff started Virtuance, a real estate photography & visual marketing company almost 10 years ago. They now have offices in over 30 cities. Ashley’s background in performance psychology led her to work with an Army program that develops resilience. She recently launched a website, Joint Venture Marriage, to provide encouragement for other entrepreneur couples.
I’ve been asking a fun question recently: If your marriage was a team sport, what would it be?
They chose sailing as the metaphor for the team sport that best represented their marriage. Avid sailors, they found many analogies from sailing that applied to marriage, as well as startup life.
- Jeff said in sailing there’s a skipper, and a crew. They bring different skill sets that are all necessary for managing the boat.
- There’s an understood agreement that when I do this, you do this in response, and vice versa. I would add that this understanding can’t be assumed; it requires full agreement about the expectations involved in that role. When applied to marriage, I see many couples that don’t discuss expectations openly. One or both assume that the other will respond in a certain way, without clearly saying what they NEED or WANT from the other.
- Sailing has been described as long periods of boredom, interspersed with moments of sheer terror. This is NOT their marriage, Ashley was quick to point out, except that at times they are spinning too many plates in the air and have a hard time keeping up, and it feels a little crazy.
- There are quicker ways to get to your destination, so you’d better enjoy the journey. This speaks more to a startup. The unknown twists & turns of a new venture are part of the journey. If you just want to make money, there are more secure ways of doing that. Most entrepreneurs would say that having the freedom to pursue what they envision is what they love about choosing this journey.
- Ashley added that sailing can take you to beautiful places. it is a give and take with the crew and the captain. Being able to work together to make that happen and steer where you want to go takes both of them. BOOM! There’s that teamwork concept again!
If there is a common theme evolving from these interviews, it’s that couples that are able to navigate the choppy waters of a new, growing venture do so as a TEAM. That doesn’t mean they both work IN the business necessarily, but they have an understanding that it takes both of them being on board to keep heading in the right direction.
Ashley & Jeff have done some important work to get on the same team. While they enjoy many things in common, they are somewhat different temperaments. Jeff is a little more of a risk taker, while Ashley is intentional, more of a planner.
They had a particularly rough time when their first child was born. Jeff was traveling a lot, and Ashley felt like a single parent. This is a pattern I hear so often, that if there was only ONE thing I could get entrepreneur couples to focus on, it’s becoming a team. So often, the entrepreneur is so busy, he doesn’t see that their spouse is drowning. Ashley started looking for resources for their marriage. She found couples to interview, and learned strategies that were helpful to them. She read books, searched the internet for resources. (Side note—my website and this podcast were some of the resources she found. A reminder from our sponsor— sharing the podcast and the website resources, helps others find the tools and help they need. OK, back to the show.)
Together, they became more intentional about developing agreements around work hours, so Ashley knew she would have some relief. They spend some time at the beginning of the year talking about goals they have and how they will help each other accomplish these goals.
They had to be vulnerable—willing to hear the other, and to say what they needed. This is such an important part of a thriving marriage. Ashley could have just allowed the resentment to build, stepping up her appearance of competence. “I’m fine” is too often the automatic response of capable, but exhausted, women. You can only keep up the front so long, before the facade cracks. So kudos to both of them for doing the work. These challenging seasons, and parenthood is a significant season, aren’t always fun. But meeting the storms head on is the only way we stretch and grow, reaching for the life preservers wherever we can find them. (See, still getting sailing examples!)
Jeff did something that is another important practice in successful marriages. He publicly affirmed Ashley for her contributions to the company. It doesn’t have to be public, but those are bonus points! He said that most of the good ideas around company culture have come from her, and that he is better because of who she is, and so is their company, and their marriage. So good. Research supports the positive effect of affirming or showing appreciation for the contributions each makes to the business, and each other.
The last thing I want to unpack has to do with preparation—I had asked if there were things they wish they’d known before launching a business. Ashley felt it would have been helpful to know more about what they would be facing, while Jeff pointed out that failure to launch is the danger of too much analysis. I agree that some people will never launch a startup or commit to a relationship, for that matter, until everything is perfect. I think there is a great benefit in couples having specific conversations before deciding to launch a startup. It’s fairly common to see the entrepreneur as having more risk appetite, while the spouse is more cautious, which can provide some checks and balances along the way. But too often, entrepreneurs launch without having important agreements with their spouse. So here’s my 2 cents—find a couple that have started something, and ask them about their experience. What is it we don’t even know to ask? You can’t prepare for everything. Even in sailing, you read weather reports, and sometimes a storm comes out of seemingly nowhere. But there are ways to inform your decision, so you can begin as a team.
Check out Ashley’s website at jvmarriage.com, or share this episode with someone who might just need a life preserver.
You’re building a life together. Make it a great one!