Most aspiring entrepreneurs are so focused on the professional aspects of starting a business, like managing employees and making money, that they forget about the impact that entrepreneurship can have on their personal lives. Namely, entrepreneurship can put a massive strain on your marriage, and if you’re not prepared for that additional strain, it can topple even relationships with a strong foundation.
The Challenges of Self-Employment in Marriage
When one spouse is self-employed, or is starting a business, it introduces several new challenges into the relationship, including:
- Financial instability. No matter how good your business idea is, the early stages of startup development will almost always leave you with an inconsistent (or nonexistent) income. Budgeting with an inconsistent income is always difficult, and doing it with a spouse who may be in charge of supporting both of you is even more challenging. Considering financial issues are one of the leading causes of breakups and divorces, this is even more important to take seriously.
- Long working hours. Entrepreneurship is demanding, forcing business owners to attend meetings, handle paperwork, manage employees, and take care of other tasks. All those hours away from home or preoccupied can result in resentment and alienation between partners.
- Goal misalignment. In some cases, your partner may not fully believe in or support your business idea. They may be willing to go along with it to start, but over time, their resentment over the issue will grow.
- Future uncertainty. More than half of businesses fail within the first five years, yet most entrepreneurs start a business with a long-term future in mind, hoping to retire from the business or sell it for massive profit. Anxiety over the future of the business can be stressful for both partners, especially as you (inevitably) flirt with collapse in your first few years.
So how can you prepare yourself for these challenges?
Agree on Your Approach to Budgeting
First, you need to agree on an approach to budgeting that works for both of you—and under practically any conditions that could arise during the business’s development. If your spouse is going to be the breadwinner temporarily, they need to feel confident that the money is being spent responsibly and appropriately. You also need to make sure you have a comfortable way to pay the bills, and possibly end up with some money left over to put into the business.
What’s important here isn’t how you allocate the money, but rather the fact that you’re able to agree on a distribution. If you make your budgeting and contingency plans in advance, you won’t have to have a heated discussion when things are already stressful.
Establish a Protocol for Communication
Strong communication skills can prevent or resolve almost any problem related to the stress of a new business. Before you get started in the business, make sure you both agree how you’re going to communicate on key issues. Which communication styles work best for the other partner? Where do you usually find challenges when you fight, and how can you avoid them? Negotiating these hurdles proactively and practicing good communication skills will ensure that you have all the right tools for success when business-related issues inevitably arise.
Be Realistic About the Conditions
Planning on the business being successful is a bad idea, even if the numbers are in your favor. Instead, you need to think about (and talk about) the worst-case scenarios. You need to understand the long hours you’re going to put in. You need to accept that your initial budget will likely be inaccurate. You need to understand that there’s a realistic chance this business will fail. Once you have a realistic, borderline pessimistic sense for how the business is going to develop, you’ll be much more efficient at resolving disputes related to that development.
Maintain Hours (or Days) to Bond With Each Other
Finally, make it a priority to balance your business with your marriage. Set aside certain hours of the day and/or days of the week to spend bonding with your spouse. For example, you could set a strict cutoff of 8 pm for all work for the day, or ensure that you aren’t doing any work on Sunday. Go on dates together, get babysitters to watch the kids, and do whatever it is you enjoy most in your relationship—no matter how crazy things get with the business.
There’s no guarantee these steps will keep your relationship healthy indefinitely, but they will greatly increase your chances of success. No relationship is perfect, and no relationship is immune to stress, but creating a strong foundation for the coming challenges and being willing to communicate and compromise will mitigate the strongest threats to your marriage.