Many people consider it difficult to be married to an entrepreneur – all it takes is a Google search to reveal abundant anecdotal evidence and a lot of darkly positive articles like How to Be An Entrepreneur, and Stay Married and You Can Be An Entrepreneur – and Not Get Divorced. And as many couples in which at least one spouse is an entrepreneur can attest, it is possible. But until recently, I was married to an entrepreneur, and now I’m not. And I’m here to tell you: yes, you can stay married, but it will take a lot of work from both of you.
Let me preface all this by saying that the fact that my ex is an entrepreneur was not the reason we divorced, but in conjunction with the reasons we did divorce, it did not help.
As an entrepreneur, this is probably not the happiest thing you can think of to read. But this is not a screed against entrepreneurs – I know many entrepreneurs who have successful marriages, and truthfully, I hope I can be an entrepreneur one day, pursuing my passions on my terms. I didn’t write this to tell entrepreneurs that they’re doing marriage wrong, or that they’re hard to live with, or somehow more difficult than people who have corporate jobs, because they’re not.
I wrote this only because it’s my story, because if it helps you open your eyes, or have a better conversation with your spouse, or think “Well my spouse and I are nothing like this, we must be doing it right,” then there will be good from the pain. And maybe, gradually, entrepreneurs won’t get such a bum relationship reputation anymore, because one day I want to be an entrepreneur.
Why it’s awesome to be married to an entrepreneur
Freedom baby – it’s why most entrepreneurs became so in the first place. No corporate work schedule to adhere to, no rationing PTO, no taking orders from a clueless middle manager or tolerating corporate complacency. Entrepreneurs are likely creative, passionate and just different from everyone else, and that is super appealing. That’s the kind of person you recognize will change the world.
But if being married to an entrepreneur were all roses and rainbows, there wouldn’t be thousands of blog posts about how to not get divorced. So let’s have some real talk: being married to an entrepreneur has its own set of challenges, and not just because they might not come home for dinner every night.
Why it’s hard to be married to an entrepreneur
Entrepreneur does not equal successful entrepreneur
I have the utmost respect for people who strike out on their own and start their own businesses. It takes grit, determination, charisma and desire, and I love people who exhibit all of those qualities, otherwise I wouldn’t have married one.
But just because someone starts a business doesn’t mean they will be good at running a business, and there are few things harder than watching the one you love struggle just to get through the day. It’s like they know the bus comes at 10:30 every morning and they’re standing at the bus stop ready to go, but they just let the bus drive past. Every. Single. Day.
Maybe they’re afraid to get on because the bus may not take them where they want to go. Maybe they’re afraid that once they get on the bus, its wheels will just spin and spin without taking them anywhere. Or maybe they’re so close to taking that step onto the bus, but they can’t decide if it’s the right day, or if they should take a different bus, and they’ve gone over so many different bus routes that they suffer from analysis paralysis. What if this bus crashes? What if they don’t like the bus? What if it breaks down? While the bus is full of opportunity, it is also full of the unknown.
As the partner of an entrepreneur you try to set your entrepreneur up for every success possible, for every opportunity to get on the bus. You listen to their ups and downs and encourage, problem solve – you even do work for them, like answering phone calls, writing emails or marketing copy – the kinds of things you would do if you could be an entrepreneur yourself.
And when your entrepreneur gets meetings with people who might be the right people, you hope that this time it will work out. Maybe it will be the big break, the pivotal moment that will begin your ascent, and maybe you too will be free to pursue your dreams once their business takes off more. When it doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, the disappointment is crushing. Eventually, you learn to give up hope, which is a horrible thing to feel toward the person you love, and you begin to doubt your own self-worth, because what kind of person would feel that?
An entrepreneur’s sense of self-worth is so tied into his or her business – and when you just can’t get ahead, it’s dang near impossible for them to get themselves out of their head space, their head games, their habits. When they’re the only ones holding themselves accountable, they start to hate their boss – and they are their boss.
I understand this. I could see and feel this, and at the same time want to shake my entrepreneur and say “Just do it already!” even though I know it’s not that simple, they were trying to follow their dreams and make something great, all I could do was stand on the sidelines and watch them try to hustle, and try not to feel pronounced disappointment when nothing moved forward. Eventually, all I could feel were my own dreams and excitement for the future slip away, because nothing changed. I had no hope left.
You take on their worry
As I watched my ex spin their wheels and stay at the bus stop day after day, my worry on behalf of their business compounded, on top of the other worries I carried daily, like finding myself a better job, keeping the house running, making sure we ate and paying the bills.
It was tempting to step in and do more, but I was so stressed and burdened with worry, I couldn’t devote ample energy to my own projects. Compounded with the other major communication problems we were having, it became too much. I understand that establishing a business takes time, often more time than anyone would like, but when there’s not even progress to move backward from, it becomes deeply concerning.
A business won’t necessarily make money
Perhaps one of the worst things about adulthood is that the bills still have to be paid. Families with an entrepreneur in the mix are used to fluctuating bank balances and long periods between payments. Financial issues can shake even the most rock-solid of relationships, whether a spouse is an entrepreneur or not. And there are a ton of money-related issues that can stress a marriage – though there are also plenty of ways to resolve those issues.
Of course, most couples wade through sticky financial situations, and it is conquerable. But my entrepreneur was opaque and vague when it came to earnings, mostly, I think, due to a feeling of deep fear and inadequacy, feelings they rarely shared. I was already wound so tight I think they were reluctant to share their worries and setbacks, and that, of course, is a failing on my part. When the bank account started showing that we might not be able to get some of the things we needed, and when my entrepreneur started providing hours of expertise to other entrepreneurs for free in the hopes it would pay off in the future, my natural tendency toward anxiety increased.
The money burden falls on you
When you don’t know when or if the next paycheck will come, the financial burden falls on the spouse with the corporate job. It’s normal in a marriage to have ebbs and flows of each spouse making money, and that was something I could accept. Money was not the reason we divorced – it was just a symptom of greater issues.
But it was still a big burden to carry, especially since I was stuck at a boring, unfulfilling and isolating job I couldn’t leave, and there were a number of times I seriously considered picking up a second job on nights and weekends. That increased my resentment – I was sacrificing my happiness and contemplating a second job when my spouse couldn’t even do their one job?
I felt stuck and hopeless. My entrepreneur couldn’t move forward, so I couldn’t move forward. And since I was the one running the house and the finances while working full time while my spouse tried and tried to get on the bus – well, in conjunction with other things, eventually I hit my breaking point. I tried to do everything. I couldn’t. You can’t either. But here’s what you can do.
See the opportunity and focus on communication
When a spouse comes to you and says “If things keep going like this, I can’t do this anymore,” see this as an opportunity, not as an affront. You both did things that got you to that point, – in my case, I hadn’t communicated my needs clearly, and I had just let things keep going despite the fact they were hurting us. Remember, the breakup wasn’t about entrepreneurship – it was about a total communication breakdown in many areas, a breakdown for which I was responsible, too.
Acknowledge the other issues
The biggest thing about being married to an entrepreneur is that in a marriage there are always other issues. If a marriage were perfect except for one spouse being an entrepreneur, there probably wouldn’t be so many articles about how to stay married to an entrepreneur. You have to be willing to face all those other issues – no matter how ugly they seem.
Make your relationship at least as important as your business
You will – and want to – hustle every day of your life, and that is beautiful. But as a lot of entrepreneurs will tell you, it takes that same diligence and intention to not destroy your personal life.
If you recognize yourself or your spouse in this post, recognize that it’s not hopeless, but both parties have to be willing to change things. It doesn’t always come down to spending time together – I was lucky that my entrepreneur loved spending time with me and always made time for it. I will always cherish that. I’m talking habit-breaking, perspective-shaking changes. The problem is not about what you do or whether your spouse can handle it. It’s about the way both people in the marriage communicate and act toward the other. It’s about not hiding your fears – it’s about sharing them and facing them together.
Face your fears together
What it will take is honest, gut-wrenching, vulnerable conversations. Humility and the ability to recognize that what you’re doing might not be working. The willingness to catch the bus, the courage to admit that you can’t and the humility to ask for help.
* Editor’s note: Usually, we do not accept anonymous submissions, as we prefer that people be willing to put their names to their work. However, due to the nature of the contributor’s situation and in the interest of and respect for the privacy of both parties, we have agreed to keep the contributor’s name anonymous.