Trends & Insights

How to have a happy relationship as an entrepreneurial couple

Only a small subset of the estimated 1.2 million husband and wife business teams in the US are successful in both their work and in love.

Business building, like love, requires strong communication and conflict resolution skills, a willingness to learn, dedication, and flexibility. The time, money, and an emotional investment a new or growing business requires can put a relationship in jeopardy. If romantic partners in a business have a relationship that is out of balance, it can have an adverse impact on all areas of their lives.

Can you succeed as an entrepreneur and have a happy relationship?

We asked Relationship & Intimacy Expert Marla Mattenson for advice on how entrepreneur couples can grow their business and maintain a healthy relationship.

What challenges are unique to entrepreneur couples, where one or both are entrepreneurs?

Marla Mattenson: Finding time away from the business is a big challenge. You are always connected to your business, to the bottom line, so you don’t have a particular time when you can clock out and not worry, except when you are sleeping.

Most entrepreneurs don’t really want a break from their business. They want to make their business successful. Nurturing yourself and your relationship is important. Otherwise, you wake up in ten years and you don’t even know who this person is and they don’t know who you are.

As entrepreneurs, you need to make a conscious effort to schedule time off or you can end up working night and day. Part of that is because you love what you do and the other part is that things need to get done. For a couple, if one or both of you are entrepreneurs, the business encroaches on all your time.

As a couple, you need to make time to be available, which means you can give 100 percent of your attention toward your partner and focus on their wants and their needs.

You need to be present with each other and connect. This helps builds intimacy. I call it “Exquisite Attention.” Agree on a mutual time when you can unplug from the outside world. That includes electronic devices, telephone calls, and anything that takes you away from being present in that moment.

Setting boundaries are also the key to finding time off.

You need to build boundaries with your business, so you have a life outside of your business.

How important is time off for entrepreneur couples?

Marla Mattenson: It could seem like a burden to entrepreneurs to take time away from the business. However, quality of life is important, and it’s something that entrepreneurs don’t always think about until much later.  They realize they are disconnected from their partner and they are burnt out physically and emotionally. When they finally reach out to their partner…it’s too late.

You should set aside a weekly date at the very least. This could be dinner or lunch, or perhaps a walk where you’re disconnected from the world. Remember, time off needs to allow for “Exquisite Attention.” It can be as simple as how you greet each other in the morning. These time investments build connections that pay off in the long run.

We like to deposit in the bank of the union between the two of you, so that it’s so full when times are challenging, that you can withdraw from the union. That way, you’re not withdrawing from each other personally.

How are the challenges different when your partner in love is also your partner in business?

Marla Mattenson: There are two distinct ways that couples get in this situation.

One, you and your partner want to build the business together. It’s a shared goal and a shared passion. You want to do it together.

The other way is by default, where the business owner needs help and the partner gets cajoled into taking a role in the business that they probably do not enjoy, and it’s not their passion.

That’s the most challenging scenario. I teach my couples to have an exit strategy with three key components:

Time-based: Limit it to 90 days or six months if needed.

Write it down: Create a standard operating procedure that includes the what and why of your job.

Train the next person: Give them the manual and train them on what you’re doing.

I have heard so many couples say, “Well he started this ten years ago and he just kept on going.”  He wants to help his partner, but now he’s silently dying because he’s doing a job he hates.

One of the more challenging dynamics can be when the entrepreneur partner becomes the “boss” to their partner in love.

What I teach my couples is you have to learn how to put the business hat on and take it off. So then put the relationship hat on and take it off.

When talking about the relationship, whether it’s about intimacy or planning a vacation, the business hat needs to be off and the relationship hat needs to be on. It’s equally important to remember that each partner has a role in service to the business. Even a CEO is in service to the business as an employee. It’s not a question of who’s the boss, but how can you support each other in getting things done for the business.

Another big challenge is when people feel like they are the business. The truth is that a sole proprietor is the business. At the same time, you’re just a person. So it doesn’t give you any more power than anyone else involved in the business. Every role is important.

Marla Mattenson: The biggest part of my work is helping couples on their communication. Being loving, honest, kind, and authentic in their communication. There’s an old saying, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.”

I teach my couples how to make their relationship just as much a priority as their business. For example, if something is being hidden in the relationship, even with good intentions, then you’re practicing hiding something. That’s going to reflect in the business somewhere because you’re practicing not being authentic. It will impact how you communicate with customers, colleagues, suppliers, etc.

What are some signs that your relationship is suffering?

Marla Mattenson: The signs are pretty obvious: If you’re feeling resentful, angry, irritated, blaming your partner or yourself about the relationship, or you’re depressed about the relationship. When these feelings are consistent, it’s a strong sign of negative patterns with your partner.

As an entrepreneur, you can also feel pressure to do things you don’t want to do or spend money you don’t want to spend. You could fall into the old pattern that “I’m doing what I need to for myself and the business and that should be enough.” And it’s not enough.

On either side, these are tell-tale signs that the relationship is need of attention.

How can entrepreneur couples find balance, happiness, and success?

Marla Mattenson: A long-term, successful relationship is a growth-based relationship where you and your partner desire to see how you can use challenges to grow together. You need to ask yourselves what balance looks like to you as a couple. I ask couples to do this as a writing exercise, then compare answers. If they’re not the same, you need to find some overlap so that without sacrifice, there’s flexibility for both of you to get your needs met.

Balance with an entrepreneur is going to be different.

Entrepreneurs don’t care about balance. In general, entrepreneurs don’t care about life-work balance. Balance can feel like it’s going to take them away from what they want to do.

As a partner, you want to honor that drive and dedication to building a business, but at the same time, you need attention too. It’s important, to be honest with yourself and consider that being an entrepreneur is more than what your partner does, but also defines who they are.

How is your approach unique?

Marla Mattenson: I look for commonalities and patterns in what’s happening and see when there’s a disconnect. I have this gift where I can see when couples don’t interpret what the other said. So, I interpret for them until they find their own pattern.

I also use mathematics in that I explain things in graphs.  My mastery is that I am unemotional and logical in the realm of emotion. I bring a very clear, logical approach that’s based on objectivity and inclusiveness and never taking sides.

The goal is to see the big picture and have compassion for each other and move through it logically.

You need to continue to grow, learn, and change. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re definitely growing and changing. That’s why I love working with entrepreneur couples.