About 40 percent of U.S. marriages end in divorce. And though there are few hard figures, anecdotal evidence suggests that entrepreneurs see their marriages fail more often than most other people, owing to the financial strains of starting a business, the long hours at work, and especially the way starting a business can become an all-consuming concern that drives most other thoughts out of your head. The best way to prevent that from happening is to treat your marriage with the same seriousness and attention that you would a business venture.
Whether you’re starting a business or just pursuing an all-consuming career, focusing too much on work can be lethal to your personal relationships, warns Wendy Capland, Wendy Capland, executive coach to such companies as IBM, Bank of America, and CVSHealth, among many others. Capland is the author of the bestselling book Your Next Bold Move, and she’s also my coach. For the past several years, she’s been coaching me and I’ve been writing about it.
"You put everything into starting your business because you believe it takes all that to do it," she says. "And one day you’re going to wake up and your spouse isn’t going to be there."
If you don’t want this to happen to your marriage, watch out for these warning signs. They could mean you’re putting so much of yourself into your job that your relationship is starting to suffer:
1. You’re not setting good boundaries between your relationships and your work.
"We were on vacation with another couple two weeks ago, and she was constantly checking and responding to emails," Capland says. "The emails came in and she would say, ‘It’ll just take two seconds for me to respond.’ That’s what people think–oh, I’ll just do this one thing and it’ll be fine."
But it’s not fine, which is why you and your spouse or partner need clear boundaries that govern when you will and won’t be working. These can vary from couple to couple, but there should be specific rules.
For example, "Many couples and families have a rule: No cell phones at the dinner table, or no cell phones in the bedroom," Capland says. In her own marriage, she adds, Saturday night is date night, and Sunday morning is for hanging out together with no structured plans. Another entrepreneur I know has a no-work period that runs from 5 p.m. Friday to noon on Sunday.
In general, she says, "Have a dedicated time in the evening when you’re together and have time to talk and catch up on your day. And if you have kids, there’s family time and spouse-only time, and they’re not the same."
2. You think your relationship is a done deal.
"People sometimes think, ‘I’m already married–I’m good to go,’" Capland says. She remembers a client who happened to have a coaching appointment on Valentine’s Day, so she asked him in passing what he was getting his wife for the occasion.
The man seemed surprised. "He said, ‘I have to get her something?’" she recalls. He seemed to think that, since he told her he loved her when they married and nothing had changed since then, no further expressions of love were required.
That’s an extreme example, but it’s all too easy for anyone who’s been in a relationship for a while to start taking that relationship for granted. That may be why Americans who divorce do so, on average, 8.2 years into their relationship.
A solid relationship, like a solid business, needs constant attention to stay that way. That’s why people who assume they can leave their marriage on autopilot often wind up regretting it. Instead, Capland recommends checking in regularly with your spouse or partner to discuss how things are going. "Ask: What went really well this week?" she says. "Always start with the good stuff. And then one or two things that didn’t go well–not more, so you’re not overwhelming the other person. And end with one or two things we could do differently this coming week."
That’s right–Capland thinks checking in weekly is a good idea, at least at first. After all, you probably have a weekly status or check-in meeting with your team at work. Does your marriage deserve less attention?
3. You have no goals for your relationship.
"One really great exercise, if you want to improve your relationship, is to set expectations and to tell your partner what matters most to you," she says. In fact, she and her husband created a vision board as a couple, so they could have a visual reminder of the goals they are working toward this year.
For example, spending time with their grown children is highly important to Capland, so she put a picture family vacation on the vision board. Her husband wanted their finances to be more secure so he added an image reflecting financial stability. "You only put things on the vision board that you both agree on," she says.
What if you don’t want to have goals for your relationship–you just want to keep going along as you are? That could be a sign of trouble. After all, you have goals for your business and your team, and for your own career. Those goals give you a way to focus your attention and your efforts, and to look beyond the hustle and bustle of the day.
"Having career goals but not relationship goals could mean we take our careers more seriously than our relationships," Capland says. Do that for too long, and you could wind up with one but not the other.