For founders, the lines between work and home are consistently blurred. But there are ways to effectively manage the challenges of the founder-spouse dynamic and keep your loved ones in the loop.
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As a startup psychologist — a title I’ve adopted in the past few years to best explain my work — these relationships tend to come up, especially the dynamics between a founder and their spouse.
Being a founder’s significant other is not for the faint-hearted. A founder will permanently be splitting their attention and their energy. There will always be a deal to close, a customer to sign, a person to hire or fire, and your relationship will often have to take the back seat. There is no way of getting around this reality.
However, I believe there are ways to navigate the very real challenges brought on by the founder-spouse dynamic, ways to set boundaries and expectations from the get-go and ways to keep your loved ones in the loop for a healthier dynamic, both on the business and home fronts.
Why excluding your significant other is a mistake
One trend that I often witness with founders — the most destructive of the lot — is their tendency to keep business talk away from their spouses.
From my experience, a founder’s decision to avoid sharing their struggles, their stresses, their successes and their fears comes from a place of not wanting to burden their loved ones. However, it is also often due to the founder’s belief that their significant other “just won’t get it.”
This pervasive notion that their wife or husband will never understand the ins and outs of their startup world can create a destructive flywheel effect. The more you exclude your spouse from the business narrative, the harder it will be for them to ever understand what it is you’re going through. This causes the distance between you to grow, and on it goes.
In my opinion, this is a big mistake.
By keeping your spouse out of the loop, you are denying yourself a stronger support system, one that extends from the office to the home (much like the omnipresent stress of founding a startup).
By keeping your spouse out of the loop, you are making it harder for them to accept the inevitable sacrifices that come with the first few years of establishing your business.
Imagine being the spouse of a founder who has no insights into their world of business. Suddenly, your partner tells you that they must take a significant pay cut for the time being. This supposedly random decision — since they’re disconnected from the business — is extremely hard to accept, especially when they have seen their partner sacrifice themselves time and time again.
But then imagine being included and being seen as a partner who is capable of understanding the jargon, the challenges and the tough decisions your significant other is going through, and even be in a position to give solid advice. In this case, when your partner explains the nitty gritty that resulted in being slightly short on runway, you will have a far easier time understanding and accepting why a reduction of salary is necessary.
The question is: How is this done? How do we, practically, make sure our spouse is in the loop without it feeling like yet another responsibility?
How to effectively include your spouse in work talk
For long-term relationships or those in marriages, the first thing I recommend is to ensure founding a startup is a mutual decision between you and your partner. Becoming a founder will influence your personal and family life for years to come; therefore, it is imperative to have an open discussion before the startup journey, where expectations are set and the cost to the family is discussed openly and honestly. Do not underplay the sacrifices that will need to be made.
It is best to have a mutual agreement on your founder journey in the startup pre-launch stage, before you have incorporated a company and started engaging with investors. This is the perfect point to include your spouse as the decisions at this stage are less urgent and more strategic, long-term and unchangeable. From choosing your co-founder, your investors and sometimes even shaping the idea itself, this is a great stage to get input from the people you love and those who know you best, especially your significant other.
Once pre-launch is established and you are starting to build, the real pressure kicks in — now you’re in the execution stage. If you have managed to build the right foundations with your better half in the previous stage, this will be the point at which their support and understanding will be invaluable and easier to maintain. Keep in mind that it’s much harder to plug in your spouse at this stage when you are under deadlines, stressed and the moat between you is already wide; that’s why it’s best to get them involved early.
While the urge to draw a line between your business and personal life and to keep your work troubles away from the sacred space of your home is understandable and does work for many professions, founding a startup is not one of them.
Choosing to be a founder is choosing to blur that line between work and home, because your company will follow you wherever you go, including to your relationship.
Your decision on whether to let your spouse in will be the difference between inevitable strain and frustration from a cut-off partner that must blindly accept absence and sacrifice and an active, engaged, understanding partner, who has been given the credit they deserve.
An easy choice between the two, isn’t it?