If I had a dollar for every time people asked my wife, Gail, how she lives with an entrepreneur, I wouldn’t have to be one. Scratch that. I would probably figure out how to get more people to ask the question. (Sorry, I can’t help myself!)
Being an entrepreneur is part of who I am. And that creates some interesting challenges and opportunities in our marriage. If you are—or are married to—an entrepreneur, corporate executive, ministry leader, or any other kind of driven, “Type A” personality, you know what I mean.
Making Marriage Work
Gail and I approach marriage with a few basic assumptions:
- Marriage attracts opposites;
- Marriage takes work;
- Marriage is a long-term project; and
- Marriage works best when each party serves the other.
The attraction is the easy part, isn’t it? It’s those other words—work, project, serve—where the challenges come in. But that’s also where we find the opportunities.
So how can we work through the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities? Gail and I have had thirty-six years to work out the kinks. What we’ve discovered is that it comes down to an exchange of gifts.
I’m not talking jewelry and surprise vacations. There’s nothing wrong with those, but I’m talking about something far more valuable. There are five gifts each partner can give to the other to help build a happy marriage.
5 Gifts from Spouses to Entrepreneurs
If you are married to an entrepreneur, you can help him or her (and yourself) by giving these five gifts. Gail came up with this list. I would characterize these as gifts of support:
- The gift of belief. There is a lot of risk in the entrepreneurial life. I’m someone who struggles with fear and doubt, and it makes all the difference for Gail to say, “You have what it takes”—especially when I lose sight of that myself.
- The gift of appreciation. Facing all that risk can be taxing. But when I see my sacrifices are appreciated, it lights my fire. Gratitude from Gail motivates me like nothing else. It also makes me deeply grateful for her.
- The gift of affirmation. The entrepreneurial lifestyle involves long hours, sometimes away from home. It would be easy for Gail to go negative. But by affirming what she loves about me—those things that attracted her in the first place—it enables both of us to stay positive. And that means when we have to have tough conversations, we have the relational equity we need to grow, not crumble.
- The gift of perspective. The intense focus of entrepreneurs enables massive creativity and achievement, but it can come at the cost of perspective. I can easily think that everything in my world rises or falls with the next project. Gail keeps the wide angle I sometimes lose.
- The gift of commitment. Given the risk inherent to the entrepreneurial lifestyle, some of the most important words we can hear are, “We’re in this together.” I love hearing that from Gail. Communicating that kind of commitment can get a couple through almost anything.
I’ve received all of these gifts in abundance from Gail. And I’m convinced I wouldn’t have the resources I need without them. They are a huge part of my success—even my sanity.
But this is only half the picture.
5 Gifts from Entrepreneurs to Their Spouses
A great marriage requires investment from both parties. So how do entrepreneurs achieve their dreams without sabotaging their marriage in the process? If you are the entrepreneur in your marriage, you can help your spouse (and yourself) by giving him or her these five gifts:
- The gift of honor. Our spouses are more important than our work, whatever that work may be. To give this gift, we esteem and value what our spouses esteem and value. We give priority to their priorities, and use our words to praise and uplift, especially when our spouses are absent.
- The gift of awareness. It’s easy in the hyper focus of hard-drivers to see themselves as the center of the show. We’re not—no matter how much money we make. We need to be aware of all the material and nonmaterial contributions our spouses make to our lives.
- The gift of inclusion. Including our spouses in our businesses creates intimacy, builds trust, and brings us together. Whether it’s just receiving input or counsel, or getting into the nitty-gritty details of the business, our marriages win if we keep our spouses in the loop.
- The gift of commitment. We talked about this in the previous list. But this is an essential gift for both spouses to give and receive. It’s critical to make this commitment concrete and observable in our actions.
- The gift of trust. Because the entrepreneurial life is risky, it’s easy to default to fear. So many things can go wrong. To counter that, we can over-function and become workaholics. That ends up taking, not giving. Instead, we can bless our spouse by realizing it doesn’t all hang on our solitary shoulders—something that goes back to developing an attitude of abundance.
Keeping the Trend Line up and to the Right
I said at the beginning that marriage is a life-long project. In business we talk about growth as keeping the revenue trend moving up and to the right. It’s the same thing here. I want my marriage to be constantly improving, always going to the next level.
If marriage involves opposites, it’s going to involve some friction. But what if instead of seeing friction in our marriages as a challenge, we saw it as an opportunity? Instead of striking the same note, we can make some beautiful harmonies.
These simple but priceless gifts have seen us through more than three decades of marriage so far. We’ve never been perfect, but our marriage has never been better. Of course, this only scratches the surface. Gail and I have an in-depth, three-part conversation about these gifts and how they work in our marriage on my podcast. You can listen to the episodes here (part 1, part 2, and part 3).
We really believe it’s possible to accomplish our entrepreneurial dreams, our leadership dreams, without blowing up our marriages. Better than that, we can have great marriages if we’re proactive—and generous.