What Busy Leaders Really Need from Their Spouses

3 Factors Can Make-or-Break Marriages, and Businesses

With divorce rates hovering between 40 and 50 percent, experts spend countless hours discussing the reasons why so many Americans can’t make their marriages work. Arguments over money, sex, and kids are perennial fire starters. But there’s another issue that is critically important—especially for husbands and wives with demanding careers.

Courtney Barbee credits the success of her company, The Bookkeeper, to her husband’s rock solid support. He does most of the cooking and vacation planning and picks kids up from school—all the while allowing her to thrive in her growing business. “I can’t imagine how much more difficult and stressful my life would be with a spouse who doesn’t do these things,” Barbee says. “What’s best is that I never have to ask him to do these things; he just does them. This lets me focus on the company without the stresses of home becoming a distraction.”

Kristen Schmidt wasn’t so fortunate. After working her way to the top of a small financial investment firm, the mother of two realized that she’d built a success framework for the owner of the company, yet had nothing to show for it. She also discovered that shifting her career desires and priorities would ultimately impact her marriage.

“I pushed away feelings and awareness of my slow change as a person, all so that I could hold the family together with the expectations we’d [previously] created together,” Schmidt, now the owner of consulting firm RIA Oasis, says. “When I got very honest and vulnerable with myself, I began to realize that the expectations we had built were not necessarily the goals I wanted for our future, and I needed to be honest with myself and my husband about who I was and what I wanted. That changed everything.”

Certainly, the needs of every spouse are different. But a common sentiment is this: Husbands and wives with demanding careers need the support of their spouses. A lack of spousal support may not automatically trigger divorce, but it will make it very difficult for those leaders to excel in their careers—whether they’re launching a new business, working in a Fortune 500 C-suite, or leading a team at a tech startup.

Not sure whether you’re giving or receiving the proper support in your marriage? Let’s take a look at what it looks like from a practical perspective:

1. Purposeful alignment

Christian Muntean, President of Vantage Consulting, has been married for nine years—and he’s been an entrepreneur for even longer. Muntean acknowledges that the late nights, frequent travel, and financial investments can take a toll on the marriage. The couple’s saving grace, he notes, is a consistent alignment on shared goals.

“Spouses are more supportive and successful when they are aligned in the purpose behind their busy-ness,” Muntean says. “If they are working towards a shared vision—particularly one that supports the overall success of their marriage and family—it is more natural and much easier to support each other. Support is harder to offer or expect when the vision or efforts of either spouse is focused on their own, individual goals, without a common purpose or benefit in mind.”

Muntean believes this is true when only one spouse works, as well as when both spouses have demanding careers. “[My wife] recently has started her own business, which has been exciting for me,” he explains. “I feel like her being in business for herself gives us an opportunity to connect in ways we couldn’t before. Additionally, she needs a level of support from me that wasn’t previously necessary. In many ways, the traits of a good leader are harmonious of those of a supportive spouse. As I grow in one area, I find that I also grow in the other.”

2. Willingness to take initiative

For many leaders, learning to delegate and trust team members at work is one of the most difficult lessons, and failing to master this skill can lead to failure. The notion that one can’t do everything himself is no different at home, and in some cases, busy leaders would prefer that their spouses take the initiative to assume the responsibilities that they simply don’t have time for—no delegation necessary.

“I don’t work a typical 9-5 schedule, so my wife makes plans for our household without taking me into consideration,” says Vladimir Gendelman, Founder and CEO of
Company Folders. “This way, plans aren’t changed or canceled based on whether or not I am done with work. In addition, if a service or repair is needed at our house, she understands it might not always be my first priority, so she’ll either handle the situation herself or wait for me to do it, but she doesn’t get mad if it takes me longer to get to it. These actions show her support for me and my job.”

That’s not to say that Gendelman is MIA, leaving all tasks related to maintaining their home and raising their two children to his wife. He leverages his non-traditional schedule to support his wife in her career as a high school teacher whenever possible.

“My schedule is unpredictable a lot of times, but it is not always like that,” Gendelman explains. “My work condition also comes with benefits, as I have the ability to take kids to doctor and run other errands during the day while she is teaching.”

3. Mutual understanding

The idea that leaders are best supported by their spouses when they show similar support in return is not a novel one. Whether dealing with overseas travel or the stress of a looming deadline, busy leaders need an understanding spouse. This is an easier proposition when both spouses work.

“As a leader, I find it extremely helpful to have a wife who is willing and able to consider my business questions with significant expertise,” says Adam Cole, Co-Director of Atlanta’s Grant Park Academy of the Arts and husband of the Founder and Director of the Willow School of Georgia. “She does not mince words or attempt to spare my ego. And as the spouse of a leader, I find that if I am able to take care of my wife when she gets home, she is able to take care of everybody else by creating a thriving business.”

In addition to good communication skills, Cole notes that the history of mutual respect between he and his wife allow them to support the individual career paths of one another, even as they work together to raise a family. “With five kids, we are reliant upon the successes of our respective businesses, so we have an incentive to support one another clearly and avoid mind-games,” he says. “Each of us is an essential support system for the other.”

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