Running a business can ruin your relationships. It’s stressful, isolating, and can try the most perfect family. Being an entrepreneur or freelancer is often the dream, but we don’t always talk about the challenges that come with it and how they can wreak havoc on your personal relationships. So you need to be intentional about protecting your most important relationships.
Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Sherry Walling shares some simple tips in her recent webinar, “Simple Strategies for ‘Business Proofing’ Your Family.” Walling’s work focuses on protecting the mental health of the WordPress community. She’s also the author of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Sh*t Together.
We’ll summarize some of Walling’s insights, but be sure to watch the webinar for more.
A study in Denmark showed that entrepreneurs were much more likely to be prescribed medication for anxiety. We all know running a business is stressful—and this study proved it.
The study also showed that spouses of entrepreneurs were more likely to be prescribed medication for anxiety. Even if they had nothing to do with the business.
Entrepreneurship is stressful, and that anxiety can bleed into your relationships. If you’re not careful, you could be harming your loved ones.
So it’s important to be intentional about protecting your family and your relationships. That starts by recognizing some of the things that can harm your relationships.
Here are five common relationship killers:
- 1. Anxiety: It’s normal for entrepreneurs to feel anxious, but it can create havoc in relationships because it’s hard to connect with someone else when you’re struggling with anxiety.
- 2. Distraction: Life is full of distractions and those can easily get in the way of quality relationship time. (Just look at how quickly people jump to their devices.)
- 3. Failed communication: A lack of communication is often the downfall to even the best relationships. And then that failed communication compounds other problems.
- 4. Resentment: If we don’t address all these issues, they can turn to resentment that builds up over time.
- 5. Disengagement: And ultimately it can lead to emotional detachment.
All of these issues boil down to a foundational question for relationships: Will you be there when I need you?
And running a business introduces some special challenges for that question. It requires some extra effort and intentionality to keep your relationships on track.
So how do you fight those relationship killers?
Just as there’s not one issue that can plague relationships, there’s not a single solution. There are a number of things you can do to protect your relationships.
Onboarding Your Spouse
Since we’re talking entrepreneurs, why not use a business analogy? You need to continuously onboard your spouse. Just as you would answer questions for a new client or investor, you need to answer some basic questions for your spouse. (And then keep on answering these questions over time).
- What are you working on and why? Explain the basic work you’re doing and the purpose. Some people will want to know more than others, but at the very least sharing a basic understanding of the work you do is important for a relationship.
- How involved do you want to be? This is an important question because it’s one that’s not always asked. Sometimes your significant other wants to be right there with you. Other times, it’s too stressful for them to know the ins and outs of your startup’s finances. There’s no requirement that your spouse be completely involved—or stay away—so be sure to have that conversation about what level of involvement they want.
- What is the money/time investment? It helps to be upfront about what kind of investment you’re making in this business. If a startup is going to take a few years to become profitable, that’s a family finance conversation you can’t skip. If a busy season is going to pull you away from family time, that’s something you need to discuss.
- What is the exit strategy? Different businesses have different endings. Some can be passed on to children, while others are short-term affairs that will be sold off. Each one requires a different investment from the family.
- What are the roles at home? Successful relationships define roles so it’s clear who is doing what. Who’s in charge of dinner? Who pays the bills? Who shuttles the kids to activities? These responsibilities can be shared and they can change, but it’s important to discuss them.
- What sacrifices will we make? It’s important to be upfront about how running a business or being a freelancer will be hard on the family. If you’re going to be causing increased anxiety for the people in your life, they deserve to know about it.
- How will the business benefit the family? If there are going to be sacrifices, there should be rewards as well. Be clear about the sacrifices, but also be clear about why it’s worth doing. This is the kind of thing it’s helpful to remind each other about as time goes on.
Note: While the onboarding analogy might be helpful for you, it may not go over so well with your spouse. Being onboarded isn’t exactly romantic. Use the questions, but maybe keep the analogy to yourself.
Take Care of You
If you live in constant depletion, your family and your business will suffer. So you have to take care of yourself.
- Maintenance: Get regular checkups, go to the dentist, see a therapist if you need to, get exercise. Make these things a part of your everyday life, because they should be.
- Set boundaries: You can’t work all the time, and if you give clients permission to gobble up every hour of your day, you will suffer (and your relationships definitely will).
- Find joy: Personal growth and play are important things that can make you happier and healthier. Joy is contagious, just like stress and anxiety. So cultivate joy in your own life and spread it around to your family.
Sometimes we’re completely unrealistic about what we expect from our significant other. Part of being successful in your relationships is lowering expectations. Your spouse can’t be perfectly attuned to your every need all the time. They can’t be everything for you. They can’t be your best friend, your lover, your business partner, your therapist, your business advisor, your accountant, your mentor, etc.
That’s too much pressure. Invest in other relationships and lift some of that weight from your significant other.
Be realistic about what you can do for each other. It’s OK to develop other friendships. It’s OK to take your thorny business problem to someone else. It’s OK to spare your spouse yet another venting session.
End the Screen Love Affair
As much as we love technology, the constant distraction can be a problem for relationships. A few tips and guidelines for screens can make a big difference.
- Screen-free meals: No smartphones at the table is a good rule that can encourage actual connection. Talk to your family, even if it’s just for a quick 20-minute meal. Study after study shows the value of eating meals together, without the interruption of technology.
- Screen-free beds: Allow the bedroom to remain an intimate place for you and your significant other. Don’t invite the world in. Make it a place for sleep, sex, and deep conversations, not another place to check email and browse Facebook.
- Do or do not. There is no “just checking”: With a nod to Yoda, you’re either on your phone or you’re not—“just checking” doesn’t happen. We think checking our phone can be quick, but that distraction ruins our focus and it takes longer than we think it does to come back. That divided attention is slowly killing relationships.
- Communicate needs: While staying off screens is good, there’s no need to be dogmatic about it. If there’s an emergency and you need to watch for an email, just say so. It’s when we don’t communicate our needs but still allow the distraction that we invite problems.
Be a Schedule Ninja
Sometimes having a busy life means you need to get more organized to fit it all in. You need to have complete control of your calendar in order to stay on top of everything.
Take some time at the beginning of each week to review what’s coming, who’s handling what, and make sure you’re giving time for the things you need. Actually plan time together, time with the kids, vacations, events—even sex.
When you’re incredibly busy it’s hard for these things to happen spontaneously. Sometimes you have to be intentional.
We started with five things that can kill your relationship. Let’s end with five things that can save your relationship.
- Gratitude: Say thank you more to your family. Being grateful, even for the small things, can go a long way.
- Imperfection: Get comfortable with imperfection—both in yourself and your partner. Your significant other has imperfections that may drive you nuts, but that’s just part of who they are. Instead of trying to change them, accept it and move on.
- Humility: Be quick to admit fault. It can defuse situations and make it easier for our loved ones to forgive us.
- Playfulness: Humor makes everything easier. Create spaces of playfulness and humor. It can relieve tension and make life more enjoyable.
- Lots of “glue”: Doing things with your significant other helps hold the relationship together. When you share spaces and build worlds together, you’re cementing the relationship. So whether it’s something like a movie marathon over the weekend or trying to visit every state park together, this “glue” will help strengthen the relationship.
Nurture Your Relationships
Running your own business can give you a lot of freedom. It’s exciting to pursue your dreams and be your own boss. You can set your schedule and your salary is determined by your effort, not HR.
It’s easy to focus on all the positives and forget that there is often a price to pay, and too often your family pays that price.
Be intentional about addressing these potential issues and make sure your business doesn’t kill your relationships. Invest in them, protect them, and make sure your business is a bonus for your family.
Your business can be a net positive for your relationships, but it won’t happen by accident.
For more on how to protect your relationships, check out the webinar with Dr. Sherry Walling.