You’re chasing leads, finding backers, grooming clients, making payroll. There’s the marketing plan, the next marketing plan, social media strategy, IT guy, insurance guy, delivery guy. You’re the first one in, and the first last one out the door—it’s your small business, and it’s your life.
So where do the people trying to share their life with you fit in?
Entrepreneurs choose their path knowing it’s not going to be easy. It’s a passion, a desire for independence, a way to help others solve problems, or create something to make people happy. It can also define the “all” in all-consuming, which can lead to resentment from significant others and anguish about your personal life, or lack thereof in some cases.
“Most people are used to having a boss tell them what to do and when to work,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, a Chicago psychologist and author of the bestselling book A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. “They think that because you have your own business you can do whatever you want and work whenever you want, which is so far from the truth.”
Steven Bazil laughs at that common misperception. His reinsurance law firm, Bazil McNulty, based in Exton, Pa., deals with clients all over the world, with hours and projects that are unpredictable. He’s up at 4 a.m. for urgent calls and emails from Europe, on stand-by on Sunday (which is a regular business day for his Middle East customers), and working during U.S. holidays that aren’t celebrated overseas. It all can make attendance at a weekend family picnic an iffy proposition, and a point of contention.
“When you start a business, it’s everything—your livelihood, your retirement, your reputation. We work all hours, at odd times, on Thanksgiving sometimes, but you have to balance that,” Bazil says. “Everyone likes that we make money, buy some nice things, travel to interesting places. The problem comes when it’s a holiday and there’s a million clients expecting things and, no, you can’t go to that barbecue with everybody. It’s not that you’re avoiding people. When you’re building something, you have to be able to bend over backward for clients.”
So three years ago, Bazil brought his wife, Gail, on board at the office, where she handles the firm’s marketing and now sees firsthand the demands of the business and the pressures he faces to deliver on tight deadlines.
“She sees my days when I have a conference call every 45 minutes, or the Friday afternoon when a huge document lands,” Steven says. “She sees it, and knows it’s ‘Sorry, I don’t think we’ll be going to the zoo this weekend after all.’”
Bazil says they now share in the ups and downs during their busy periods with their five dogs, and both are involved in local animal-rescue efforts. “We both laugh when friends ask what we did on vacation. Vacation? What are you talking about?” he laughs. “We don’t know what that is!”
Jenev Caddell is a New York-based psychologist, couples therapist, and relationship coach for entrepreneurs. She spent years working for big institutions before striking out to open her own practice, which is how she came to focus on the journey her clients are taking—and their unique challenges.
Caddell says it’s paramount for partners to feel that they are a priority, too. But expressing feelings of neglect to a partner can be difficult if that entrepreneur is so stressed out from their other passion.
“If they are the one for you, your partner is and should be more important than your career,” Caddell says. “Partners can be understanding and have empathy and support what the person is trying to start up. But we’re in a culture where the brain trumps the heart, and a lot of people feel like they don’t have a place to say that they feel second-tier. It takes work on both parts—the entrepreneur can get so sucked in and lose sight of what’s important, and the partner can become complicit in that by not vocalizing how much they miss them or that it’s become a problem. The entrepreneur partner may not even catch that because they’re so focused on their work.”
Relationships can be fragile for anyone. How can an entrepreneur build one that will flourish? Here are some tips from the experts:
Make sure your partner knows your intentions. Why are you in the business? What are you hoping to achieve? What do you envision for the two of you?
Set limits for yourself Remember: Working excessive hours can lead to depression and reduce productivity, Lombardo says. Making a point of spending some time with your sweetie will be beneficial to your happiness and your business. Of course, if you’re in a phase that is demanding 100 percent of you, be clear about that, Caddell says. But also make sure your partner knows they are more important and the situation is a temporary one. A Caddell tip: Schedule times when you are not at the mercy of your business—even if it’s just for an hour, if that’s all you can handle—and shut your phone off.
Be present when with your partner
Repeat: Don’t check email while it is your time together. “People think, ‘They won’t notice. Let me just take a peek.’ But your partner notices,” Lombardo says. Better yet, shift your focus to them, Caddell adds. Know what’s important to your partner, ask about what’s happening in their life, and stay engaged with the daily ups and downs they’re experiencing.
Share the passion
Explain to your partner why the business is so important to you so he or she can understand that this is a calling, not an excuse to get away from them. “When it’s your own business, it’s you,” Lombardo says. “It’s like your business is your baby. If your baby was crying for you, you wouldn’t say, ‘It’s not time for me to be doing that. It’s time to be doing this.’ So the boundaries that we theoretically put up can be a challenge.”
Lombardo says it’s very helpful to keep a positive attitude about both relationships. “Look it at like, ‘Here are two amazing things in my life: I have this business that I’m crazy about—and that’s why I’m doing it—and I’m so excited about having someone who can share my life with me,’” she says. “People talk about the glass half-full or half-empty and the truth is it’s both. It’s your choice of how you view it. If you can find the positive, it affects everything you do, in terms of creativity and productivity, and it attracts people to you and your business, too.”