When I interviewed 125 entrepreneurial couples across the country for my book, "Honey, I Want to Start My Own Business, a Planning Guide for Couples," I visited with the spectrum: those who were married 40 years or who were newlyweds, and those who were owners of $40-million-a-year manufacturing companies or who owned small, home-based service businesses.
I was looking for what consistently showed up as predictors for successfully sustaining a thriving marriage amid the challenges of self-employment. Here are eight characteristics I found that applied to virtually all entrepreneurial couples who thrive:
* Realistic financial planning. Dream of great wealth and work hard to achieve it, but don't count on it to pay your bills when the outcome of your business is unclear. There's a difference between optimism and arrogance. Positive visualization is a terrific tool, but create a realistic business plan, not a wish list. If you surpass your dreams, you'll be thrilled. If you don't, at least your mortgage won't depend on it.
* Take stock frequently. If something isn't working, find another way. Don't get stuck in one-track thinking. Consider your alternatives, and be willing to make the changes necessary to achieve success. You tried working with your spouse and it was a disaster? Don't get a divorce--get a job! Flexibility, creativity and openness to change are the keys.
* A long-term perspective. Entrepreneurship will test your commitment to "for better or worse." Take the attitude that failure is only feedback, and ups and downs are part of the journey. If you keep your eyes on the big picture, the small letdowns won't seem so bad. In good times as well as bad, this too shall pass.
* Romance is a daily attitude. Develop the habit of expressing love and appreciation for your partner every day. If you wait for enough time or money, your relationship will be left on the back burner. It takes only 30 seconds to leave a love note on your lover's pillow or to say "thank-you for helping me grow my business." Romance is not just for Valentine's Day and your wedding anniversary.
* Congruent goals. If you're both headed in the same direction, chances of getting there are much greater. Verbalize and write down your personal, family and business goals at least once a year. Create a couple's mission statement that captures in one or two sentences what you hope your life together will manifest.
* Ask for help. If your car starts breaking down, you bring it to a mechanic. If your business, relationship or family starts breaking down, don't be proud--get help! Develop support systems you can rely on in stressful times, and reach out when you need to. Give back to your family, friends and community, so that they will be there for you when you need it.
* Sense of humor. Lighten up and look for the funny side when you can. If you're going to laugh about it later, you might as well laugh about it now. When you take yourself--or your business--too seriously, you'll lose perspective and life won't be fun anymore. When the joy is gone, why bother? Find something to smile about and share it with your mate.
* Win/win conflict resolution. Pay less attention to winning the argument, and more attention to finding a solution that will satisfy both of you. Getting your way is an empty victory if it results in distance between you and your partner. Consider your mate's point of view, even if it's different than your own. Usually the best results consider both sides, so in time, you may even come to celebrate your differences!
Azriela Jaffe is the author of "Honey, I Want to Start My Own Business: a Planning Guide for Couples" (Harper Business) and "Let's Go Into Business Together: Eight Secrets to Positive Business Partnering" (Avon Books). She can be reached by e-mail at jaffe
@lancnews.infi.net, or visit her Web site at http://www.isquare.com/crlink.htm.
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How Likely Are You to Thrive as an Entrepreneurial Couple?
Thinking about starting your own business but concerned about the strain it might put on your marriage and family? Good for you. Understanding the impact your business will have on your primary relationships could help avoid circumstances that can destroy your marriage and uproot your family.
Based on interviews with 125 entrepreneurial couples, author Azriela Jaffe suggests that the following indicators predict how well you and your spouse (or intimate partner) will endure the challenges of entrepreneurship. Score your relationship from 1 to 4 for each of the following questions, according to the following scale:
1. That doesn't describe us at all.
2. That somewhat describes us.
3. That describes us most of the time.
4. That describes us completely.
A. We've done our homework and thoroughly researched the business option we're considering. It's a good match for our skills, passions and our family's needs. We've put together a solid, realistic business and family plan that enables us to forecast how much time, money and personal sacrifice our enterprise requires and how the business will affect, in detail, our day-to-day home life. Though we hope for the best, we've planned adequately for how we'd handle the worst-case scenario.
B. Both of us are incredibly flexible and creative people. If something isn't working in our relationship or our lifestyle, we take stock, talk it out and find another way. We don't get stuck in one-track thinking, and we're willing to make the changes necessary along the way to achieve success. People could compare us to two willow trees standing side by side: strong at the roots but able to bend with the weather.
C. We are committed to one another "for better or worse." Our relationship has withstood the test of time and the ups and downs that life brings. We're able to keep our eyes on the big picture and to keep perspective when going through rough times. We've got a rewarding, strong, supportive relationship heading into this entrepreneurial venture.
D. For us, romance is a daily attitude, not just something we do on Valentine's Day and our wedding anniversary. We express love and appreciation daily to one another, even when time or money is short. We aren't likely to neglect or take for granted our relationship, even if business needs absorb a lot of our attention. We understand that it's good for our business, as well as our marriage, to take good care of each other.
E. We share a joint vision and are both headed in the same direction. When we verbalize and perhaps even write down our personal, family and business goals, we see that these goals are in harmony with one other. We are each willing to sacrifice personally to support our partner's life dreams.
F. We approach conflict looking for a win-win solution. Getting my way is an empty victory if it results in distance between me and my spouse. If we were ever to have difficulty resolving differences between us, we wouldn't hesitate to get outside support and professional advice before our relationship hit a breaking point.
G. We can keep our sense of humor and look at the bright side of things, even during the roughest times. We figure if we're going to laugh about it later, we might as well laugh about it now! We're pros at finding the silver lining in the clouds. When we start taking ourselves or our work too seriously, we can take a step back and lighten up.
H. One or both of us was raised in an entrepreneurial family, so we're accustomed to the erratic income and schedule and the high demands. Our parents were excellent role models for starting and managing a small business. If our parents are still alive, they support our efforts to follow in their entrepreneurial footsteps.
How did you score?
* 24-32: Excellent: Your foundation is strong and your attitude is upbeat and positive. You appear to be realistic and prepared for the challenges of entrepreneurship. Although your relationship will be tested along the way, the signs are that you can withstand the challenge.
* 16-23: Warning: Entrepreneurship could endanger your relationship! Expect plenty of growth opportunities along the entrepreneurial path. The venture will require enormous commitment on your part, and you and your spouse need to fully appreciate the risks you are taking before setting out on the journey.
* 8-15: Danger: Before embarking on any entrepreneurial venture, you and your spouse should consider strengthening your relationship with some outside counseling. Though you may be the exception to the rule, research shows that you lack several of the components necessary to thrive on the entrepreneurial journey.