Do you spend so much time grinding away at your business that romantic life has been pushed into the side?

This is a common occurrence among the many founders we talk with – long hours, fires to put out, and the need to be present for your business every.single.day. By the time you finish a sticky, challenging day, you grab the nearest thing that resembles food, maybe help the kids with homework, and crash for some well-needed sleep.

Sometimes you wonder whether your partner remembers what you look like! Then there are the multiple doomsday-style headlines out there; “Brutal Truths to Dating an Entrepreneur,” “Why Entrepreneurs Suck as Romantic Partners”… you get the idea.

No one wants to suck as a romantic partner. Of course you want to preserve a healthy romantic relationship and build a successful business. And the two go best together: a romantic relationship is an important source of support and centering, and a person with goals and passion can be a great turn-on as a romantic partner.

It is absolutely possible to keep the spark alive in a romantic relationship, even during the frantic start-up phase. It’s not easy, but the key is to keep “investing” in the relationship, to be present wholeheartedly when you are available.

What can founders do to keep the spark alive? Download our quick guide here

Tales from an entrepreneurial marriage…

Rob and I put together our 115th podcast a couple of days ahead of our 17th wedding anniversary. We took that time to reflect on reaching that milestone and the journey that had brought us there.

Of course, along the way there have been ups and downs, challenges and triumphs, but we can both agree that the strength of our relationship has been a major factor of our overall success.

A vital partnership

We’re now at a point where we’ve been together for longer than we were single, and an important factor, both for business and personal success has been having a strong support. We talk things through as best friends and bounce ideas off each other. Whenever a vital business decision comes up, it’s valuable to have that “sanity check” with someone who also has skin in the game. What happens if we invest in that app? What do we risk by selling? Where do our lives head if we’re entering a business with a whole new level of revenue?

We challenge each other, but we also encourage and motivate one another. Having a partner who believes in you and is invested in your success helps to make life a bit easier, even through those challenging times as a startup.

Largely, we work separately. But practically speaking, there are benefits for our working world from our personal relationship too. For example, we share networks and experiences with each other, while we also tend to provide one another with ideas stemming from our different ways of thinking. One thing that both of us find challenging is accepting professional feedback from one another – it’s tricky trying not to take it personally!

We’d also say that having a solid marriage provides a vital layer of stability which can be a real asset in the chaos of a founder’s world. It takes commitment to ensuring that stability, but it pays off for our overall well-being.

While the advice of some entrepreneurs is that there’s no time for relationships if you want a successful business, we’d argue that it’s possible if it’s something that you really want. If relationships aren’t for you, that’s fine, but our experience has been that a strong relationship helps to support what you’re doing in your business life too. It answers to the relational needs that we all have as part of the whole “self.”

Of course, building and maintaining that relationship takes a few vital ingredients…

Ingredients of a healthy relationship

We spoke a bit about the ingredients which cultivate a healthy relationship in our podcast, so we’re going to look at those, along with some other important factors we didn’t discuss.

Let’s take a look:

Willingness to change (or be a change agent)

Over the years of our marriage, we’ve gone from college kids, to employees, to PhD study, to business owners, to parents. We’ve lived in 9 different cities in our pursuit of opportunities and we’ve faced reinvention, and distance from friends and family each time we’ve moved.

Life in the entrepreneurial world is a life of change change, even if you’re not having to move cities. You face buyouts, pivots, acquisitions, and any number of changes in your personal life. An important ingredient in keeping a healthy relationship is that you’re both willing to change, or be agents of change, particularly where that change is necessary for growth.

This works both ways – whether you’re the entrepreneur, a partner to an entrepreneur, or you’re both in the business together, each partner needs to make a conscious decision to change with and for the other.

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Being “all in”

That true sense of a partnership is super-important. Being “all in” is what creates the solid foundation that can ride through challenging times, rather than forming cracks. You might have to spend long days working and feel that is the opposite of “all in” but it’s really not.

The point is that you’re truly invested. That whenever you have time with your partner, you’re fully present in that moment. We might have moments where a child is having a meltdown and one of us is at a loss as to what to try next to calm them down, but we each know the other has our back and is ready to step in. For us, it’s not dividing things up and assigning different responsibilities, but knowing that we’re on the same team.

When you’re building a business, you have to cultivate an “all in” mentality too, but they’re not mutually exclusive from one another. Sometimes there are sacrifices to be made in order to get to where you want to be, but as a partnership, you work through those things together.

Research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology points to being willing to make sacrifices to keep a relationship alive as a factor toward its success:

“True commitment means that you are willing to take sacrifices to keep a relationship alive. The challenge is that the commitment to taking active steps to maintain the relationship means that you may not get your way in certain areas.” – Rick Nauert

Finding the fun

Finding time for fun is like a relationship superpower. It helps to keep energized and to firm the bonds of our relationship. For many founders, this can be an area of struggle due to time constraints, but making the time for fun can be beneficial, both to your relationship and to your performance in other areas of your life.

Research psychologists have found that play is vital for our creativity and is an essential need that humans have had since the dawn of time:

“Play is a banquet for the brain, a smorgasbord for the senses, providing nourishment for body and spirit.” – Mark Bekoff.

How can busy entrepreneurs keep fun alive in their relationships? Here are some ideas:

  • Keep date nights alive! You might be pressed for time, but everyone needs to take some time away from work. Spice them up by revisiting the things you used to love when you first met, or trying out new things together (cooking class, live bands, cocktail nights…)
  • Find spontaneous fun. Play can be incorporated into almost anything, even work or doing a tidy-up at home. Remember how to flirt with one another!
  • Throw in “random acts” to surprise your partner and help make them feel loved and appreciated. This could be leaving a note in their lunchbox, surprising them with tickets to their favorite band, or cooking their favorite food.
  • Take time to explore new things together. When was the last time you took a couple of days and went away somewhere?

It’s not always easy to find the time for fun, but making it a practice to do so has true benefits to your relationship as a whole. You might need to look at your schedule and make small changes to ensure you’re making the time. One idea is to avoid scheduling key deadlines or high-priority activities for Fridays, especially if that means there’s a good chance the work will bleed into Friday night or the weekend. Find a schedule that works for you and allows you to have that downtime!

Get our 5 quick ideas for keeping the spark alive here

Keeping the spark alive…

Relationships are never “easy” and especially not with the added pressures of entrepreneurship and all that goes with it. Rather than giving up on romance, a romantic relationship can be an important “building block” and source of support and perspective for busy founders.

A strong relationship is a partnership. It’s about having each other’s backs and being willing to make changes, even make certain sacrifices for the good of the relationship and for your overall growth. This doesn’t mean that you should be putting pressure on yourself to find a large amount of “romance time” while you’re in a busy work period, but rather making some time will be beneficial to you both.