I got married 6 years ago to an entrepreneur and it all started as a great dream, I supported my spouse and we spent a lot of time talking about the business and its future plans. However, that dream has since turned into a nightmare. As I write this to you, I've reached the end of my ability to cope with what is going on. Let me explain.
We started the business modestly where we even converted one room in our house into a home office. We began our operations in a small way and within no time the business picked up quickly and began to make money! It all looked rosy and promising so we invested even more time and money into it. I took loans on the basis of my salary so that we could expand our operations and we even got a nice big office. That's when things began to go wrong. At some point , the growth of the business went out of control and we began to lose clients. Regulators also stepped in and things quickly went south, and we were left trying to pay up penalties of taxes we were not aware off. Before long the bank had sent auctioneers, and when we began to fall behind on mortgage payments. At this point the bank began to be quite hostile. Our car payments are behind and we have maxed out our credit cards. One of the cars we are paying for hasnt moved for months due to disrepair.
As all these troubles keep building up my spouse looks unperturbed by it all. My spouse keeps talking about this dream which I am now tired of. Had all the dreams come true we would be operating in 5 countries by now ! We face so much pressure yet they could easily be employed with a 6 figure salary but they will never consider getting a job.
In the company, my spouse bends backwards to pay rent and employees first saying that the lights must be kept on to ensure clients remain confident in the business before signing the big deals that are coming . One employee even got a bonus and a raise! Yet that month my spouse didn't bring any money home! Apparently, star employees must be maintained at all cost!
I feel like my spouse is not carrying their weight in the home anymore , it feels like the burden of all responsibilities has now been left with me and I now see us grow old being very poor at this rate.
They seem to prize meetings at odd times and weekends with name-dropping type of clients more than actually making money. They are always in committees of all these charity organisations and associations with people who are not even close to us. How can we be helping others when it is us who need the most help?
My spouse can't even seem to stick to one path of doing things. My advice is not welcome and they have shut me out of the business, not wanting my advanced skills and corporate experience to improve things in the business.
I'm ready to leave, I'm drowning under the weight of this pipe dream,which has turned into a nightmare ! On the contrary, my spouse seems very calm in this storm. It even looks like we will turn out like our friends who separated because of their business.
I'm accused by my spouse of not being supportive when I raise these issues, is there a way out of this mess?
Sincerely, Drowning Spouse.
Dear Drowning Spouse,
Thank you for reaching out for help. Your situation is not very easy to solve because the person you are married to is very differently from you.
They see the world from a very different perspective and measure progress in many different ways. Many entrepreneurs tend to be visionaries. They see the world as it should be not necessarily as it is today. They see possibilities and opportunities. And the worst bit is that they may never be able to make you see things as they do until their dreams come to pass. They live in their dream and it's as real to them today as it will be to you in future, but totally invisible to you right now. It takes them a while to find themselves and sometimes the journey is as important a self-discovery process as the destination. Entrepreneurship is the toughest personal development journey in the world.
Also understand that businesses can take a very long time to take off and this can create resentment , even hatred on your part and that of your children. Their risk perception is different , and believe it or not they are actually doing all of it for you, they do it for everyone but themselves. Despite looking calm, they are also frustrated that things are not working out as fast , they may also not realise what they are doing to you. It usually takes a while for entrepreneurs to get to a place of prioritizing themselves and their families before their company, landlords, employees and suppliers.
Its easy for them to prioritise their employees , suppliers , clients, regulators and landlord because they feel a huge sense of responsibility or fear of failure. They fear hurting their employees and their families as well as losing them and their loyalty, they are your spouses daily reality. They possibly imagine that things are not as bad in your house as they are in their employees houses. Plus they imagine they have the power to correct things in your house more than their dependants can sort themselves out. The sad truth is that many times, the reality of your home is somewhat cushioned from them, by you.
Your advice is also not welcome because it doesn't come from a point of empathy. Another entrepreneur will say the same things that you say and they will act on it quickly. They don't believe you understand where they are coming from and what they are going through.And in truth, your advice may at times not be very practical from your big company experience for them to implement with their meagre resources. If they left things to you for a week in their office you may not survive to see the next. The fact that the business takes long to take off also affects their self esteem, getting a beating at home only makes it worse for them.
Those meetings and committees they participate in are relationships they are building and trust that will yield business or a referral sometime in the future,widening their network as they believe that business comes to them through new networks. you never know what may show up. They also come to learn with time that you can't handle their erratic problems in the company and that's why many times they will shield you from the challenges they have and you only learn when problems boil over. Clearly entrepreneurs are far from being perfect people.
Despite all the challenges, running a business makes them come alive , and you were possibly attracted to them because of this passion that you saw in them in the first place. If they change abruptly and become employees without a clear conviction just so that you may all become more comfortable or accepting of them , you might lose your passionate spouse psychologically if they are unable to find something in future that they can channel their world changing energies into. They probably get more satisfaction seeing their dream come to life even on a small scale than they would get from a 7 figure salary and a boss breathing down their neck.
It might help to talk to spouses of older entrepreneurs and they will tell you horror stories but you also get to see the end picture of their struggles. It may help to put some things in perspective.
Above all appreciate their resilience,commitment and persistence and what may seem as irrational investments into the future. Whether they succeed or fail, the experience will develop them in ways that they will handle any future responsibilities using what they learnt. That said , the following tips will help restore some sanity in your house:
- Be deliberate about putting a support structure around you – Get a mentor who was in a similar position and other spouses of entrepreneurs as your support group to advise you, exchange ideas and share experiences
- Have a win/win discussion – Discuss how you can create short-term wins and goals for both of you which includes getting out of debt and increasing incomes.
- Get help together from either a counsellor or a business/life coach
- Create a ringfence around your personal lives and business and not just in terms of money but time as well. Let the business try and get its own finances to grow and not siphon your family savings and investments.
- Look for short-term alternatives to supplement incomes, there could be other ways your spouse can make money with their skills as the business picks up, but keeping on towards their vision.
- Encourage your spouse to read my next article.
Finally, many visionaries sacrifice a lot for a better world and even future for themselves. If many in the past gave up, we may never have seen some of the progress we see right now, some paid a heavy price particularly on the family front but hopefully you will not have to go down the same path. Your spouse might just be one of those to make the world a little better if its done in a balanced manner.