Smart entrepreneurs and successful professionals seek out advice to build and grow their businesses. But when it comes to relationships, most of the conventional wisdom for these highly driven individuals sets them up to fail.
You’ve all heard the warnings -- you need to be with someone who can accept risk, and anyone who chooses to be in a relationship with you must be willing to adjust to your unpredictable work schedule.
Here’s the thing, entrepreneurs: In matters of love, you’re just not that special. You'll find a wealth of messaging that you're somehow different from everyone else or need different things. You might hear it takes "someone special" to be in a relationship with you.
You might not realize it's this very thinking that leads to you enter relationships with expectations your work will pose a challenge. You’re told to expect resistance. Then, when you do experience conflict, a self-fulfilling prophecy emerges. You give yourself an "out" to back off from the conflict. "See?" you tell yourself. "Relationships are just harder for entrepreneurs."
Pilots and flight attendants travel all the time, often at a moment’s notice. A firefighter's typical schedule might require two 24-hour shifts a week. Military personnel can be relocated or sent on a mission with little advance warning. Doctors have crazy, demanding schedules, and nurses work around the clock, too. Many people have professional lives that involve risks. But not every profession has a separate relationship rule book.
The elements of a successful love match are the same for entrepreneurs as they are for everyone else. The sooner you stop seeing yourself as apart from others, the more likely you'll find yourself successful in love.
Solid relationships have common foundations.
Romantic relationships really come down to a few key ideas:
- I have needs. You have needs.
- What are your needs? Here are mine.
- Are you willing to meet my needs? Am I willing to meet yours?
Successful love isn't any more complicated to understand and live than a business contract is to develop and execute. Both require clear communication, a willingness to put it all on the line and an ability to negotiate. You have to know your own boundaries and be willing to respect those of your partner.
Work is only one component that requires understanding.
Some of your needs and boundaries absolutely will center on your work. When my husband and I were dating, I managed a residential program for teens. He understood I was on call one night a week and one weekend a month. If he'd needed someone who could spontaneously pick up and go whenever the whim struck, I wouldn't have been his girl. My job also involved working with youth whose inability to control their emotions could lead to violent outbursts or assaults on staff. I put myself in physical jeopardy for my job. If he couldn’t handle my reasons for taking those risks, he wouldn't have been my guy, either.
You'll ask your partner to understand, accept and support many aspects of your life and personality. It’s your responsibility know your own priorities and values. That means defining what's important and what's less so. It helps frame what you're willing to offer a relationship and what you simply can't give. And then it's on you to say these things out loud and see if your partner is capable of meeting those needs. It’s not on the other person to acquiesce to you or your needs. That very expectation leads to resentment and conflict in relationships between entrepreneurs and their partners.
We all change throughout the course of relationships.
My husband and I now have 10 years behind us. He's seen me through three different careers, including two entrepreneurial businesses. He’s on his second career since I met him. Many people already are in established relationships when the entrepreneurial bug bites them. Like any new interest or hobby, these late-breaking priorities and values need to be explored and negotiated between partners.
Here in New England, the annual Pan-Mass Challenge lets bike-a-thon riders choose a route between 25 and 190 miles long. Every year, I work with couples whose relationships blow up because of this challenge. If a rider feels entitled to his or her training time, those demands can blindside the other partner -- who feels expected to carry the extra load while his or her partner explores this new passion. Off to war they go. The rider, who "didn't have time" to do x, y and z suddenly must make time to seek relationship or marriage counseling.
Replace the bike challenge with a new business idea, and you'll discover entrepreneurs are in the same bind. Do any of these concepts strike a chord with you?
- I have this new idea/dream and it’s becoming wildly important to me.
- I know this makes no sense to you, but I need to try my idea out.
- I think it will affect our relationship. Can we swing it? How could we make this work?
- What would you need from me if we were to try to make room in our relationship for this new dream?
For some reason, entrepreneurs and their partners are led to expect their relationships will be more taxing than anyone else’s. Believing that myth causes entrepreneurs to fail in their relationships. Entrepreneurs who want to be successful in love must realize they need to follow the same relationship rules that apply to everyone else.