Dear Dr. Deb,

I’m a stay-at-home Mom with three children ranging from 9 months to 6 years old. Prior to the birth of my firstborn, I worked for several pharmaceutical companies. In fact, I have a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. I loved being a professional woman and there are times when I miss it. But I’ve learned to be happy with my role in our family.

My husband of eight years owns a small pharmaceutical distribution company. He travels a couple of weeks at a time and goes to many working dinners. The business is successful, but sometimes he worries about it, too. His moods can sometimes feel like an emotional roller coaster.

To his credit, my husband is great at keeping in touch with me while he’s on the road. I just often feel angry after he calls. He gets to check in and then hang up, leaving all the domestic difficulties for me to handle. When he’s home, I’m eager to spend time with him, which I don’t get because he needs his space to decompress after work.

I love my husband and am fully supportive of his entrepreneurial pursuits. But I can’t help but wonder whether I’m completely suited for just a “back-up” role.

It feels like my husband is waging a battle in the frontlines and he can’t make it without my help. I know I’m important to him and the family. It’s when we go to social functions that I feel unappreciated. People treat him like a hero while I feel like nothing I do is worth mentioning.

Dr. Deb, I need your help to understand why I’m feeling this way. I love my husband, but I fear sooner or later my supportive role may become unsupportive.

Mrs. Doubtful

Dear Doubftul,

Although I was never a stay-at-home Mom like you are, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to nurture a healthy relationship and family when both people are stressed. When you’re both sleep-deprived, emotional stress is high.

Here’s some advice that I wish I knew years ago:

Understanding how entrepreneurship can affect a marriage is critical. For most couples, it turns out to be way more than they bargained for. 

Work and marriage will always impact each other. I think you would agree with me when I say that being in a relationship with your husband means being married to him and the business. When he is anxious about the business, your marriage is affected.

Your contributions may be hidden from public view, but the business could not thrive, or perhaps even function, without your emotional and practical support to your husband. 

You wouldn’t hike a mountain without the proper training, but most couples embark on an entrepreneurial journey with little planning and preparation. When your husband started his business, he might have been aware of the financial risks, but unaware he might be risking his marriage as well.

So how can you and your husband have a successful business without sacrificing the marriage? 

The simple answer is that mutual support and the quality relationship between the two of you must be a goal you both agree on.

It’s important that your husband never feels alone in his experiences. It may be difficult to detach from his mood swings, but you want to be available for advice, support, and comfort when he is feeling insecure about the business and struggling with the demons of self-doubt. If you can, express an ongoing interest in the business and attend some social business functions when possible.                           

It’s good that you find satisfaction in your parenting role, but make sure you also have time for yourself. Your primary role of nurturing your children allows your husband to be laser-focused on the business – make sure you both recognize this and that he tells you and shows you his appreciation.

One of the drawbacks of being a supportive wife of an entrepreneur is that you have little control over what your husband does to improve any given situation. Hopefully, it’s more natural for you to act as a spouse, not a business partner.

It also sounds like there’s little time for connection between the two of you when your “universes” meet.  With children, intimate time becomes even rarer. My advice is to “cross into each other’s universe” and maximize your opportunities for real sharing and connection, no matter how short they may be.

It’s crucial that on a regular basis (no later than monthly), you and your husband sit down to assess your relationship and mutual goals. Both of you must compromise to reach them as a team.

Here are some tried-and-true strategies to help support yourselves as individuals and as a couple in romance and in business:

  • Value each other’s complementary traits and strengths
  • Look to each other as a sounding board and honest critic
  • Seek each other’s support
  • Make sacrifices and concessions
  • Have strong, open dialogue with each other every day
  • Know how to bring out the best in each other

Mrs. Doubtful, I’m confident that if you and your husband work effectively as a team and create a sustainable, equal partnership, your role as a supportive partner will eventually become a source of strength for both of you.

Dr. Deb

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