She Said, He Said: Business-minded couples need to tend to their playful relationship
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My wife and I started a business together 14 years ago, shortly after we married. I love her and appreciate how her personality and skill set complements mine. However, I feel as though we are primarily connected through our work and not our relationship. Our lives have evolved to revolve around business. There is no off switch to separate our personal time together from work and conversations, frustrations and conflicts bleed into dinner, bedtime and vacations. After so many years in this place, I’m starting to wonder if we will have a connection or anything in common when we sell the business, which we’re hoping to do in the next few years. Both of us recognize that there’s a problem, but we can’t seem to get ourselves out of it. We’d appreciate any thoughts or ideas to help us grow in our relationship.
Signed, All Work No Passion
Lori and Jeff: We can relate. From balancing our marriage and coaching practice, to the countless couples we’ve worked with who run businesses, your story is a familiar one.
Lori: You and your wife know how to be business partners because at some point you put the time, energy and attention into figuring out how to do it. Now’s the time to apply that process to your marriage. In our society, it’s not uncommon for marriage to become an afterthought. Kids, work, chores and crises big and small all possess the power to push marriage further down the priority list. There’s an assumption that it will be there tomorrow, so something else can be the focus today. What you’re describing is very normal for relationships that have waited years to finally have their day. The good news is that you’re seeing it now and that there’s still a marriage to tend to.
Perhaps the relationship connection has also waned because your individual identities have taken a backseat to your executive roles. Intimacy in marriage, both emotional and physical, is based on the foundation of feeling seen and known, and I would guess that neither of you has a solid sense of knowing yourselves at this stage of your lives, let alone each other. Rebuilding your relationships with yourselves (rediscovering what you enjoy, what inspires you and what you’re curious about) is an important synchronistic journey to reconnecting to one another.
Jeff: In his New York Times best-selling book, “The Infinite Game,” Simon Sinek offers five practices leaders need to build stronger, more innovative and inspiring businesses. Because these practices have such strong parallels to building better relationships, I’ve constructed a similar paradigm that might be helpful for business-minded couples in your situation.
The first practice is having a just cause, the primary thing that motivates you to get out of bed in the morning, propelling you forward in the face of adversity. In relationships, a just cause can make you want to drop your own agenda and protective patterns for the good of the relationship. The second is creating a trusting team, which builds trust and shared vulnerability from the top down. In relationships, trust and shared vulnerability are the essential foundations for success and sustainability. The third is valuing and respecting a Worthy Rival who can motivate and inspire a company to improve and innovate. In relationships, your partner’s strengths can reveal your weaknesses and you can learn from these opportunities if you commit to being a better version of yourself. The fourth is having an open playbook or a willingness to have transparent, flexible strategies that can change as needed to pursue the just cause. In relationships, this quality parallels emotional intelligence and the psychological flexibility needed to get through tough times and help strengthen your bond. It’s being willing to face the challenges in the short term in order to create long-term change and growth. The fifth is engaging in courageous leadership, which requires leaders to prioritize the just cause above anything else. In relationships, both partners need to invest in the growth of the relationship — to advance a cause that’s bigger than themselves as individuals.
Lori and Jeff: In both relationships and business, the emotional edge lies between vulnerability and courage. It’s in this space where risk lives. Getting into that space is where you learn about who you really are and what you’re really about and is the place where strong bonds and partnerships are born and nurtured.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
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