The link between entrepreneurship and divorce

January 20, 2011
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What is it about entrepreneurship and divorce? Hang around entrepreneurs for very long and it soon becomes apparent that some of the people who succeed the most at creating great businesses also struggle the most to hold their marriages together.

If studies or statistics on the link exist, Brad Wilcox, who runs The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, isn’t aware of them. Neither is Andrew Zacharakis, a professor at Babson College’s highly rated entrepreneurship program. However, both say their own observations support the notion.

A business owner who writes about family issues for Inc. magazine had an interesting column on the topic in November. Meg Cadoux Hirshberg isn’t aware of supporting stats, either, but she bets the divorce rate for entrepreneurs is higher than average.

Hirshberg’s piece, headlined “Why so many entrepreneurs get divorced,” admits the tensions of the business she runs with her husband have resulted in the occasional stony silence and slammed door. The very things that push any couple apart—finances, neglect, minimal communication and different goals—“produce a toxic cocktail of resentment and anxiety created by putting the family’s security constantly at risk,” she says.

Many spouses can’t compete with the intense passion many entrepreneurs have for their businesses, she adds, and business ownership can intensify traits not known for nurturing relationships—bossiness, self-importance and impatience.

Set the heartbreak of divorce aside for a moment to consider the implications for the economy. You probably know people who aspire to start a business but don’t follow through out of fear of the impact on their marriages and families. Yet, without entrepreneurs, fewer good jobs materialize and fewer products and services are introduced. In other words, the rest of us benefit from their sacrifices.

What are your thoughts? Any insights on the entrepreneurs with both successful companies and marriages? How do they do it?

  • Wouldn't have it any other way
    I have been partners with my wife for our entire married life. I will tell you that it takes a special couple to be able to do so. Division of responsibilities in the workplace, responsibilities at home and with family can be very complicated and create unnecessary tensions as you both learn about each other's strengths and weaknesses. If both of you want to be the final decision maker, it will NOT work! We have a simple rule, if it is not agreed upon, we don't do it until we can find a mutually acceptable solution. That doesn't mean that you cannot change the other person's perspective through discussion.

    The second issue is that employees need to know who to follow. In other words the true decisions are made behind the scenes and behind closed doors. Only have one person set the tone for the employees so they never have to think about who to ask for a key decision. Yet empower the other spouse to make immediate decisions when the other is absent or have a method for dealing with those decision making issues when the "public" leader is not available.

    Most importantly, both people must realize that even if you disagree or are mad it does not mean that you don't love each other. Personalizing workplace issues and not being able to separate work from home is what causes the messy breakups!
  • 9 years and counting
    I am an entrepreneur married to a wonderful non-entrepreneur. Without our relationship and our family, I would be a workaholic. I find great reward in my business accomplishments, but I find greater reward in having time to spend with my family... more time than if I worked a traditional 9-5 job. Have I had to make sacrifices? You bet. But I would sooner hand over workplace tasks to an extremely competent employee than hand over my parenting tasks to a full-time care provider. My spouse has gone from keeping me company through closing time, to leading me away from work at the end of his workday to spend our evenings together, to encouraging me to step back from work to focus on our family. He has supported (against his better judgment) 1-2 less than successful ventures as I get the entrepreneurial itch to start something new. I don't know if our success has to do with the fact that we met when I had just started out - he saw me during my longest workweeks and smallest paychecks and still fell in love.
    I am also fortunate to have another 9 year relationship that contributes to my success at work and home, the manager of my business, who has taken over day to day operations through 2 children, 2 new ventures, and one family medical crisis.
    These days the success of my business is noted and appreciated, but it is the unseen success of my family that fills me with happiness and gratitude.
    I was married for 14 years. 4 kids. She came from a corporate family growing up. I came from a family business background. These exact issues all were in play. Even though this lifestyle did allow her to stay at home for 5 years with our children, there were the tense moments, uncertainty - and they DID take a tole... So- This headline struck a nerve with me!
  • Entrepreneurial Dilemma
    My wife and I are on the brink of a divorce. Although I know she supports my dreams and wants all the benefits that an entrepreneurial lifestyle can provide, she underestimated the cost and the familial sacrifice that would be required. We married later in life seemingly just when my business was getting its second wind, but also when here biological clock starting clanging quite loudly. We both wanted to believe we could do both, but it has proved to be almost near impossible, at least for us. Coudos to those who can make it is truly something special!!
  • Lost my love and soon to be divorced
    I have been trying to build a business that have sucked the life out of me. My wife (soon to be ex) supported with me with her heart and soul. Unfortunately, for the past two years, as things grew increasingly difficult, it sucked the life out of me and I became depressed, negative, pessimistic, and a host of other issues. One day she told me she does not love me any more, and that she fell out of love in the last 1-1.5 years. Clearly I had done something (OK, a lot) wrong. I had neglected her emotionally, allowed our relationship to deteriorate, and all this time I thought she was supporting me (because outwardly she was). Now I am separated and on the brink of divorce. I wish there was something I could do. So I urge all my fellow entrepreneurs, PLEASE, do not think this cannot happen to you. Do not think you are fine. Understand that if you do not tend to your wife's emotional needs she will leave you and if she is the silent type, you will not even get a warning before you get the door slammed in your face without chance to patch things up (and yes, the very first thing I did was say I would shut down the business, and with no regrets). Please, take care of your relationships.

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  1. By Mr. Lee's own admission, he basically ran pro-bono ads on the billboard. Paying advertisers didn't want ads on a controversial, ugly billboard that turned off customers. At least one of Mr. Lee's free advertisers dropped out early because they found that Mr. Lee's advertising was having negative impact. So Mr. Lee is disingenous to say the city now owes him for lost revenue. Mr. Lee quickly realized his monstrosity had a dim future and is trying to get the city to bail him out. And that's why the billboard came down so quickly.

  2. Merchants Square is back. The small strip center to the south of 116th is 100% leased, McAlister’s is doing well in the outlot building. The former O’Charleys is leased but is going through permitting with the State and the town of Carmel. Mac Grill is closing all of their Indy locations (not just Merchants) and this will allow for a new restaurant concept to backfill both of their locations. As for the north side of 116th a new dinner movie theater and brewery is under construction to fill most of the vacancy left by Hobby Lobby and Old Navy.

  3. Yes it does have an ethics commission which enforce the law which prohibits 12 specific items. google it

  4. Thanks for reading and replying. If you want to see the differentiation for research, speaking and consulting, check out the spreadsheet I linked to at the bottom of the post; it is broken out exactly that way. I can only include so much detail in a blog post before it becomes something other than a blog post.

  5. 1. There is no allegation of corruption, Marty, to imply otherwise if false. 2. Is the "State Rule" a law? I suspect not. 3. Is Mr. Woodruff obligated via an employment agreement (contractual obligation) to not work with the engineering firm? 4. In many states a right to earn a living will trump non-competes and other contractual obligations, does Mr. Woodruff's personal right to earn a living trump any contractual obligations that might or might not be out there. 5. Lawyers in state government routinely go work for law firms they were formally working with in their regulatory actions. You can see a steady stream to firms like B&D from state government. It would be interesting for IBJ to do a review of current lawyers and find out how their past decisions affected the law firms clients. Since there is a buffer between regulated company and the regulator working for a law firm technically is not in violation of ethics but you have to wonder if decisions were made in favor of certain firms and quid pro quo jobs resulted. Start with the DOI in this review. Very interesting.