For long seasons in my ten-year marriage, I wondered if my husband truly cared for me as much as the other love of his life: his startup-turned-global venture.
I found it easy to support his entrepreneurial dreams when he was a grad student dabbling in business plans. When he decided to jump in full-time after receiving venture capital funding, I felt anxious but loved seeing his passion as he endeavored to bring solar power to developing countries.
Soon thereafter, his business began taking over both of our lives and hasn’t let up since. It sucks up the best of my husband’s time and energy, affording me the leftovers. It steals him away for weeks at a time, leaving me to manage our home, care for our child, and maintain our social relationships. It caused us to delay starting a family or buying a house. I even left my career to move to China for three years—all for the sake of the business.
The list of what I have sacrificed for my husband’s career is far longer. Suffice it to say that I have ended up in therapy more than once to deal with the resulting stress, resentment, and depression. A Silicon Valley marriage-family therapist I know compared being with an entrepreneur-spouse to being with a spouse having an affair: “The startup can be like a lover,” he told me. “The entrepreneur is intensely involved in this other.”
How was I to compete with an entity that offered the potential for world-changing impact but had no sensibilities? How could I ask for more attention, when all I had to offer was myself?
I didn’t know ten years ago, and I’m still not sure today. But I still tried. I asked, demanded, and occasionally sobbed, whined, or nagged my husband into investing more in our marriage and being around more to help with our young son. It wasn’t always pretty, and it was rarely easy. Yet I have no regrets about speaking up and advocating for myself and our relationship—especially after my husband began to take notice and figure out how to do things differently.
Coping with a new business can be bad enough on its own. But we learned that my husband also has workaholic tendencies—an addiction that American society admires but which has tremendously harmful consequences for an individual’s health and relationships. By the grace of God, what began as mostly self-centered pleas became catalysts for my husband to break patterns of behavior that were shortening his lifespan and placing our relationship at risk. Even as I encouraged him in his career, I refused to enable him to make work the center of his life. I was the perpetual thorn in his side, pestering him to spend time with his wife, bond with his son, invest in his friendships, rest and have fun.
Though I’m certain my husband has occasionally resented my meddling, I think he’s mostly glad I didn’t go easy on him. He now knows how to make space in his overflowing schedule for date nights, family time, church, workouts, and get-togethers with friends. I see the professional sacrifices he has made to demonstrate his commitment to me and our son—and I know I am loved.
Shortly before we moved to China, a pastor friend told us, “You’ll experience all the same challenges that married couples experience over ten to twenty years, except you’ll experience them over one or two years.” He was absolutely right.
During that critical season, my husband and I had ample opportunity to rehearse the practices that every healthy relationship needs to thrive: proactive communication, empathetic listening, affirming words and actions, and unconditional love. Ten years in, we’ve already seen the very best and the very worst in one another. But we both kept persevering, and the deep sense of trust and partnership we currently have could only have been forged through the most searing of fires. I see the fruit of our years-long struggles, and I marvel at how God transform our imperfect, bumbling attempts to figure life out into something beautiful.
That’s not to say that our family life today is all sunshine and roses. Our marriage remains an exercise in relentless negotiation—on travel, finances, work hours, family time, and more. But I’m no longer scared to ask for what I believe our marriage and family need, and my husband is no longer wary of listening.
The business, no matter how big or demanding, can wait. Our marriage can’t.
Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer, blogger, and editor who has found hope and healing through words. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics, and her writing has appeared in more than a dozen publications in the US, UK, and Asia. She is currently writing a book on how to survive marriage to an entrepreneur. Learn more or connect with her at www.chengtozun.com or on Twitter @dorcas_ct.