When I first started dating my husband, then boyfriend, he was the co-founder of a tech start-up. Long hours, hard deadlines and random calls are all that I’ve ever known. I still remember the evening when he broke the news to me that we couldn’t go on our road trip. I cried. We were both burnt out at our jobs and could really use a vacation. A few years ago, he finally left that position for a stable job at a large company. It came with a different kind of stress, but he’s happy there.
His stability gives me the freedom to explore. After 4+ years at a HMO, I applied for jobs at other behavioral health departments. For one reason or another, I wasn’t considered. Through a series of events, I started taking steps toward opening my own practice. I’ve come home late on date nights and stayed at the office until 11pm when my husband was out of town. I’ve filled much of our free time working on my business.
9 Tips to Support Your Partner When They’re Buried in Their Start-Up Practice
I’ve concluded that the following are good tips to stay supportive when your partner is doing their own gig:
- Listen to their ideas – entrepreneurs are often visionaries. They have a lot of ideas. While not all ideas are feasible, it is helpful to hear them out. I can remember a handful of times when I’d be rambling about a new business concept or text my husband out of no where to have him secure a new domain name. He doesn’t discourage me and has learned to wait for the dust to settle before acting on these brilliant ideas.
- Wait it out – part of waiting for the dust to settle is to let me wrestle with my own questions. I’d ask my husband’s opinion about something and, unless it’s straightforward and urgent, he wouldn’t answer me. Then, after sleeping on it and sharing with him what I’ve decided on, he’d give me his two cents. It’s helpful to allow the other to arrive at their own conclusion without taking over.
- Stay grounded – not all ideas are good ideas and it helps to have a devil’s advocate. My husband has pointed things out that I’ve never considered. I’ve appreciated his perspective, even though they are not always pleasant conversations to have, and are intense at the very least. He keeps me grounded according to what I say I value as well as to my goals on how to get there. When I’m getting too far ahead of myself, he also reigns me back. He helps me to focus on what is immediate to my practice, while keeping the future in sight.
- Be curious – I understand very little of what my husband does and he can say the same for me. Yet, we can be curious about how each of our fields informs the other’s. He puts on podcasts that might be remotely related to what I do and in turn, he has found my Private Practice consultant podcasts to be interesting. I learn the names of emerging programming languages that he’s working on. He asks me about yet another three-letter acronym therapy that I’m picking up.
- Be present – my husband brought to my attention that when I ask him a question about his work and he starts to explain it, I inevitably – and without realising – yawn. Freud would have something to say about that. It is hard to stay engaged when he talks about something I don’t understand. Or, worse, when I’m thinking about my own business to-do list. Time and again, I have to come back to the moment so I can give him my full attention, as he has done for me. I find that it helps when I maintain some kind of physical contact with him.
- Be mindful – when my husband goes to tech conferences and there are extra t-shirts laying around, he will get one in my size. He knows I love a particular soft cotton and they make great jammies. While I have no idea what the t-shirt means, I know that when my husband is geeking out, he is thinking about me. Similarly, I let him know when I blog about him, though he says he’s afraid to read my blogs.
- Be patient – when your partner seconds as an editor, a website designer or basically the IT department for your business, watch out, things are NOT going to happen as quickly as you want them to! Many times I’d email my husband something to do, some days more urgent than others. By the afternoon or the next day, I’d be like, “C’mon now, I’m losing business because this feature is not up or that landing page is not active”. It’s not really true, but it sure feels that way. My husband has needed to be very patient with me.
- Lend a hand – becoming a small business owner is stressful. One day, I will feel very encouraged by the progress made and then the next day, be down in the dumps. I can recall a handful of times where I’d cry and tell my husband how discouraged I felt. He did what the best husband would do: try to fix me. Just joking. He’d put his arm around me and comfort me. He’d also help out around the house when I’d choose to devote more time at work. His support gives me the courage to keep going.
- Take time away – people who go into new ventures tend to be workaholics. When we’re not physically at work, my husband and I can devote a lot of time doing work-related stuff. It helps that I take us away to art festivals, or my husband suggests that we take a long walk around our neighborhood, or go SUP. This is still better than staying at home or at the office, even thought it’s hard to keep my mind focused on the activities and not talk about work. We look forward to planning longer trips in the future. This is always beneficial so we can use the first couple of days to unwind.
What have you found to be supportive in your partner as you run your small business? The most important thing is to convey that to your partner, show appreciation for their efforts, and keep talking about how things can be even better. When you know your partner has your back, you can more confidently explore the thrills and challenges of being your own boss.
Ada Pang is a LMFT and the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond counseling practice in WA. She helps distressed couples and breast cancer patients. When she’s not meeting with clients, she loves working on her business. This week, she’s grateful for her husband who washes her many tumblers holding her much needed caffeine for the day: a green tea latté. Yesterday, he paused in the middle of washing one of the tumblers, raced upstairs, and came down with Q-tips to finish the job. He’s really something!