When Ned Tozun and I married, he vowed during the ceremony that our life together would always be an adventure. I assure you he has over-delivered on that promise, thanks to his entrepreneurial career and his startup, d.light. The business has been like the child no one wants: helpless yet uncontrollable, demanding yet insatiable, and remarkably adept at coming between mom and dad.

A startup is always a family affair—the good news is your business and your relationship can flourish together. Tweet This Quote

In the last decade, the effort required to grow d.light led to countless missed holidays and broken appointments; it has contributed to physical illness and emotional meltdowns for both of us; it moved us to China for three-and-a-half years; it delayed our timeline for starting a family and upended my own career.

Unsurprisingly, Ned and I have had years-long disagreements about work-life balance, time management, and our family’s quality of life. We all know entrepreneurs whose marriages have suffered, even fallen apart, because of the stress and intensity of the startup journey. Even in the most resilient relationships, the ongoing instability and resulting resentment can take a significant toll.

But instead of driving Ned and me apart, the process of growing a multinational company like d.light has actually brought us closer together and deepened the level of trust and respect we have for one another.

Your partner’s behind-the-scenes contributions to your well-being and startup are paramount. Tweet This Quote

Whenever I feel discouraged by the sacrifices that have been asked of me, Ned reminds me that d.light’s successes are as much mine as his. My behind-the-scenes contributions to his well-being and the work of d.light are paramount. My emotional support gives Ned a safe place to share his deepest concerns, ask for advice, and try out new ideas. My logistical support, especially in caring for our three-year-old son and our household affairs, allows him to travel and focus his best energies on the business.

All of this has been possible only because Ned has engaged me as a partner in the business from the day it was founded. Here are five things entrepreneurs can do to meaningfully engage their spouses and grow their partnership along the way:

1. Take time to share your vision with your partner. Share not just the what, but the why and how. Why is this startup so important to you? Why now? How will the world be better? Approach this pitch with as much care and attention as you would an investor pitch.

Share your startup vision with your partner using as much care as you would when pitching an investor. Tweet This Quote

2. Set realistic expectations for what the startup will require of both of you, particularly in terms of time, effort, and finances. Decide together how to make this work as a family. What other forms of support do you need? When will you set aside time for your relationship? What are your limits?

3. Acknowledge the important role your partner plays in supporting you and the business. Regularly express appreciation for the specific things he or she does that allow you to be an entrepreneur. Let your partner know that he or she is as much a part of the team as anyone else.

Regularly express appreciation for the specific things your partner does that allow you to be an entrepreneur. Tweet This Quote

4. Commit to proactively communicating with one another as much as possible, especially when there are major questions, changes or decisions to be made in the business that affect you both. The more your spouse knows, the more he or she will feel empowered to balance the needs of the family and the business. Agree to tell one another when you are feeling resentful, burned out, or need more support.

5. Set specific deadlines for evaluating how things are going. Knowing that this level of stress and uncertainty will not continue indefinitely will help stave off resentment in your spouse. Be willing to adapt your work demands and schedule as your family’s priorities and circumstances change.

Let your partner know they are as much a part of the startup team as anyone else. Tweet This Quote

The level of partnership Ned and I have today didn’t come easily, nor did it happen overnight. We have talked and argued and negotiated over what’s worked and what hasn’t for more than ten years.

In the end, though, we’ve returned again and again to the realization that we need one another, and d.light needs us as a team. Whether we like it or not, a startup is always a family affair. The good news is that your business and your relationship can flourish together, so long as you are willing to invest the work to make that happen.

About the author

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, BlogHer, Christianity Today, and dozens of other publications. Previously she served as the director of communications and human resources at d.light, one of the world’s top social enterprises.

  • The tips in this article are among the top things I wish I had known when Ned first started his company. We endured a lot of heartache to figure these out, and I’m hoping that our hard-learned lessons will save other couples from having to go through what we did!

  • Jessica

    I love this article! I feel like it’s so applicable to any career each partner chooses to have, whether it’s a high-requirement job at an already established company or corporation, or the beginnings of your own multinational business! If it’s demanding and/or taxing, I agree, you should know where each other stands going in, during, and after the establishment. This is great advice for just having a solid level of support in each other’s careers too, no matter what they are, individual or together! Thank you for sharing!

  • Logan Coffman

    If there has been one characteristic of entrepreneurs that has remained consistent across the small startups I have worked for it is that everyone is treated like family. In a high-stress, sometimes volatile market such as the market for startups it’s essential to have close-knit bonds with team-mates, especially when the going gets rough! Great insight!

  • Gregory Clemmons

    Although partnerships can be extremely effective when done correctly, I think working in a partnership provides more potential risk than reward. I think having a partner in an entrepreneurial setting such as this one could be very dangerous and I worry me that the health of my relationship with another person may have something to do with the success of a business.

  • @dorcaschengtozun:disqus, thank you so much for this fantastic post! Your insights are so brilliant and have rarely seen posts on this topic which I believe is critical to the overall happiness of entrepreneurs and ultimately highly influential on the long term success of startups. Thank you again for sharing your brilliance and unlocking lessons learned from your experience for the public good. Huge amount of admiration and gratitude!

  • Jessica, you’re absolutely right! Any intensive career that requires significant investments in time and effort will affect the family, and being intentional about staying on the same page is essential.

  • Thanks, Logan! Glad you’ve had a good experience in startups.

  • Gregory, you bring up another issue that deserves its own article to be fully explored–the complex intersection of personal and professional relationships, especially when our business partners are friends or family members. For some it works really well, and for others it’s a disaster. I think similar principles such as knowing one another’s roles and limits, and appreciating one another can also be applied in that context.

  • Thank you for your kind words, Cat! I see this topic as essential, because starting a business is a deeply personal endeavor. And since your relationship will probably outlive your startup (or at least outlive the startup phase), and it needs to be nurtured all along the way.

  • Rachel Rodriguez

    After reading the article Why Your Significant Other’s Buy-In Matters for Your Startup I really wanted to learn more about the company this couple founded. I grew up in a family business and I have seen first hand the struggles that my family has gone through over the years, but at the need of the day our strong family unit is what keeps the business growing. I looked up the company d.light and loved their mission and what they were trying to accomplish. For my Call to Action I purchased one of the lanterns because I wanted to support their business and the people around the world they have been helping, and I encourage others to do the same.

  • Elisa

    When you get married you are expected to stand next to your partner through think and thin. But I saw what owning a business did to my own family. My dad was never home and it turned to my mom to raise us kids. Its hard when a family’s dream to to have a family (with kids) but also have a company flourish. SO when she talks about the struggle her and her husband go through I completely understand! I feel like this partnership is doing everything right in order to make their dreams a reality. But i do agree in these steps especially setting specific deadlines and proper communication with your partner in business and in life.

  • Ann Matthews

    For my Call-to-Action, I decided to discuss this conversation with my boyfriend, as well as ask 2 successful couples I know in my life to discuss this article, specifically to respond to what Dorcas said are the five things entrepreneurs can do to meaningfully engage their spouses and grow their partnership along the way. I really enjoyed this article and completing the call-to-action. It allowed me to have meaningful conversations with two women who I thoroughly admire as well as have an important conversation with my boyfriend. I really got a lot out of this exercise and ended up enjoying myself much more than I anticipated.

  • Thank you for supporting d.light, Rachel! What a wonderful call to action.

  • Elisa, I totally get the struggle, and I’m sorry for the hardship your family endured. There’s no perfect formula for juggling family and a business, but we can certainly try our best. Creating some measure of certainty with deadlines and communication is a good way to create a bit of stability in the roller-coaster startup experience.

  • This is so encouraging, Ann! I’m glad to hear you were able to have meaningful and enjoyable conversations. Best wishes to you and your boyfriend as you try to navigate this complex balancing act!

  • James Robertson

    These tips seem as if they have made and had a significant difference in entrepreneurship for couples and partners in general. Balancing work life and at home are two very difficult things I am sure but I can’t imagine how hard it is with your significant other as well. These tips definitely feel experiences, tested, and successful.

  • Danielle Devereux

    I think this article is fantastic for couples, married or not. I feel like when a significant other starts a business, it is a habit to not want to burden the other partner. So then the owner of the business feels as if they cannot talk to their significant other about the problems going on during the job. However, I think people need to start changing that. When people get into a committed relationship or marriage, it is usually agreed upon that they share things with each other, even if it is just to vent. So why can’t this be the same thing when one starts their own business endeavor? They need that support from their other half to know that they are on a great path, and that their ideas are valued. I am not married, nor in a relationship, but if I were to be, I would actually love it if my significant other wanted to talk about their business and its’ problems or get feedback from me. It would make me feel really great to be able to give advice, and contribute ideas in order for them to have a successful business.

  • Michael Kaelin

    I really like some of the life lessons that we can use not only in our business lives but everyday. I agreed with points 1, 3, and 4 because of how they focus on open communication as well as working as a team in order to carry out your goal. Thank you for the write Dorcas.

  • Sarah Nelson

    People really don’t think about the impact being an entrepreneur has on the families and especially their significant others. This article gives great insight into how to stay together through the blood, sweat and tears that goes into starting a business. The success of the business really is just as much of a reflection on the significant other as the entrepreneur. Having a strong support system is a major key to successfully starting a business. This article is very insightful and the first hand account is very powerful.

  • Hjordis Robinson

    Business ventures can be stressful and tiring and staying motivated to accomplish your initial goal can be an entrepreneurs biggest challenge. However, people don’t often recognize the impact that such stress has on the people around you, specifically significant others. I love how this article validates the importance of your significant other’s support throughout the stresses of business life. Personally, tips 1,2 and 3 are especially important to me because they represent how the support should be there for each other from the very beginning stages of your partner’s plan.

  • Thanks for your comment, James! These approaches have definitely worked for us (after much trial and error), and I hope they work for others as well.

  • I completely agree, Danielle! Even if a couple didn’t discuss the business, the reality is that the company would still have a significant impact on both of them. It can only help for both partners to feel some level of empowerment and engagement in making decisions related to the business.

  • Thanks, Michael! I wish you productive and open communication with your team!

  • Sarah, your observations are great and have been supported by research: business founders most frequently name spouses/significant others as their most important source of support. So it makes sense to see your partner as one of your greatest assets and to engage and care for them in meaningful ways.

  • I completely agree with you, Hjordis! It would be ideal to involve your significant other from day 1. It’s typically a long and crazy road to build a company, so you need one another each step of the way!

  • Charlee Riggio

    Your comment is exactly what I was going to reply. Although I am still young and in college these are things that I am starting to think about. Although it is not in my “plan” to start my own business I think that these suggestions can be applicable to an work life balance. (1) Taking time to share visions can be applicable to a business as well as career goals. (2) Setting realistic expectations are also very important to help your significant other understand where your path is headed.(3) Your partners is a vital role in your career,as you are in need of their support for career driven decisions. (4) Communication is very important in all aspects of a relationship, especially where there is a need for compromise or understanding. (5) Deadlines are always helpful to have as mile markers in that original vision that was expressed.

  • Robert Neville

    I really liked number one about sharing a vision with your partner. It is super important that they fully understand what you are trying to do and if you can make them understand it, then they can possibly show some flaws that you may have missed. Also number 2 about setting realistic times for the amount of work seems a little hard though because I feel like most start ups take much more work than previously anticipated.

  • Max Mantey

    Yeah Bob, I agree with you here on both points. Last summer I worked underneath two bosses who were partners of a start up company. Deadlines were tough because outside factors were always messing with our time tables. Business is unpredictable, it’s great any everything to have an end vision, but most of the time we found ourselves taking it one day at a time accomplishing small tasks, with a big vision in mind.