How to Divorce-Proof Your Start Up

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Today’s guest contributor is my friend, Alisa Bowman, author of Project: Happily Ever After, which tells the true story of how she went from wishing her husband dead to falling back in love. She is also the creator of ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.

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More than 6 years ago, my then unemployed husband came to me with a proposition. He wanted to open a bicycle shop café. The shop would sell bikes and related merchandise. It would include an open concept bike repair area, where patrons could hang out and watch as mechanics worked on the loves of their lives. And it would also sell espresso, Gatorade, and muffins—some of the staples that many serious cyclists rely on before, during and just after a long ride.

It was a brilliant concept. It was also the absolute perfect business for my husband—who is both an avid cyclist and has an MBA.

The start up costs (about $40,000) were scary, but reachable if we second mortgaged our home.

The problem, though, was this. We had a baby on the way, and I was self-employed. If my husband opened this business, he would have no income for a year or two or more, and he’d also be tethered to the shop. I would become, by default, a single mother. I would earn all of the money and do most of the parenting.

I was naïve. I told him to go for it. He did.

Three years later, he was still bringing in less than $20,000 a year. My income was paying all of the bills. He was also still working 7 days a week, for 12 to 14 hours at a time. When he wasn’t working, he was on his bike or out with his buddies.

What was I doing?

I was planning his funeral on the off chance he might conveniently drop dead. I was also planning our divorce.

Oddly, it was a divorced friend who convinced me to work on my marriage. Over a period of 4 months, I read every marital improvement book I could find. Then something odd and amazing happened. My marriage improved.

We were now talking about our problems. I was now voicing my irritation and my resentment about his business, his bike, his friends and a billion other things. He’d changed his behavior. I’d changed mine. We were having sex again, and we were growing closer.

As the months became years, our marriage improved even more.

And then I decided to completely reinvent myself and my career. Until then, I’d earned my living as a ghostwriter and book collaborator, and I’d earned a good living at that. Now, however, I wanted to write in my own voice.

And I wanted to write about very personal topics—like my marriage. I wanted to launch a blog and a book about our marriage experience, and I wanted that blog and the book to launch my career into a new, exciting direction.

But it was going to take a major investment. I figured it might take, oh, about $40,000 to pull off. The money would be needed for logo design, branding, publicity, marketing, travel, and equipment. This was also going to take time. Since I was still the breadwinner of our household, I didn’t have the luxury of channeling all of my time into this new venture. No, I’d have to work at it while also working full time on my other paying projects.

I would be doing this as a mom, and as a wife, too.

It’s one thing to work yourself silly when you are single and young. It’s another to do it when you are on the cusp of 40 and you have a preschooler in the house and a marriage that was recently on the brink of divorce.

Was our marriage strong enough to survive this?

As it turns out, it was. I’m not fully through my reinvention yet, but I am probably more than half way there. I have a book coming out in a few weeks. I have a fairly successful blog. I’m making money off my new brand. I’m writing about topics that many women tell me their husbands would never allow them to write about.

And my marriage is stronger than ever. Here’s some advice if you’d like to take a similar leap—and keep your marriage intact while you do it.

Make it a family effort. You might think that your career shift is all about you. It’s not. Everyone in your family will be sacrificing as you do this. Get everyone on board from the very beginning. Make sure your spouse knows why you are doing this, how long the hardest stage will last, and what he or she can do to support you.

Continually check in. Nearly every evening, I ask my husband how things are going and how he’s feeling. I want to make sure his voice is heard and his needs are met. I also make sure to tell him about my ups and downs. I want him to be on this journey with me. More important, I want him to understand that my fatigue, sadness or any other negativity I might be dealing with has to do with the day I just had and not with him in particular.

Say Thank You. I thank my husband dozens of times a day. I thank him for entertaining our daughter while I work. I thank him for cooking dinner or cleaning the house. It doesn’t matter if he’s doing something that I normally do (and normally don’t get a thank you for). I still thank him. I want him to know I need him in my life. I want him to know I appreciate him. I want him to know that he’s part of the team.

Be willing to lose it all. This is probably important for all start up businesses, but it’s especially important when your start up affects other people in your life. Think of your family as shareholders in your business. Is everyone going to be okay if—worst case scenario—this business just doesn’t work out? From the very beginning of my reinvention, I knew exactly how much I was willing to spend and sacrifice (and potentially lose) to launch my new business. My husband and I were both at ease with the fact that we might never see this money ever again.

Don’t let your sex life slide. Use your sex life is a barometer for marital satisfaction. It’s normal for your drive to drop when you are under stress. If you can’t remember the last time you saw your spouse naked, however, it’s time to shift your priorities. I personally make it my goal to bed down with my husband at least once a week. I do it no matter how many items are still on my to-do list and no matter how frazzled I feel. Sometimes he has to work at it to get my motor running, but that just makes me love him all the more.

Go in spurts. Create push periods in your reinvention plan, and create rest spots, too. For instance, this summer, I slowed down and eased up on what I was doing. This allowed my husband to focus more on his career, and it allowed me to love up our daughter before my big fall push.

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Alisa Bowman is the author Project: Happily Ever After, which tells the true story of how she went from wishing her husband dead to falling back in love. She is also the creator of ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.


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17 responses

17 responses to “How to Divorce-Proof Your Start Up”

  1. Jackie says:

    So true. It’s amazing how quickly we can degenerate to the 6th grade blame game when things get challenging. Good luck with the book – it’s a real and seamy side of entrepreneurship not many people share.

  2. Definitely a piece of the start-up story that’s hardly ever talked about, good stuff.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, Corey Allan, Glenn Friesen and others. Glenn Friesen said: How to Divorce-Proof Your Start Up: Today’s guest contributor is my friend, Alisa Bowman, author of Project: Hap… http://bit.ly/higntA […]

  4. Gregg says:

    Alisa,

    Bravo! We have become conditioned to believe everything in life is both disposable and instantly replaceable – including marriages. The work you put into restoring your marriage and punching through the invisible envelope that is self imposed limitation is the fibre that strengthens society. Two most important words I read in your post were ‘work’ and ‘plan’. Communicating when dog tired is work. Clinging to the hope that what you are doing now will get your family to a better place sometime in the future is definitely work. ‘Planning’ – (even planning to not have a plan) wrests control of your life away from ‘everyone else’ and fosters inner peace; which is the only way you can truly see the ‘colour’ in a baby’s eyes.

    I survived an almost identical saga and though initially bruised, my marriage survives today stronger than before. While you can never know the best way out of tough situation until in it, I can’t help but wonder if things might have been a little easier if I’d stumbled on your blog years ago.

    Thank you for telling your story. I can’t wait to read your book.

    Gregg.

  5. Tim Brownson says:

    Before I got married people would talk about marriage being a compromise and I would think to myself “That’s BS, if you love somebody you shouldn’t have to compromise”

    I think it’s fair to say I got that one spectacularly wrong, marriage is all about compromise.

    BTW, I’m about half way through Alisa’s book and it’s excellent. Brutally honest, funny and chock full of wisdom.

  6. Juho Tunkelo says:

    Thank you for this. If only more people had your presence of mind to do what it takes to turn things around… and ultimately save both a business and a marriage. We don’t have to be victim to circumstances…

  7. Contrarian says:

    Alisa –

    Pulling off a Lazarus with your marriage is admirable and a very inspiring story!

    My take … a marriage that works doesn’t require work!

    We work all day … the last thing we want to do is come home and go to work again …on our marriage. Blaaa! A healthy fully functioning marriage doesn’t sacrifice or compromise – it’s not a slog or an effort.

    Example: When you give your child a gift at Christmas, is that a sacrifice, or work for you? No way … you get far more out of giving it than your kid does from receiving it. Why? Because it was a labor of love … you did it because you wanted to – not because you where compelled to.

    This is the way it is with a healthy relationship – you out-serve each other, you can’t do enough for each other, you “give” to the other … not because you have to, not begrudgingly, not because you fear the fallout if you don’ …but because YOU feel better when you do it.

    Neurotic, dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships work because two people compromise, change who they are, give up things, sacrifice, make it work, and have a co-dependent arrangement.

    Healthy relationships work because they don’t require work.

    Think “contrarian”. Challenge the well-worn cliches and tired assumptions about what marriage is.

  8. moira says:

    saying thank you, feeling appreciated, such a simple key to successful business and personal relationships. thank you for the reminder.

  9. This truly was an encouraging blog post and I thank you Jonathan! I have been in a similar situation with starting a brand new social networking site for women with an inspirational flair nationwide…so much money pumped into the business, no income coming in from this side of the business but my dream to build transitional homes for women and their children and teach them to fish for 1 year until they get released into the world so they stop the dysfunction and be examples for their children…that is my passion, that is my dream and that is my motor that keeps me going even with the new launch date of 1/1/11 for MakeGirlfriends.com.
    I’m always encouraging and inspiring others and it’s great to read something where I actually got inspired!
    In gratitude to you,
    Nancy

  10. Emmitt says:

    Thank you Jon for introducing Alisa. And thank you Alisa for vocalizing something of major importance to startup owners.

    Trying to keep my fledgling startup going, while maintaining normalcy with my significant other has made 2010 the hardest year of my life.

    Your post reminded me that instead of walking away, you can work to ‘find a way’.

    Thank you for the inspiration.

    E

  11. Cory Huff says:

    I’ve been following Alisa since 2008 when I was running http://www.AGoodHusband.net. Thanks for doing the great work Alisa. It’s important for people to know that marriage, and love, requires compromise and lots of communication.

    I love my wife dearly, and it took us years to figure out how to communicate effectively.

  12. Alisa Bowman says:

    Thank you all for this wonderful feedback.

    Contrarian–I love how contrary you are. I agree up to a point. Humans are humans by nature, which means we struggle to be good but are also flawed. Sometimes one person has to be the big person for a while until the other marital partner comes to attention. It would be nice (and ideal) if both people were selflessly giving, though.

  13. […] How to Divorce-Proof Your Start Up — The rewards of a successful startup can be great — but before you get there, the work may strain you and your family to the limit. In these stressful times, communication is key. Jonathan Fields […]

  14. […] You get back what you put in to this world, so if things don’t seem to be going your way, whether it’s your business, your life, your relationship… you have the power to change it. […]

  15. Jodi says:

    Thank you for the advice. I, too, work from home and my partner is interested in starting a small business. I am anticipating stress (and funeral plans!). As we begin to embark on this journey, I am happy to have the reminder to say Thank-You, everyday. I know it will be difficult at times, but knowing that another couple has done it successfully and having your recommendations freshly in my mind will help insulate us from silly, expected mistakes.

    Jodi

  16. The start-up of my business, Tail Wags Helmet Covers, has been hard on my marriage as well. The stress and financial worry really took a toll. We’re still struggling and I’m not sure if we can re-connect again despite the fact that my business is now prospering. It was inspiring to read your story about finding love again in your marriage.

  17. […] any easier. For a true story about a woman who turned her brink of divorce relationship to passion, click here.   "You always hurt, the ones you love. The ones, you shouldn't hurt at […]