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AZRIELA JAFFE

5.12.99  
There Ought to Be a Prize For Entrepreneurs Who Save Their Marriages
How one couple put business and family into perspective — just in time

With all the "Entrepreneur of the Year" awards out there, one category isn't represented. So I'd like to invent it. I proudly present the "Back from the Brink of Divorce and Stronger than Ever" award to a Pennsylvania couple, Sidney and Chris. Like so many entrepreneurial couples I hear from, they almost lost what was most precious to them, their marriage of 10 years -- but they fought the impulse to give up. Their story is probably not dramatic enough to interest Hollywood. Like thousands of couples, they almost didn't realize in time that their marriage was being destroyed by years of buried resentments and fears. What is sensational is how they stopped the train from going off the tracks. I interviewed Sidney at length, mainly via E-mail. She wrote me candidly about their experience in hopes that it would help others. Here's an edited version of her reflections:

"Our big blowup and the turning point in our marriage happened one Saturday night. Saturday evening is a time for Chris and me to relax together, to discuss our lives, children, current events, dreams and plans, job frustrations, and philosophical musings. I poured myself a glass of wine and settled into the couch. Chris didn't sit down with me. He said he needed to do a quick update on his Web site. Chris designed and runs a Web site that provides consulting services and research information to retailers. He disappeared into our home office, promising to be back in a few minutes. I waited and waited, and a few minutes stretched into 45. It was deja vu -- the last four years repeating themselves.

"Until almost a year ago, Chris had been on his own, while I ran my freelance writing business. He was always obsessed about making his business grow faster. It seemed like he was either physically or emotionally gone from home most of the time. The kids and I would be talking at the dinner table, and he wouldn't hear a word. He'd be staring off, completely removed from what was going on around him. We'd once been able to discuss almost any topic, but our conversations increasingly focused on his business. I felt neglected and alone in our marriage.

"Last June, he was offered a phenomenal full-time job and a relocation package that we both agreed we couldn't refuse, even though it meant moving to a new city and uprooting our family from a home we loved. We agreed that Chris would keep the Web site as a sideline and scale it down considerably.

I hoped that this transition would bring Chris back home to our family. But things didn't happen that way. Three weeks after moving to our new home, Chris's company went through a reorganization, and he almost lost his job. He began drifting off in mid-conversation and pulling back emotionally -- it was happening all over again.

"That night when he decided to work instead of spending time with me, I panicked and blew up at him. Years of sacrificing my needs to his business and feeling ignored came spilling out. In turn, he let me have it with his frustrations about me. We laid it all out -- the bitterness and worries. We told each other things that we'd been afraid to say for years, for fear of driving the other one away. I wasn't sure that our marriage would survive. But a strange thing happened. After the dust settled, we both felt positively purified. I could see things clearly for the first time in years.

"I understand now that Chris felt pressure to keep up his business in case he ever needed to fall back on it. I see how afraid he has been that he'd lose his job and that I'd view him as a failure. I wasn't as emotionally supportive as I should have been during the job shakeup. I had gotten numb to his job/business worries over the years and felt angry when he brought them up. I also saw that he'd never gotten over his dream of running the Web site. It was his brainchild and passion, and I agreed that he should continue it as a side business. I now give him the time he needs to work on it.

"Chris has also changed. Because he's a late-night person, he often waits until I've gone to bed to begin working, so we can spend time together. He makes an effort now to be attentive and to focus on the needs of our family. We've also established a time each week to discuss whatever frustrations we may be having with each other -- an ongoing reality check. The rule is that whoever is doing the complaining can't attack but must lay it all out honestly in a respectful, considerate manner. The one being complained about must listen without becoming defensive or angry. We're learning how to see things from the other's perspective and how to be more compassionate toward one another. And, most importantly, we are dealing with our frustrations before they destroy our marriage."

Chris and Sidney could have become another divorce statistic, done in by entrepreneurial pressures. He can now fulfill his dream to build a business, with his wife's support, instead of sacrificing their marriage to the venture. With their tenacity, I have no doubt that they will manage the business and the marriage successfully.

Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe at AZ@azriela.com. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

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