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New Business, New Marriage, and Mother-in-Law as Boss
How to keep this equation from driving you crazy

A woman from Pennsylvania wrote to me expressing great enthusiasm -- and trepidation -- about plans for a business she was about to embark on. With good reason. Here's an edited version of her letter:

"My fiance and I plan to get married and move out of the country to start a scuba diving company. He'll run the business since he's much more experienced than I am in this area. (He has planned this since well before I came into the picture.) However, I've been interested in scuba diving since I was a child, so we're a good match. Here's the rub: I will be working not only for my husband but for my mother-in-law as well. If that's not stress, I don't know what is! Do you have any advice for coping?"

Stress? You're certainly loading it on. Getting married, starting a new business, working for your new husband and your mother-in-law, and moving out of the country. Now, all you need to do is get pregnant on your honeymoon, and your stress meter will go right off the Richter scale.

It's a good sign that you're concerned about handling all these challenges. The romance of getting married and going off on an adventure hasn't blinded you to the risks of piling on so many life-changing decisions at once. My first piece of advice is to keep your eyes wide open.

Newlyweds who go into business are often so in love with the idea of spending every waking moment together that they're shocked when power struggles and disappointments emerge. I know: My husband quit his job two weeks before our honeymoon to start his own business. It was all the harder to cope because it was our first year of marriage.

The challenge is to keep this early stress from killing the romance in the marriage. You're particularly vulnerable because that's when both partners are most hungry for the other's approval. You don't want to fight over who forgot to send what to a client right after your honeymoon. As the boss in this venture, your husband should be especially aware of this danger. He needs to keep sight of the contributions you make to the business and let you know -- often -- how much he appreciates them.

That's especially so since you'll be working for your mother-in-law. Not only will you be striving for your husband's approval as a wife and businesswoman but you'll be trying to prove the same things to her. The key is to keep her from getting between you and your husband. He must not let her complain about your work behind your back. The three of you need to set up rules to prevent such destructive behavior. If she wants to criticize your performance, she must tell you directly. Period. If she wants to include your husband in the meeting, that's O.K. (If she wants to take your husband aside to tell her how wonderful you are, that's just fine, though.)

My last suggestion: Make friends and develop activities that are unconnected to your husband or his family. Find an outlet that doesn't require you to please anyone but yourself.

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 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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