Although the question has the word "marriage" in the title, it is really about any most important relationship in a founder's life, be it husband/wife, fiancee, boyfriend/girlfriend, partner or significant other.
During my first startup, there were times when I thought the pressures of the business were going to result in my wife leaving me. Thankfully, she didn't and we got to a reasonable exit (for the business!) without a matrimonial disaster.
This subject obviously has a lot to do with work/life balance and I note there is a question on that subject, but as I get into my second start-up, I'm interested specifically in how other successful founders maintain healthy relationships with the one they love. A great example on husband and wife startup give-and-take can be seen in Jason Cohen's article and his wife's response - can anyone else share their personal stories, provide helpful tips or point out relevant articles?
Being at a startup is a lifestyle. Your spouse has to buy into this lifestyle, first and foremost, or things will go south quickly.
When I approach my spouse about any startup, I have to sell her on it too. If she thinks it's a waste of time or stupid, then she will not be bought into the long hours or zigs and zags that will happen. So, for me, it starts with buying into the vision. Not that she has to totally understand everything but it has to be a compelling story. What I mean by compelling is that the opportunity will enrich our lives at some point, be it money or a stepping stone to something else.
I also have her meet the people I will work with, including their spouses. If a company values the work-life balance, which they all should, then it shows in how they interact with spouses. A good CEO and executive team will sell the spouse as well as the employee.
Another important thing is to be honest about the sacrifices you need to make. Nothing pisses your partner off more that broken promises or lies about the real effort required to make stuff happen.
Always make time for your spouse. Have them demand that you put the computer down and take a break. Even little breaks are fine. Being consumed with work, startup or not, is the surest way to make your home life miserable.
I learned the following over the past year while writing code, working with a business partner and trying to make it all work with a wife and 2 year old son.
Have at least one co-founder.
The arguments for and against co-founders and how many co-founders shouldn't be repeated here (although it's a great topic generally). But having a family to tend to puts a big hash mark in the "have a co-founder" column.
In general, my personality leads me to being a single-founder, but now with a wife and child I wouldn't do that. At least one other person has to be at least as dedicated as I am, otherwise I wouldn't be able to have the right priorities.
What has helped with me is:
1) Marry the right person. I'm very independent as is my wife. If my wife wasn't as independent, it probably wouldn't work.
2) Get your financial house in order. Finances are a big marriage killer. Startups can be a big financial drain, especially if you're leaving a job and losing income for months or even years. So get your financial house in order, track what kind of financial runway you have, and be very open about it. When I hire a new person or spend more than a couple of thousand dollars on something, I discuss it with my wife to make sure she understands why and make sure she's on board. She really wants a new elliptical machine and windows for the house. I really want to remodel the basement and build a theatre. All are on hold because we're trying to keep the cash stockpiled and the runway long. It's a lifestyle sacrifice for her so I want to make sure she's in the loop and an active part of decisions that prevent us from doing things we would normally just do, like buy an elliptical machine.
3) I make it a point to be home at 7 PM every night and cook her dinner. This frees her time to work out and do things she wants/needs to do. It's not hurting my business really at all because it forces to me to focus and get things done at work and will likely extend my burnout runway. I can do some work after she goes to bed but most nights I don't.
4) We have some shared interests/hobbies that I make it a point to make time for on the weekends. This also helps keep me sane and extends my burnout runway.
Stay single. But barring that, my rather unqualified two cents...
Usually it's not the quantity of time together that leads to the most frustration. Being fully unavailable is less frustrating, at least to my particular companion, than being physically present but emotionally unresponsive.
So if you're like me, this means the best thing you can do is: get enough time for yourself. It sounds crazy, but it helps. "Techies" tend to be introverted. Even if it's just 15 or 20 minutes a day, you need a little silent space (when you're still awake) to feel at rest. Otherwise, life will start to feel like a constant deluge, you'll start withdrawing from your partner, and he'll respond by forcibly inserting himself into your every waking moment (part of a vicious cycle) or leaving you altogether.
Once you've satisfied this, it'll be easier to make every bit of the time you spend with your partner count.
I just got a son so things are even more critical. I would say the following three rules.
There is really only one way it will work and that is to have a very understanding wife. Looking over my shoulder at my wife who is trying to get me to come to bed.
A start-up is similar to graduate school in that it is a time-sink and a gamble. You are gambling with your family, so having your spouse as a partner is important, and she should be treated with the same respect as any co-founder.
Make certain you spend time with your family, and if your wife wants to take an overnight trip, then do it.
It may mean that things happen less quickly, but, I would hate to have my children remember me as a work-a-holic that wasn't really there for them when they were younger.
They need to learn how to balance life and if that means I sacrifice some health issues by cutting back on sleep, then such is life, but my children should not be a sacrifice.
Succeed or fail, your family should be in your corner regardless, as long as you don't push them away.
So, as others mentioned, communicate often and make certain that you don't take out the stress of what you are doing in your relationship. Your SO shouldn't be a punching bag when you are stressed, for example. Take up running or get a punching bag, but make certain you don't destroy by being too selfish.
Seduce your significant other into the business and the great passion and fire that goes with it, so that they too are working insane hours right along with you, and it's now something the two of you are sharing, vs. being at opposition with. Of course watch out for the great battles that will erupt once you to disagree on things.
There's been a lot of wisdom shared on this thread. Very useful! One thing I would keep in mind is that the dreams that fuel and entrepreneur may seem a bit unsubstantial to significant others, so make sure you also pay attention to their dreams for the future, for the family, for the year, for the weekend, whatever.
Work will disrupt your time with them, but for each member of your household, try to make a clean mental break, drop your preoccupations with the business, and give each one your undivided, fully-present attention for at least 3 5-30 minute episodes per week. If you have some discretionary time and you could putter away at something business related or just relax, make a clear choice to focus on each family member in turn, instead.
If each person gets a clear sense that they matter to you, and that at time you are only focused on them and nothing else, then you are essentially not abandoning your family for your job. If you maintain the connection, and you respect some of the things that they dream about too, then they can forgive you when you honestly can't get away from the business.
Good time management and self control.
Here's what I do:
1- After coming back from my day job, I spend the time with the family and when the kids and wife go to bed, I start working on my ideas.
2- Two days a week (Friday evening and Saturday) it's family time only. No work is done.
The point is that you have to let your spouse and kids feel you are available. Give them quality time.
Note: it's OK to spend some time on your work here and then if they are busy with their own stuff. Just don't bury yourself in work all the time. It's not good for your health either.
I just had to reply to this question.
Though in most ventures I was in I was an "intrapreneur", at the last venture I was a co-founder. Sadly, the company did not work out (many reasons, but the main was what the market has shown us). My wife was the biggest supporter through it all. There is a reason I call her my "angel investor", because she is my best supporter and also best BS detector.
I went through hell during those 7 months at that venture and having someone really smart to bounce thoughts off was absolutely invaluable asset.
I will agree with other posters here, COMMUNICATION is extremely important. Especially when things go bad, walking around all angry and frustrated will not help you or the marriage. But if you communicate all that to your partner and use him/her as an advisor, you may just get through it faster and get to a much better place.
Lastly, one should never forget to have some time sacred for the relationship. Date nights with no business talk are crucial and should be a regular weekly occurrence.
Our wives/husbands/partners are true unsung heroes. Some of the most successful business people had a great supporter behind them in their personal life.
This is a tough one and I guess it always depends on the type of startup. I had 2 startups, one in services, which didn't require me to have a crazy life. Basically, I was on my customers schedule so it wasn't bad. Another one was an online SaaS product which required a lot more ground work and background work. The best way is to consider that your wife and kids are part of the process. If they don't feel well, you won't be able to execute on the long run on your startup (at least if you want to stay married). It is critical, and part of the success of your startup, to manage time for your wife and time for your kids. In reality, it is not that much time in a day..
Specific action item:
- Budget some money for baby sitter and go out for dinner with your wife every 10 days or 2 weeks. Just the two of you.
- Go home and stop working before 7pm and enjoy your kids until they go to bed. Then you can start working again. It's a good for you too.. Beware that short term solutions don't turn into long term fixes..
Also, you can look at that great article from Steve Blank (and fantastic entrepreneur and professor).
Avoid Debt! It puts out a huge amount of risk, and if you get an SBA loan and your biz fails then you may lose your house! That would be really bad.