The Need for Nurturance

Kalli Matsuhashi, Owner

Executive Confidante

Eagan, MN

Mark left his programming job at an Atlanta software firm six years ago. He had worked on a number of projects for clients in the medical field, and began to develop his own ideas for a bundle of programs that would be of particular interest to manufacturers of medical devices. He saw the Twin Cities as a good base for his newly formed company, and moved his young family to Minnesota. His wife Cindi was excited about the move, and decided to take time off from her career in advertising to help Mark and their two children settle in to their new life here.

The early years were rocky, with frequent worries about financing, building the fledgling company’s infrastructure, and hiring new people. Just as Mark would think that things had settled down, there was a need for more – more people, more funding, more marketing to support more growth. Mark was spending long days at the office, and when he was home, he wasn’t truly present with Cindi and their two kids. Cindi complained, said she wanted more time with him. While Mark did want more time with his family, his job was a whirlwind of activity that was exciting and presented great opportunities for building personal wealth. His company was growing despite the hard economic times, and he took great pride in what he was achieving. When Cindi began talking about moving back to Atlanta, Mark was shocked. He knew she needed more from him, but he never thought his marriage was at risk.

Mark’s marriage was at risk. He had been so busy building his business that he didn’t see the growing gap between he and his wife. He loves his wife and children, but loves his business, too. Still, as the child of divorced parents, he is scared to death that his own children would have to go through a similar experience.

The Developmental Stages of Marriage

Marriages tend to pass through a series of developmental stages. There’s the classic honeymoon stage, then the stage of reality—the time when the rose-colored glasses come off. Another stage begins when children enter the picture. This childrearing stage can dramatically increase the level of stress and conflict in a marriage. Mark and Cindi, whose children were three and one when they moved to the Twin Cities, were just moving from this stage to one of accommodation—learning to better acknowledge the needs of the other and getting better at managing conflict. At the same time, however, Mark’s long hours and focus on his business drew him away from the relationship with his wife, and the result was distance. Instead of settling smoothly into accommodation, Mark and Cindi were moving further apart, emotionally and even physically. The intimacy they had once shared seemed to be dwindling away.

The Drive to Succeed

Entrepreneurs are driven to succeed, and put great passion into pursuing their dreams. Often, there is so much drive and passion given to the business that the other relationships in the business owner’s life suffer. The financial benefit to the family can be great, but can come at a great cost to those who matter most to the entrepreneur. Cindi greatly appreciates the quality of life Mark has created for them through his business, but misses his presence—the physical time he is able to spend with his family as well as his focus on the family when he is with them.

What to Do

As human beings, we need connection with others. We cannot live in isolation, at least not long and not well. Relationships are critical to our mental and physical health, and therefore need ongoing nurturing. Mark had been nurturing his company, but not his family. There were factors in his family history that contributed to his drive to succeed, and by examining these underlying influences, Mark will have greater ability to make conscious choices about how much time and energy he devotes to both his business and his family.

Distance in a marriage usually only leads to more distance. A marriage is unlikely to change direction without a crisis (negative or positive) or getting outside help from a marriage counselor. According to John Gottman, a psychologist who has been researching marriage for more than thirty years, most couples wait an average of six years before seeking outside help. For some couples, this can be too long.

The pressures of building a business can add a tremendous burden to the marriage of the entrepreneur. As the business grows and the children grow up, there are other complex issues that arise, such as whether to bring children into the business and how to do this. Later, issues of succession and the passing on of ownership must be dealt with. Nurturing the marriage now is an investment in the health of both the business and the family.

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