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5 Lessons That Saved My Marriage After My Startup Almost Killed It

How to Have an Amazing Marriage and a Winning Business

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BY Jeremy Bodenhamer - 05 Feb 2018

5 Lessons That Saved My Marriage After My Startup Almost Killed It

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It was late 2013 and I was a year into our startup. A year without a paycheck. A year since moving my family into a ramshackle house to make ends meet and extend our personal runway.

One day, I was startled by an abrupt knock on the door. One of my boys was screaming and the other was in my wife Bethany's arms. She dragged both to the door, the screaming kid attached to her knee. She opened it to find a Santa Barbara Sheriff's Deputy, gun holstered, but unclipped, standing a few steps back from the screen and another standing behind the corner of the house, gun drawn.

"Is Diego home?" he asked, with clear surprise on his face.

While the baby pulled my wife's hair, she laughed.

"What about Rosa?"

Turns out, the inexpensive rental I found was previously used as a grow house and was a frequent stop on the local drug enforcement train.

Be careful what you sacrifice.

Entrepreneurs sacrifice a lot to get their businesses off the ground. There are countless stories of founders sleeping in cars or eating ramen to save money. Eric Simons, founder of ClassConnect, secretly lived at AOL's Palo Alto campus for two months because he "couldn't afford to live anywhere" while building his company.

Personal finance author and speaker, Dave Ramsey, says that "If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else." This is a great plan for moving from a Hyundai to a Ferrari, but there are some things entrepreneurs can't sacrifice. The two most important are also those that easily fall by the wayside with the hustle and bustle of building a business - our kids and our marriage.

"My wife is a saint" is supposed to be a funny line for comedians like Bill Burr. For entrepreneurs, this is beyond an understatement when referring to supportive spouses.

This is what my wife put up with:

  • Two years, in which I was unable to bring home a paycheck

  • The move from a single-family home to the "grow house" in order to save money

  • Having three baby boys in five years while I was on the road about 60 percent of the time

  • My deprioritization of our marriage

  • My constant stress and inability to leave work at work

  • The emotionally instability that resulted from leading a company through rocky times that resulted in a major layoff

For all intents and purposes, I abandoned my marriage to build a business. I know, bad move.

You can't undo damage done to your wife and kids.

During this time, I kept telling myself that everything I was doing was for my family. Yes, it was a lie, but I believed it. I had abandoned my wife for my business.

For the past year and a half, I have been working to repair the damage I did. In 2017, I cut my travel down to almost nothing. I sent others in my place or just said "no" unless it was imperative I go. I prioritized my marriage as my number one.

And here is what I learned:

  1. You can't undo the damage done to your family. You can only pray they give you the grace to start over.

  2. Relationships are fragile. It takes no effort to damage them, but takes immense effort to repair damage that's already been done.

  3. No matter what your love language is, nothing replaces quality time.

  4. No business need is greater than the daily need of an active and present father/mother in the home.

  5. I make better business decisions when I'm prioritizing my family.

Prioritizing family is great for business.

Success didn't come by way of my 24/7 obsession. In fact, the opposite was true. My mind never shut off. I was tired. I was overwhelmed. I was driven by fear. The resulting tunnel vision caused me to lose perspective and I became incapable of making good decisions.

Prioritizing time for my marriage required me to shift my attention, allowing my mind a chance to slow down and reset. When I returned to work, the rest, relaxation and improvements in my personal life had an immediate impact.

CS Lewis said, "Don't let your happiness depend on something you may lose." This is true no matter what stage your company is at. Take a deep breath and stop listening to all the voices that tell you to sacrifice your life for monetary success. Instead, do as Mother Teresa suggested and "go home and love your family." You will feel refreshed, renewed and make better decisions when you get back to the office.

To my wife: Bethany, you are amazing and I will never deserve you. Thank you for sticking by my side. I will never make this mistake again. My relationship with you is and always will be the best investment I have ever made.