Do You Love Your Work More Than You Love… Love?

A typical evening in the Auteri household.

Shortly after getting married, I started seeing my husband a lot less.

No, he wasn’t having an affair.

I was.

With my work.

First, I started working nights at the New York Sun. I headed over there after finishing my day at Routledge, an academic book publisher where I was working full-time. Then, after securing additional hours at the New York Sun and getting onto my husband’s health insurance, I left Routledge, only to start an editorial internship at Nerve. I was exhausted, but I was also excited: I was finally pursuing the full-time freelance lifestyle I had wanted for so long, and I was hoping that the time I put in at Nerve would open even more doors for me.

My husband? Well… we barely saw each other. He was already gone by the time I woke up in the morning, and already asleep when I finally arrived home from NYC.

I was unhappy with the state of our relationship, but what could I do? It was my own damn fault. And within six months, I was able to match the salary I had previously been making in book publishing, and had also broken into a number of dream publications, including Nerve and Time Out New York.

Then, two years later, our situations were reversed. My work load was dangerously light, something that was exacerbated by the fact that publications were folding left and right. I paid my bills… but just barely. My husband, meanwhile, was working to build a web design and development business with two other partners. He did this in his off hours, when he wasn’t working at his full-time job as a copywriter for a direct mail company. In the months before the new year, his side business landed a major client, and he rarely came home before 2 or 3 in the morning. I was lonely and miserable, and my own floundering career didn’t help. He was stressed out and miserable, unhappy with his full-time job and feeling a lot of financial pressure due to my own freelance struggles. We fought constantly, and eventually ended up seeing a couples therapist.

A year has passed since that particularly difficult time but, when my buddy (and colleague) Melanie Gorman tweeted this Inc. story on “Why So Many Entrepreneurs Get Divorced,” I still saw myself and my husband in the piece’s anecdotes, and wondered if Michael and I were headed down the same path. One passage in particular leapt out at me:

“Common causes of divorce include financial strain, neglect, lack of communication, and divergent goals. Postmortems on the remains of entrepreneurs’ marriages can turn up all four in abundance. Other professions keep people away from home and preoccupy their thoughts, but they don’t produce the toxic cocktail of resentment and anxiety created by putting the family’s security constantly at risk. Then there’s that green-eyed minx, Jealousy. How often have you heard an entrepreneur describe her company as her ‘passion’? How often have you heard one say the same thing about her spouse?

More fundamentally, people start companies to do their own things, while marriage is about doing things together. Particularly in already-strained marriages, there is no tension a business can’t make worse.”

I saw clearly how my husband and I still struggled with these issues, despite being much happier in our careers. Were we reveling in our career successes at the expense of our marriage? Would we eventually divorce as well? Was an unhappy end just… inevitable?

Then again — unlike the other couples in this piece — we’re both entrepreneurs, and I’d like to think that this helps us understand each other a little bit better. And in the three years we’ve been married, I’d also like to think that we’ve learned a thing or two. Some of the things that keep us from killing each other under cover of darkness (or… um… simply walking out the door)?

1. Reminding ourselves of how lucky we are. It was my husband’s support (and health insurance 😉 that allowed me to leave my full-time job and pursue freelancedom. And I still catch him talking to people about my minor successes (which totally gives me the warm fuzzies). Meanwhile, he tells me that it was my constant pushing — and my help with his resume, cover letters, etc. — that finally led to his moving out of his comfort zone, leaving a stagnant career, and finding a new one that he loves. It’s hard to stay resentful over those hours we spend apart when we remind ourselves that we wouldn’t be nearly this happy with our careers if it wasn’t for each other.

2. Practicing reflective listening. It may seem a bit woo-woo, but our main takeaway from those therapy sessions last year was that we could stand to communicate better, and that the best way for us to do that was through reflective listening. What the what!? Well, basically, when we find ourselves on the edge of madness due to financial agita, work agita, or plain old agita agita, we each take a few minutes to tell the other how we’re feeling… and why. Our partner then repeats back to us what he or she heard and, through this, achieves a deeper understanding of our mental state.

3. Finding something/someone else to complete us. This was a bigger problem for me than for Michael, especially when I was working from home full-time and feeling particularly isolated. I had the tendency to rely on Michael as my only social outlet and… yeah… that was a problem. Now I make other social plans several times a week, take daily walks, find balance through yoga, and do about five billion other things. Life feels fuller and, when we do get to spend quality time together, we have a lot more to talk about.

The face of evil.

4. Setting work hours. Many of us become our own bosses so that we can create a more flexible schedule that works for us. But what usually ends up happening is that we become the worst damn boss we ever had! (Somehow, it’s more bearable, because we’re finally doing what we love.) It can be difficult to create work/life boundaries — especially when both your work and your life are based at home — but sticking to a schedule, and cutting yourself off from work at a certain hour, can help you compartmentalize things a bit better. Doooo iiiit! For the sake of both your sanity and your relationships!

5. Hugging the cats. Seriously. Who could stay mad when looking at this face?? —->

My husband is shameless in making the cats dance for me when I’m upset. Bastard.

How has entrepreneurship affected your love relationships? What has helped you to achieve work/LOVE balance?

Related: Clients Not Respecting Your Time? Sorry, That’s Your Fault, Why Write? It Could Save Your Marriage, Word Nerd News: Take A Break… Your Business Will Survive


  1. I so relate to this post. My husband is winding down from a busy and fulfilling career while I’m just getting started (at a very late age, I might add). All I can think about is my travel writing business. One of my goals for 2011 is setting office hours and sticking to them.

  2. Boy, can I relate! Having two career-driven people in a relationship definitely poses its challenges. (Though I wouldn’t want a Betty Draper-type marriage, I can also see how it could be easier in some ways.) It helps if both of you are committed to balance instead of having one person who’s putting 110% into the job and hoping the relationship will take care of itself. Sounds you’re both committed to nurturing the marriage AND your careers, though.

  3. Totally agree that having two entrepreneurs in the house helps — it seems to in our case as well. I also think #1 is the biggest help for us too, because initially, I could only be freelance w/ Andreas’ support, and he can build his business because I was gracious enough to live in Copenhagen for a while (sounds like less of a sacrifice than it’s felt like, btw). The massive payout he eventually expects to get will then go towards buying something that’s a bit more me than him, probably some farmland in Massachusetts. Not a bad deal for anyone when you look at the big picture, eh? 🙂

  4. Thank you for sharing your personal story. I started my business 6 months ago, and it has consumed my brainspace. It was nice to see that I am not alone.

  5. I am right there with you – while I’m grateful every second of the day for my husband’s financial and emotional support, it’s hard not to overworry (despite his reassurance) that he’s becoming frustrated with the pace/relative success of my freelance career. Yes, hugging the cats helps A LOT.

  6. It is so important to schedule out time for home and for work. When you work at home the lines can blur so really paying attention to it is a priority. Also, not always talking about work at home!

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