Every Marriage is a Startup

It helps to approach marriage from a new perspective.

Every marriage IS a startup. Both endeavors have equally high financial and emotional stakes and are governed by legally-binding contracts with specific fiduciary responsibilities. But in the last century, it has been difficult for people to acknowledge and discuss the trifecta of love, money, and business. This is a bit crazy, given that for 4,000 years people have structured their lives around these three elements under the banner called marriage.

The truth is money and love are inseparable. If we can openly apply the best practices of work and romance to the business of marriage, maybe we can beat the 50/50 divorce odds. In his best-selling book The Art of the Start, Guy Kawasaki writes that “successful companies are usually started—and become successful—with the contributions of at least two soulmates”. Sounds like marriage, right? “Startups represent giant experiments. Every initiative is new”, wrote Jeffrey Bussgang in his article for the Harvard Business Review titled “Are You Suited For A Start-Up". “Managing uncertainty and ambiguity are critical to success.” Each partner needs to “think like an owner”. There are no guidelines. Everyone wears every hat, solving problems as they appear, putting out fires. No job is too small or too big. That is what makes them fun.

Success requires the same attitude and actions of both business partners. Both people need to take the helm and not let go of their founder status. This is equally true and critically important when it comes to marriage.

Too often, unspoken marriage rules and expectations suck the adventure and sense of “us against the world”, right out of the union. The two marriage founders often quickly fall into conscious and unconscious roles assigned or defaulted to by historical social norms and traditions. If “taking out the trash” is done by a marriage co-founder not assumed to be responsible for this task, they want recognition. Our family startups are rigid. Couples jump into titles and rhythms that stifle creativity, teamwork, and success. At a startup, we eat whenever we're hungry, we order in, we hustle and share. When we head into the world to represent our company, we are cleaned up and jazzed. It is exciting.

At home, tasks become a game of hot potato, not a shared problem needing innovative solutions to move the marriage business forward. Shame and distrust come into play when scanning for fairness is at play. We lose track of rewards and goals. We forget to steer the family and stay communicating and connecting. If two business founders divided their work the way families do, the company would fail quickly. Successful startup founders see themselves as equals. They feel lucky to have someone with the same vision and respect each other's time and contributions. They thrive in uncertainty, throwing their full selves into the biz, otherwise it will fail. They remain clear headed that the future is their design, not one based on others’ expectations. Each marriage is as unique as any new business venture is. The key is to embrace your entrepreneurial spirit in love and money. To focus on teamwork, transparency, and practical—as well as emotional—solutions.

Here are a few key business principles to keep in mind:

  • Inspire your team, rather than trying to control them.
  • Never discount anyone’s contributions.
    Set only attainable goals, but remain ambitious!
  • Build an environment safe for success that values transparency.
  • Hold regular meetings with predetermined end times—daily (15 mins), weekly (30 mins), or monthly (2 hours)—to review finances, team and personal goals, and logistics. Set an agenda, watch the clock. Practice respecting the end times. Do not use the time for anything other than the agenda. Do not hold one another hostage.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Have fun the rest of the time!