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Riding the Roller Coaster Together

Esther Ilana Rabi

Being married to an entrepreneur can be a bumpy ride, but, if navigated with wisdom and sensitivity, it can also be a thrilling one

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

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No matter what the entrepreneur is hawking, he may have a hard time breaking away, especially at crucial moments. At those times — when they see their husbands absorbed in some aspect of the business — stepping back is a common strategy for spouses

A gray T-shirt, blue hoodie, and jeans. That’s what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wears every single day. He does so to reduce the number of decisions he needs to make. To most people, that sounds nuts. To an entrepreneur though, that sounds smart — almost inspiring.

Entrepreneurs don’t see things the way other people do. The average person seeks the approval of others, but someone charting his own course can be too focused to worry about what others think. Most successful entrepreneurs are disagreeable and impatient, says best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. They embrace long hours, intense concentration on the business, and impatience with the current state of affairs.

Where does that leave his wife — or her husband — and kids? It can’t always be pleasant to have a spouse or parent who is disagreeable and impatient, who works all the time yet who might not even bring in a steady income to support the family. How can they have a healthy relationship?

Work-Family Balance

Lee Jay Lowenstein — owner of a laboratory-equipment business — compares starting a business to having a baby. “It was like having a newborn for several years,” says Lee Jay. “You can never forget about a newborn; it’s always on your mind, and it takes up all your time. The first two years I was in business, no one in my family saw me; I was either traveling or glued to my phone or computer. Building a business from scratch gives you a sink-or-swim feeling that absolutely skews any sense of work-family balance.”

To support Lee Jay and help maintain the family equilibrium, his wife and kids give him as much space as they can to pursue his business. They see that he gets a lot of satisfaction from it. And they try to remember that they’re the beneficiaries of his hard work — that makes it easier for them to forgive his preoccupation. It also helps that Lee Jay makes sure to spend time with them.

“As a business owner, he feels the need to work all the time — you get what you put in,” shares his wife, Debbie. “But he values his time with his family, especially if one of the kids wants to talk something over with him.”

Lee Jay’s busyness is not new for the family. Like many entrepreneurs, he has always been someone who put all his energy into whatever he was doing. “Right from the beginning of our marriage, when he was in kollel, I realized I couldn’t disturb him for no good reason,” says his wife, Debbie. Now that he’s his own boss, he’s actually a little more available than when he was the principal of a Bais Yaakov high school. “Then, his time was devoted to other people’s kids; that’s an all-consuming responsibility,” Debbie recalls. “Now, he’s involved in lab products, whose feelings aren’t hurt if you ignore them for an hour.”

No matter what the entrepreneur is hawking, he may have a hard time breaking away, especially at crucial moments. At those times — when they see their husbands absorbed in some aspect of the business — stepping back is a common strategy for spouses. Take Rochel Lazar, for example, whose husband, Chaim, is a serial entrepreneur: He currently owns a plumbing, HVAC, and remodeling business with his brother; an auto-maintenance business; four restaurants; three retail stores to help people stop smoking; and is a partner in a gluten-free challah business in Miami, on top of his position as a business consultant.

Rochel never tries to convince Chaim to work less. “Because of his personality, everything has to be in place and organized,” she explains. “If something’s on his mind and he can’t deal with it straight away, it stresses him out. So if I see he’s on the phone putting out fires, I try not to pressure him to spend time with the family. Once he’s dealt with the pressing matters, he’s much more relaxed.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 587)

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