Q: My husband set up his own digital design firm nearly two years ago. The business is doing well: he has a decent client list and expects to turn a profit next year. He's happy - but I'm miserable. He works ridiculously long hours, he rarely sees our kids and the business is all he ever talks about. I've tried to tell him that it's putting a huge strain on our relationship but his standard response is 'things will get easier'. Will they?
A: Starting your own business is quite unlike any other form of work. To be appointed the managing director of a large and well-established company may seem like a huge responsibility - and indeed it is. But it's nothing compared with being a founder. Founders identify with their companies in a way that a salaried employee never will. Life, work and self are inextricably conflated. The risks involved are absolute - and not just the financial ones. If things go wrong, founders have nowhere to hide and no one to blame. It's the gamble of a lifetime, with pride and self-esteem very publicly at stake.
This is not to justify your husband's behaviour but it may help you understand it a little more. The danger is that, even when his business becomes profitable, his work pattern may have become a habit. So rather than nag him (I know you don't think you're nagging, but that's how he'll see it) you need increasingly to reassure him that he's done the difficult bit; that his company has achieved lift-off; and that what it now needs is a period of calm consolidation. It's unlikely to have any immediate effect, but you must be seen to be on his side. Any implication that he needs to choose between work and family is, I fear, doomed to failure.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems on firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.