‘My husband wants to expand our business, but at what cost to our family’s quality of life?’

Tell Me About It: ‘We have built such a good life. But my husband is about to risk what we’ve achieved’

PROBLEM: During the pandemic, both myself and my husband spent a lot of time working from home together. We had both been working for big firms and had complementary skills. I know from speaking to many friends that they found it difficult working in close quarters to their partner. For us, it was a completely different experience — the hassle of commuting to work in traffic in two separate cars and dropping kids off at two different schools, while trying to make it for early morning meetings, disappeared.

Our pace of life changed, and over franticness-free breakfasts and lunches we started to get to know each other even better than we already did. After only three months of home working we decided to quit our jobs and set up a small business using our combined skills. The business had some teething issues, but after two years we are now earning slightly more than we did in our previous jobs. We both have time to eat better and exercise more, and our relationship has grown stronger. We have more time to spend with the kids, and they are even happier.

What could possibly go wrong?

I fear that our success may be our downfall. Our enterprise has gained substantial interest, and my husband is hell-bent on expansion. He is talking investors, staff and a business unit in the city centre, which is at least one hour from our home, in the opposite direction of schools. I understand his enthusiasm, and he is not wrong — we tapped into an unmet need and could now be very successful — but I think we are already successful. Although we have some financial concerns, our quality of life is better than I ever imagined. When we decided to strike out we agreed that we would keep things small. I understand that growing the business is tempting, but at what cost? He is dismissive of my concerns.

ADVICE: This is a philosophical question for your relationship in that you have bumped up against each other’s different approach to the meaning of life. When we are enormously busy, and full of needing to do the next thing, we rarely have time to reflect on how we are living. However, the pandemic offered many people the opportunity to do just that and rethink their lives.

The return to “normal” has again galvanised us into busyness and some are struggling to hold on to the clarity that they had gained in quieter times. You are in the lucky position that you can maintain your new lifestyle choices, but you now need to test the new depth of relationship that developed during that time at home. Robust conversations need to be had with your partner about the direction your lives are going and what the underlying understanding is regarding your lives together. Your partner may well still be in the expanding phase of his life, where he seizes opportunities and uses his skills to grow and develop his business, and he may need you to support him in providing for the family in the best possible way he can.

This should not stop you from instigating conversations and his dismissive attitude is something that needs to be tackled. You can start by inviting him to join you in a discussion at a time of his choosing and tell him that it is of great importance to you. Tell him of your concern that he will shut down the conversation and ask him what concerns he might have about such a conversation (for example, that you will impose a lifestyle on him).

Only when you have both agreed the ground rules can you begin the conversation properly. Ask him what he thinks you need to discuss and start with the topics you both agree on but also be clear that you will eventually get to all topics of concern. The context of the conversation is the success of you as a couple/family and this is something important to both of you, even if you have different ideas of what that means, so if things are getting tetchy always return to that perspective. It is important to state, from the outset, that you do not need to come to any conclusions in one conversation but that the aim is to understand everything about the position of the other person and that many conversations will be needed. In fact, research (see John Gottman) suggests that for couples to be successful, only about 30 per cent of their disagreements need to be resolved, ever!

The important piece is the engagement and the commitment to each other and if this can be shown, with affection, you have a solid foundation for you being a happy couple. For relationships to be successful, it is crucial that both people are happy in themselves, so you must find wellbeing and meaning in your own life. If you do this, you will be well-positioned to help if, and when, your partner needs your advice or support to make changes in his life.

Engage with openness and curiosity and have faith that you both have the resources to live successfully together and to face the challenges and opportunities that life presents.