That Big Project and Your Relationship

I’ve heard it said that a lot of relationships don’t survive grad school because it can be so intense. I imagine the same could be said for startups and other major projects. There’s been a lot written about startup challenges, but I haven’t seen much discussion about what a startup, or any large-scale, long-term project can do to your relationship when you’re self-employed.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I have my own projects and I’ve also been involved with major projects for outside clients. The scope and demands of startup projects change constantly and drastically. This can be true of big projects for clients as well, although one benefit is that your emotional investment is generally not as extreme. On the other hand, they can be worse because you have no control. You’re at the mercy of scope creep and your clients’ fluctuating priorities, specifications, and budget.

Whether you’re consumed by your own or somebody else’s mega-project, you can find yourself neglecting little details of your life like, for example, everything but your project. You can also occasionally be quite a basket case. Or maybe that’s just me.

It’s important not to underestimate what all of this can do to your partner. If your partner is an independent worker, he or she is more likely to be somewhat understanding. If not, you need to be particularly mindful of the effects your immersion in such a project can have on him or her.

If your partner is in a position to help you with your project, you’re fortunate. But you also have to realize you’re on shaky ground. This is my situation. My husband’s help has been invaluable to me with my latest personal project and I’ve sometimes relied on him heavily. He’s been my one-man tech and design team. He’s introduced me to people who have been instrumental in getting my project going. He’s been a sounding board and a shoulder.

But this is not his baby. He has his own ongoing professional, entrepreneurial and creative projects and, even though he’s been involved with several aspects of my project, he has, out of preference or necessity, not assimilated every last detail of it. He simply can’t devote the kind of time and energy to it that I do, and I have to respect that.

After a recent misunderstanding, I became aware that I’ve been expecting way too much of him and that my assumptions about his level of involvement were out of line. I realized that I needed to monitor and voice my assumptions and stop taking his participation in my project for granted. We needed to define what he was and wasn’t able or willing to do for me. Naturally, you feel some disappointment when your partner can’t or won’t embrace your project with as much zeal as you do, but it’s probably a good thing for one of you to stay grounded in reality.

The moral of the story is that if you’re an entrepreneur or you’re working on a major project, it is essential to keep your partner on the same page you’re on. Communicate from the very start. Make sure your partner knows how long you’ll be working on the project, how much time and energy you expect to spend on it, how important it is to you, how stressful it might be, and how much you’ll need his or her support in concrete and less concrete ways. Define your expectations for each other in terms of the project and in terms of who takes out the trash.

And keep communicating. When things change, which they do constantly, update your partner and have that initial conversation all over again. If you do this right, your partner will understand that he or she is contributing to something important rather than simply being taken for granted or ignored.

One last word of advice. Don’t forget to put the project away completely from time to time and show your appreciation for the person whose support and love make it possible for you to do your thing.