In the entrepreneurial lifestyle, there are many challenges and difficult situations you are forced to navigate. This is all part of the territory and something we plan for and even learn to expect. However, no one plans for how a global pandemic will affect their business or how to deal with the unprecedented challenges we are currently facing due to COVID-19. I am sure that just like us, your business has been greatly affected during this time. The majority of business owners are worried and under tremendous amounts of stress. Although things are slowly beginning to reopen, restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues were completely closed or vastly restricted for months. Reports show that the travel and leisure industry has dropped by 90%, and in the month of March, retail sales had the steepest drop in recorded history. Most businesses plan for down months and keep enough cash to get by during a difficult period, but most businesses don’t plan for a zero revenue month or a situation where they are forced to halt production completely for an unspecified amount of time. There are also still many unknowns about what the future will hold and if businesses will bounce back.
During this crisis, our spouses are trying to figure out how to keep their businesses afloat, take care of their employees financially as well as keeping them safe and healthy, maintain morale, pivot their strategies, apply for government relief, and plan for a potential recession. All the while contemplating the existential questions we are all having about what this crisis means for our health, society, and the world as we know it. If you’re anything like us, you and your spouse are feeling a lot of anxiety about the uncertainty of the business and what this crisis means for your future. It’s also devastating to stand by and watch your spouse's company that he’s spent years tirelessly building, struggle or completely fall apart overnight. With these things in mind, I have been experiencing a lot of feelings of helplessness. I want to help my spouse and the company in any way I can, but my efforts feel trivial compared to the enormity of the situation. I also want to support my spouse who is going through an extremely difficult and stressful time, but it is hard to even know what to say that would make a difference. What I do know is that having at least one other person you can count on is a critical ingredient to resilience, bouncing back from adversity, and thriving in the face of challenges.
I want to be that person for my spouse during this difficult time as I am sure you do too. I know that this pandemic has affected every business differently and we are all in unique situations, but here are some ideas to be there for your spouse during a time of crisis to help them stay resilient and strengthen your relationship.
1. Ask Your Spouse What They Need Most
I know this sounds extremely simple in theory, but in practice, it's easy to fall into the trap of mindreading with our spouse and assume we know what they want and need. I am embarrassed to admit that I went almost four weeks into this crisis before asking my spouse what he needed most from me during this time. Don’t get me wrong, I jumped into action to try to help out by coming up with ideas of what he could do to help the company and offer advice for situations he was experiencing. I also took on extra housework and childcare hours so he could have the time and space to work and lead the company. All of these things are great and I know helped him out a lot, but I had forgotten to specifically ask what would be most helpful. It turned out that I was missing out on supporting him in what he needed most.
2. Be There With Them
Here is what my spouse said when I asked him what he needed from me, “sometimes I am looking for advice, but when I am really hurting and it is super stressful I don’t want to actually rehash the problem, I just want you to listen and tell me it's all going to be ok and that I'm doing a great job.” Now, this is only what my spouse verbalized that he needed most from me, but guess what? Research on providing support when people are going through hard times backs up what he was asking from me! When a crisis hits, my default mode is to jump in and try to fix it. I think to myself, “what can I do or what can I say that will make it all better?” However, when someone is really struggling or going through a crisis rarely what you say makes the situation better. Most often, what they need from you is to show empathy by sitting with them in that pain and assuring them that they are not alone. Is your default also to jump in and do or advise? How can you challenge yourself to show more empathy toward your spouse during this time? I love this video about the difference between empathy and sympathy from Brene Brown. If you have three extra minutes, you should check it out too!
3. Remind Your Spouse of Their Strengths
I am so incredibly impressed by how much my husband has handled all of the stress and led his team through this crisis so far. I could not do what he is doing and it has made me really proud to see him jump into action and use the best of who he is to lead his company. His strength of leadership has really shone through. This was evident by how he quickly jumped into action to lead his team through uncharted territory and pivot their business strategy and operations to build out technology to allow his team to work remotely and direct the company’s focus to video walkthroughs and 3D models instead of still photography. There have been a lot of discouragements and obstacles, but I am amazed by his strength of perseverance that allows him to continue to work toward his goals every day despite those setbacks. Recently, I was also able to see how he pulled on his strength of judgment and critical thinking to really understand the stimulus package, work with his lender, and secure the loan that is allowing him to keep on his staff. I also really appreciate Jeff’s strength of humor during this tough time. I love that he can lessen the tension and still make me and his team laugh. We all have signature strengths that showcase the best of who we are and allow us to get through challenging situations. Pointing out these strengths to your partner and sharing your appreciation for what really makes them shine is the best form of flattery and encouragement. Also, most of us take our own strengths for granted or tend to focus on our weaknesses, so pointing out your spouse’s strengths is a great reminder to them of what they do well and how they can utilize those strengths in future challenges. What are your spouse's top strengths and how do you see them employing them right now to get through this tough time? Be sure to share with them what you are noticing! Check out www.viacharacter.org for a free empirically validated survey that assesses your (or your spouse's) top character strengths.
4. Help Your Spouse Hit the Pause Button
Being an entrepreneur requires extraordinary focus and even under normal circumstances it is difficult for entrepreneurs to hit the pause button and unplug from their work, but especially at times like these your spouse can easily get sucked into the vortex. Encourage your spouse to take care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally during this time (easier said than done I know)! Here are some ideas that worked for us to hit the pause button and also encouraged connection between us. Incorporate family workouts into your day. We like to pick a 30 minute Youtube workout to do together or throw the kids in the bike cart and go for a ride around the neighborhood. Plan a once a week at- home date night that is fun and different from your normal routine. Take a midday break to share lunch together. What can you do to help your spouse hit the pause button? Plan something this week that you can do together that will help you both unwind and connect.
For more ideas, about getting through tough times, check out my article about “The Struggle” of entrepreneurship. As always, thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your ideas for supporting your entrepreneur during this crisis in the comments below.