Introduction

Earlier this year my wife and I celebrated 16 years of togetherness of which we officially spent 10 years as husband and wife. In the meantime, we’ve lived in 4 different cities, 2 continents, were blessed with 2 beautiful children to our little tribe and built multiple businesses of which our latest venture was a regional e-commerce empire we co-founded employing hundreds of people. Friends frequently ask us about our marriage and how we can work together as husband and wife and be around each other 24 hours a day. So I thought it would be nice to share some insights on how we look at marriage and entrepreneurship. In this post, I’ll share our 14 rules that have been the foundation of our marriage, family, and business.

Marriage

Build a strong foundation

1. Invest more in your marriage than on your wedding

There is always a lot of hype around weddings and all preparation needed to give the biggest party anyone has ever seen. I get it, it’s an amazing milestone. Looking for a venue, finalizing the guest list, buffet or standing dinner, DJ or a band and the list goes on. Couples can get really caught up in this (hopefully) once in a lifetime event. But some might forget that the wedding is just the start of a marathon called marriage. What really matters is how you live your life as husband and wife after you get married. It’s always easy to say I love you on your wedding day, but how does it look when times get tough? How do you build a strong foundation that can survive an earthquake? Invest more time on how to strengthen your marriage. A good example is doing personality tests and really understanding each other from an EQ perspective.

2. Work for it

I often get questions about butterfly feelings and that magical feeling you first meet your partner. How do you keep that butterfly feeling alive? What to do when the butterflies disappear? The average butterfly lives for about 30 days, so don’t expect that feeling to linger on for years without you doing anything about. The only way to keep the fire going is to throw some oil on the fire once in a while. You need to put in the effort to make it work. We should not keep looking for butterflies or some magic feeling, but we should work on our relationship. These butterfly feelings should evolve in a more mature feeling of really caring and loving someone with all its imperfections. Building a thriving relationship is like building a business, a matter of input and output. No company has been built without hard work day in and day out. Your relationship is a masterpiece in the making. This mindset shift can already put you in the right position to build a strong foundation for your business and your relationship.

3. Get closer

One of the key things of any good relationship is intimacy. Another word for intimacy is closeness which could be physical, emotional or intellectual. It’s about cultivating a friendship with your spouse even when you’re tempted to watch Game of Thrones or scroll through your Instagram feed and double tap that awesome looking vegan bowl on your phone. It’s having that talk about today’s argument and really figuring out what happened, instead of leaving it untouched and potentially building more separation day by day. I don’t think many people say “I do” with the intention to have an affair or destroy their marriage. But if all these opportunities to chose intimacy are neglected you could find your marriage in a situation where if the ice breaks, you drift apart on two different blocks instead of one.

4. Invest in your friendship with your spouse

Running a household with two kids and building a business is insane sometimes. In the morning you’re cleaning up your baby because he had diarrhea and literally his whole body is covered in sh*t, two hours later you’re pitching to one of the biggest venture capital firms in the region to raise millions of dollars. In all craziness of both family and business, it’s crucial you spend time with your spouse, just the two of you. Find a babysitter or family member that can watch the kids for a couple of hours and really invest in strengthening your relationship on a weekly basis. It’s easy to forget how it all started, but remember it started with the two of you.

5. Remember the love that brought you together

Deadlines at work are on your mind, 2 little boys are running around the house and breaking things along the way, preparing dinner and breakfast for the next day, planning the pickup schedule for after school activities and the list goes on. It’s easy to get carried away by life really fast. One of the habits Melissa and I have is that we frequently talk about some milestones of our relationship. The first time we met, what she was wearing, what I was wearing, the day we went to Antwerp by train and I massively overslept and kept her waiting for 1.5 hours at the train station, our wedding day and other ups and downs we went through in life together. It reminds us that we have been through a lot but our love is what keeps us strong. We recently did a spontaneous photo shoot with a good friend on the beach. What started as a fun day at the beach, turned into some serious flashbacks of our relationship. It made us fall in love with each other again.

6. Your spouse will not fix you

The reality is that if you have problems, your spouse is not going to fix them. Marriage will actually just bring all those problems to the surface. If you’re still carrying a burden from the past which causes you to have intimacy issues, this won’t all of a sudden be cured the second you say, “I do.” If you are struggling with alcohol the day before you are married you will be struggling with alcohol the day after you are married. Your spouse won’t be able to fix those or any other problems you have. Be aware and transparent of the things you need to work on so your spouse can support you in your journey even after you say “I do”.

7. You will not fix your spouse

We sometimes think that all the things we don’t like about our partner will disappear when they become our husband or wife. As if the ring we put on each others finger will give us access to a database that we can reconfigure so our partner will behave a certain way. We think that we will be able to make subtle suggestions on how to change those annoying habits your partner has. Subtle suggestions turn into obvious suggestions and eventually end up in arguments and fights. The things we thought would be so easy to change turn out to be bigger fundamental problems than expected. When you say yes to marriage you are saying yes to all the wonderful things about your spouse but you are also saying yes to all the annoying things your spouse does. Most likely you will have to live with some of those things till death do you part and if you can’t, then marrying your spouse might not be the right choice at this moment.

8. Self-improvement does not stop when you get married

I want to be the best possible version of myself. Not only for myself but also for Melissa and for my kids. Sometimes I have to say to myself, “Get off your butt and go to the gym.” If you can’t do it for yourself then do it for your wife because she has to look at you, hug you and kiss you. If there are things you do that bug your spouse, then it might be wise to stop doing them! Women live longer than men so I know I have to stay in shape so I can live just as long as she and we can die on the same day with a veggie burger in one hand and a bottle of kombucha in the other. We think that once marriage comes we can put on the sweatpants, sit on the couch and our spouse has to love us “through thick and thin.” Realize that just because someone will always love you doesn’t mean you have to be the worst possible version of yourself to love. Self-improvement will do more for your marriage than you realize and shouldn’t stop when you say, “I do.”

9. Choose not to fight

Are you telling your kids to work out their problems with a conversation and then screaming in front of them at your spouse when something goes wrong? Are you using any excuse to go off and bring up all the other things you want to fight about? Fighting is 100% your choice, so is not choosing to fight. If that means you need to get out of the house and go on a run then so be it, but don’t scream, don’t fight, don’t yell. Work through things with love and grace. Melissa and I have maybe had two really big fights in sixteen years. Could we have had more?  Absolutely, but we both know that we don’t want to fight. It’s not fun and nobody wins. So, we try to talk about things all the time before they turn into big fights.

About two weeks ago we were frustrated with each other and I could tell that we weren’t going to be able to talk it out right then and there because I was mad. So, I told her that I needed to go for a run at the beach and clear my head. I went out for 20 minutes and needed some fresh wind to clear my mind. When I got back home I had totally let go of what I wanted to fight about. Melissa gave me some space because she knew what I needed to avoid a fight and let me go and do it. This worked for everyone because when a husband and wife fight, no one wins.

10. Give and receive “me time”

I am with Melissa 99% of the time and I love it. We work together so we are around each other most of the time. I think it’s a blessing we can live our lives like this. Some people think we’re crazy. But sometimes I need some alone time and Melissa needs some Melissa time. I might go for a run by myself or Melissa goes to yoga class alone. We need to give our spouse their own space at times to help them reset and come back refreshed and ready to love us even better than before. You also have to be able to receive alone time without feeling guilty for taking it.

11. The little things do matter

Putting the trash outside, mowing the lawn, cleaning the kitchen, making up the bed, cleaning the bathroom. Is this a chore list, Andrew? Yes, it is. Husbands if you do these things for your wife without asking she will love you well and you might even get lucky tonight! Do I need to say anymore? Do chores because you want to show your husband or wife you love them.

12. Love isn’t loving until you give it away

If you follow me on any social media or have ever been around me you will quickly find out something about me. I love my wife and am extremely proud of my family. People love to hear that they are loved. Loving and being loved are the core needs of any human being. We love it when people tell us they love us and we love it when people tell others they love us. So, why not do it with our spouse. I will use every single way to tell people I love my wife. That makes her feel loved and it would probably make your spouse feel loved too. I always love it when I see husbands or wives post about their spouse on social media because expressing love to your spouse can never go wrong.

13. Honesty

This is sometimes the hardest thing to do. It’s hard, to be honest, and loving at times but it is so needed for a healthy, flourishing marriage. We need to feel comfortable enough, to be honest with each other. Sometimes those conversations are hard but after they happen any relationship will go to a better place. Staying quiet in your marriage and letting things fester is like rust on metal. It will only get worse and slowly destroy and erode what’s there. We must use our words with love and talk about the hard things with our spouse. Honesty shouldn’t just be the best policy it should be the only policy when it comes to a thriving marriage. 

14. Understand each other’s love language

I’m not talking about speaking English to each other, but understanding each other’s love language. Author Gary Chapman wrote the New York Times bestselling book called, The five love languages: How to express heartfelt commitment to your mate. An amazing book which describes the 5 different love languages. A love language is a way people speak and understand emotional love. The 5 love languages are:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Receiving gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical touch

Words of affirmation

Your tongue can build or destroy. Verbal compliments, or words of appreciation, are powerful communicators of love. They are best expressed in simple, straightforward statements of affirmation, such as: “You look beautiful today”, “You look sharp in that suit”, “You can always make me laugh”. Psychologist William James said that possibly the deepest human need is the need to feel appreciated. Words of affirmation will meet that need in many individuals and it’s easy to give. Try to compliment your spouse on the good things he or she does. 

Quality time

Quality time is undivided attention. This does not mean watching Netflix on the couch together since that would give your screen attention and not so much your spouse. But it means real undivided attention, no gadgets, no screens, just you and your spouse talking and emotionally connecting. Sharing your dreams, fears and things that are close to your heart. Time is a precious commodity, spend it wisely.

Receiving gifts

At the heart of love is the spirit of giving. It’s always nice to receive a gift, no matter what the gift is. Because it shows that someone thought of you. The gift itself is a symbol of that thought. It doesn’t matter whether it costs money. What is important is that you thought of your spouse. The beautiful thing is if that thought actually is expressed into buying a gift as an expression of love. If your spouse’s primary love language is receiving gifts, you can become a proficient gift giver. It’s actually one of the easiest love languages to learn.

Acts of service

One of Melissa’s love languages is what I call “acts of service.” She is such a caring mother and wife, even with all business activities she is the one that makes sure everyone is eating healthy and on time. By acts of service, it’s about doing things you know your spouse would like you to do. You seek to please by serving your spouse. Consider actions such as cooking a meal, setting a table, emptying the dishwasher, vacuuming, changing the baby’s diaper, picking up a prescription, keeping the car in operating condition, they are all acts of service. They require thought, planning, time, effort and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love. If your spouse’s love language is acts of service, then “actions speak louder than words.”

Physical touch

One of the main ways of communicating emotional love is by physical touch. Numerous research projects in the area of child development have made that conclusion: Babies who are held, stroked and kissed develop a healthier emotional life than those who are left for long periods of time without physical contact. Physical touch is also a powerful vehicle for communicating marital love. Holding hands, kissing, embracing and sexual intercourse are all ways of communicating emotional love to one’s spouse. For some individuals, physical touch is their primary love language. Without it, they feel unloved. With it, their emotional tank is filled, and they feel secure in the love of their spouse.

Physical touch does not have to be difficult but sometimes needs some thought, especially if physical touch is not your primary love language and if you did not grow up in a “touching family.” I personally come from a very hugging family so this comes naturally to me. I love hugging and kissing Melissa and the kids. Sitting close to each other as you watch your favorite television program requires no additional time but may communicate your love loudly. Touching your spouse as you walk through the room where he is sitting takes only a moment. Touching each other when you leave the house and again when you return may involve only a brief kiss or hug but will speak volumes to your spouse. Once you discover that physical touch is the primary love language of your spouse, you are limited only by your imagination on ways to express love.

Conclusion

One of the first steps in a successful marriage is understanding each other love language so you can work on your spouse’ language as well. Once you have a clear understanding of what your love languages are, it’s easy to get on the same frequency again. You start to understand what you and your spouse appreciate and value. Invest time to work on this together and you’re set for a brighter future. To build a thriving marriage, family and business take hard work and discipline. Like any great venture, you need to start by laying out a vision for your marriage and family. Have a clear direction and start working on your masterpiece day in and day out. Hoping that the best days of your marriage, family, and business are ahead of you.

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