I know someone who runs one-hundred-mile ultramarathons on a regular basis. As if running such a ridiculously long distance isn’t enough, he tends to run races that take place in extreme weather conditions or across punishing terrain, like the Sahara desert or the Colorado Rockies.

Marriage is its own kind of marathon, hopefully one of the longest commitments you will make in your life. Marriage when one or both of you is an entrepreneur, far from being your run-of-the-mill race through paved city streets in temperate climate, can feel more like a Sahara desert ultramarathon.

To retain a robust relationship through more than one venture, through successes and failures and everything in between, you and your mate must learn how to pace yourselves. According to training specialist Matt Fitzgerald, a successful marathon runner “must have a solid sense of the fastest pace he or she can sustain through the full race distance and the ability to make appropriate adjustments to pace along the way based on how he or she feels.”
Most entrepreneurs will probably chafe at the idea of pacing. In the highly competitive start-up landscape, many founders act based on fear—fear of not moving fast enough, fear of losing to the competition, fear of missing out on a big break.

But the role of pacing is not to slow you down. It is to help you go further. Pacing helps us expend energy with a long-term view, in hopes that our accomplishments will be greater and more lasting than the results of a short sprint.

To be clear, pacing oneself doesn’t mean being ineffectual or not working hard. You may still have to invest huge amounts of time and energy. But such intensive times should be occasional seasons, not a way of life. You should not give so much that you have completely emptied yourself while you still have decades of life before you.

The possible consequences of either of you not slowing down are deadly serious. It’s not your livelihood but your life that is at stake, from your physical and mental health to the relationships and activities that sustain you. Without proper pacing, you open yourself up to depression, exhaustion, and illness. The longevity of your marriage may be seriously compromised.

One of the secrets to enduring such a “high-octane career,” as business adviser Jim Warner calls it, is to delegate responsibilities and empower others. An entrepreneur needs to know what she is good at and be willing to delegate everything else to those with greater capacity or capability. This requires making excellent hires, including those who are more experienced or more skilled or who bring a particular area of expertise.

This ability to share the burden of responsibility is directly related to the health of your marriage. “Entrepreneurs have to delegate and empower,” Warner explained, “or else they will be divorced a few times or have a numb marriage.” A numb marriage is flat and polite, and devoid of genuine affection or partnership.

Perhaps the mission of your work, which can seem more important than your health and family, is what’s motivating you to work so hard.

When my husband, Ned, and his cofounders first started their social enterprise, they were extremely frugal with the funding they had received. The rationale was that every dollar spent on an unnecessary luxury was a dollar that wasn’t being spent on improving the lives of other families. We didn’t think taking care of ourselves was nearly as important as the work we were doing.

Entrepreneurs driven by a social mission seem to be particularly susceptible to this way of thinking. So many people in the world are suffering, we tell ourselves. Shouldn’t I be willing to sacrifice for the good of others?

This way of thinking is unhelpful at best, and paralyzing at worst. If you and your beloved are pursuing the entrepreneurial path, you are likely already making sacrifices. There is no need to kill yourselves in the process. In fact, pushing yourselves too far too fast will, in the long run, limit your ability to serve the cause you passionately believe in. The positive impact that you could have over ten or twenty years is magnitudes greater than what you could achieve in a short sprint of a few years.

Like anything worthwhile, pacing doesn’t just happen. It requires planning and deliberate choices. Try to put a hard stop on your workdays. Make sure you have at least one day a week off. Say no to opportunities that require you to overstretch yourself. Prioritize rest and comfort and leisure when you can.

Each of these small choices can eventually become habits—ultimately affecting your overall lifestyle and quality of life. Trust me: your future self will thank you for your decision to intentionally pace yourself now. And taking care not to burn yourself out can enable you to do far more than you thought you could.

Adapted from the book Start, Love, Repeat: How to Stay in Love With Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Start-up World by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun. Copyright (c) Dorcas Cheng-Tozun by Center Street. Reprinted with permission of Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun
Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is an award-winning writer, an Inc.com columnist, and the author of Start, Love, Repeat: How to Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Start-up World. She currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya, with her husband and two sons. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @dorcas_ct.

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