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When The Honeymoon Is Over

We are Louise Woodbury and William de Ora. And even though we have different surnames, we are married. We’re also business partners. And among our many shared passions is guiding and mentoring small- and medium-sized businesses to great success. From our perspective, small businesses are the backbone of our global economy, and we’re genuinely blessed to work with entrepreneurs in making their businesses be the best they can be. We love seeing how a business can make a huge impact on customers, innovation, the local community, and ultimately the world. The ripple effect of a business can never be underestimated – positively as well as negatively.

William and I have not only had the privilege of working together successfully for seventeen years but we’ve also been married for sixteen of those years. In that time, we’ve co-authored, including this one, three books. Throughout it all, including the highs, the low’s and the bits in between, we still haven’t found a valid enough reason to not be doing this journey together. We love our work, our business, and our relationship.

But, we’re the first to admit that it hasn’t always been easy.

Let us take you back seventeen years, to when we first started living and working together. In the beginning, there was never a doubt in our minds that our partnership wouldn’t be anything but successful. Like any couple in the honeymoon stage of the “happily-ever-after” dream, we believed we could be married and have a successful working partnership as easily as we had fallen in love. And for the first three years of our marriage and working relationship, life was great. We were conquering the world, supporting each other’s growth and development and loving being on the journey together.

But we need you to understand what was happening in those first few years.

During our first few years, I (Louise) was running two businesses. I ran my business during the day and then assisted William with his business at night and on weekends. I was about thirty-years old and William was in his forties. By day I operated like a powerful businesswoman, taking charge, making decisions, and being the master of my own destiny. At night and on weekends, I switched gears and operated like William’s personal assistant, ensuring that he was set up for success and that his business was going from strength to strength. Life couldn’t have been better – or so we both thought.

We totally understand that this scenario is not dissimilar to what most business owners in the early stages of being in business endure. We were running ourselves and our relationship ragged-trying to be all things to all people, believing that if we just continued to work hard everything would be okay. We were happy, well based on our understanding of happiness at the time.

But after three years of this 24/7 existence, which we now know to be more like a seven-year period in a normal relationship, we both started to realize that this was not how we wanted to spend the rest of our life together. And, although we’re not afraid of hard work, and personally I had no issue with supporting William in his business, this wasn’t the kind of work regime we’d planned on. Nor did it feel like it was the marriage we’d signed up for. Neither of our expectations were being met but at the time we didn’t know how to deal with it other than to continue doing what we were doing.

Now don’t get us wrong, there were many things to be proud of. However, we didn’t seem to be able to see this or acknowledge what was working. We had lost our way and were more focused on what wasn’t working.

Something needed to change. Otherwise, we were on track to becoming one of those statistics we spoke about earlier on. Divorce and/or business failure.

As we struggled to understand what was happening, we allowed doubt and fear to creep up on us. We started to doubt our ability to build a good marriage and a successful business, let alone be able to combine the two. We found ourselves starting to question whether we really were happy.

Did we actually have a successful partnership, or were we just kidding ourselves? Were we really allowing each other to be true to our strengths? Were we really cut out to work together in the same business? Were we just trying to convince the world that our dream was achievable when in fact we were failing at that dream?

The more we searched, the more we questioned, and the more confused we became. We were stuck on a treadmill, just working hard to convince the world, and ourselves that we were happy and content with our life.

At the same time, I (Louise) was also becoming more and more disillusioned with running and growing a business, managing people, taking clients to their next level, trying to keep up with William’s desire to seize every opportunity that crossed his path as well as learning the lessons of what it is to be married. So, I did what most human beings do; I put on a façade.

I created a public persona that was outwardly strong and confident. But on the inside my confidence and self-esteem flowed at a trickle. I was angry, hurt, alone, and feeling ripped off. I had to confront whether or not I was depressed or just numb. But I realized one thing: life wasn’t going to plan.

But I wasn’t the only one feeling like this. William was also dealing with his very own version of anger, frustration, as well as feeling as though he was being held back.

Stuck in this negative vibration, we both started to lose our sense of self. After weathering a number of tornados, I got to a point where every time William said something, I only ever heard it as “here he goes again, telling me what to do.” There was a certain tone in his voice that triggered a predictable negative reaction in me.

To compound all this, my own insecurities about who I was and what I was doing made me more “allergic” to some of William’s words and actions. Rather than being present and listening to William, I was far too busy listening to my own internal dialogue, my inner critic. One small statement or action would instantly send me into overdrive about all my past failings.

William, on the other hand had his own perspective on what was happening between us. He felt like he was busting himself to make me happy however never got any approval or praise from me. All he ever felt was that he was being held back and going nowhere fast. Needless to say that we both needed to learn that our way of showing and giving praise and approval is at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Now, it’s important to declare our differences. William has the personality of a true entrepreneur. He’s always looking for the big opportunities, which in turn makes him somewhat chaotic, unpredictable, and hurried. He always operates in a state of urgency. By contrast, my normal instinctive mode is to be focused on the details, to be highly structured, to pursue order and calm. The differences between us were causing us trauma. We were living outside of our comfort zones, with no likelihood of being able to return to anything we would consider normal.

Due to the close proximity in which we worked and the extensive amount of time we spent together, the friction that grew between us on a personal level began to affect the business.

At the time, neither of us really knew how to deal with our personality differences, despite reading countless books and spending an enormous amount of money attending seminars. So, we did what we did and defaulted to our normal mode of operandi. I blamed myself for everything that was missing in our business and marriage. And, William covertly blamed me for everything that wasn’t working. I was taking on the destructive parts of this situation and making it very personal. And I believed that I was 100 percent responsible for that!

As Maxwell Maltz, the author of the groundbreaking Cyber Cybernetics, said, “We are injured and hurt emotionally, not so much by other people or what they say and don’t say, but by our own attitude and our own response.” Need reference here.

Whilst we were trying to the best by each other, we were drastically out of alignment – with ourselves, each other, and our business. We were no longer connected with ourselves, each other, the world, or our higher selves. And when these four relationships are out of alignment, life becomes unworkable. My life had reached the point where beneath the smiling mask there were tears of frustration, disappointment, and anger. Our lives were simply spiraling out of control.

Life became so arduous, that William and I both thought of calling it quits. Ending the marriage seemed inevitable. It would have been easy to have packed our bags, split our assets, and walked away from each other. And, this would have been considered normal.

In a quick-fix society, most people aren’t willing to dig deep or take on the challenges life throws at them. It’s far more common to hear people say, “This is too hard. It’s time to move on. This isn’t working. I don’t love you anymore and I’m just not into you!”

Some relationships, of course, become so unbearable that divorce is the right choice and the only option. There are times when you know that you are done with something in your life and there is no point to working through a situation to get a better outcome.

But something stopped us from taking that option. I knew deep down that I wasn’t done with William, the marriage or our business. In fact, I’d really only begun. I was in the early stages of my marriage and my business, and I’m hardwired not to give up. So, I soldiered on—thinking and hoping that I would wake up and my happily-ever-after dream would be back. William on the other hand chose to deal with this situation by shutting himself down, not communicating about how he felt and becoming more and more disconnected with me and our relationship. I watched him bury himself in the business by choosing to create more and more challenges that occupied the majority of his time. This was his way of escaping what was going on and not having to deal with the reality that his second marriage was failing.

However, deep down, we both knew that running away was not the answer.

And, it’s also important for us to let you know that although we didn’t consciously know it at the time, we were both fighting against our past and upbringing. You see, both William and I come from broken homes. William’s mother left the family when he was three years of age. My mother left my father when I was nine years of age. William had previously been married and I was this very independent woman that didn’t ever want to rely on a man for anything.

At the same time, we were unconsciously dealing with our cultural differences, our age differences and our career differences.

From William’s perspective he states the following. “To be honest, I never really considered Louise to be my equal. I was older and far more experienced in business. And whilst I was happy for Louise to be in charge at home, when it came to business this was my domain. In a dog-eat-dog world of business, it takes a strong male to be at the helm. However, what I know realize is this was just my male ego getting in the way.”

So in navigating our way through this challenging period the question remained: What is the answer?

We know we don’t have dominion over the ever-changing world economy, the financial institutions or what governments will and won’t do. The only thing we have absolute control over is our world. And, for William and I, our world is based on the unshakable foundations of our commitment to each other. Getting reconnected to the commitment we made to each other the day we said “I do” became the turning point.

It was time to stop and totally reevaluate how we were operating. It was like we were being given this challenge for a reason. And like all life challenges, at the time and in the moment, you have no idea what it’s all about—until you’re on the other side.

What we now know is that as a result of having to confront our darkest days of our life and how we were operating in our business, we have created something special — a life we both love and cherish. We are much stronger individuals, more alive and awake human beings and far more respectful and understanding of each other as a result of this journey. We can now appreciate the gifts that these challenges provided us with.

Read the Foreword and Chapter 1 of The Invisible Partnership.

Learn more about: The Invisible Entrepreneur and The Invisible Branson books.

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