March 24, 2023

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Elon Musk’s tumultuous series of personal relationships reveal a worrying truth about the most successful business people in the world. We have become a society that cares more about losing money, than losing a loved one.
At the moment, entrepreneurial success and relationship success are being treated as mutually exclusive pursuits — and the long-term effects of this are far more alarming than we could have imagined.
There were a lot of startling things about Elon Musk’s alleged affair with the wife of Google co-founder, Sergey Brin. Yet the most surprising was not the fact that Brin had been a friend of Musk’s. Nor was it that Musk had supposedly had twins with one of his executives. The most surprising thing is that nobody seems to be shocked.
News of the world’s biggest businessmen having relationship issues has become so commonplace that we’ve scrolled past Musk’s tangled web of alleged affairs, divorces and secret children. By contrast, if Tesla suddenly went bankrupt, the world would be reeling in shock, with questions of Musk’s judgment. This is not about demonizing Musk; rather, it is about accepting that many people — entrepreneurs in particular — look to Musk as a role model for how they should act.
Broken relationships seem to have become an accepted symptom of entrepreneurial success. We’ve had Jeff Bezos divorcing from his wife Mackenzie in 2019 following reports of an extramarital affair. The business world’s golden couple, Bill and Melinda Gates, separated in 2021, with Melinda citing Bill’s troubling relationship with Jeffrey Epstein a key factor.
Entrepreneurs would not tolerate business failure, yet a failed marriage or relationship is seen as a mere hiccup. What makes this all the more peculiar is that crafting a successful business requires largely the same skill-set as building a successful relationship.
For instance, a lack of communication is one of the top reasons that marriages fail; similarly, poor communication costs companies with around a hundred employees an average of $420,000 per year.
Some cultures widely use a marriage “contract” — which often looks very similar to a business contract — yet many entrepreneurs seem to view relationships as subject to the whims of fate, while their business-outcomes are scrupulously analyzed and micromanaged. This mentality is the reason entrepreneurs will happily employ a business coach and consultant, yet may balk at the idea of going to couples’ therapy.
We need a three-pronged response where we adopt a holistic approach and treat business-success as equally as vital as relationship-success. We must also collectively enhance the state of our relationship education. The U.K. has made relationship education compulsory in schools, which is a step in the right direction, and in the U.S., we must encourage the widespread adoption of Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education programs.
Finally, the government must introduce policies that treat couples therapy as health-care. We must acknowledge that relationship breakdown is a public health issue. Not only can the impact be detrimental to the couples’ own mental health but also physical health.
Some might argue that a global business going bankrupt has a greater impact than a divorce, due to the sheer numbers of employees affected. However, as disruptive as this might be, employees can get another job.
Children, on the other hand, cannot get another set of parents. Divorce has been shown to lead to an 8 per cent lower probability of the child completing high school. Sometimes a breakup or divorce is the best — or even the only — sensible course of action. But that doesn’t mean we should be complacent about relationship success.
Musk, Bezos and Gates are a far cry from the founding father of U.S. business, John D. Rockefeller, who enjoyed a healthy, happy marriage that lasted over half a century. We need to champion this work-life harmony as the true gauge of success and dispose of today’s win-at-all-costs mentality in business — because when the cost is a failed relationship, it is simply not worth it.
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