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Female Disruptors: Jenny Holmström of Coupleness On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

It’s okay to simply say “no.” You don’t need to say why you can’t make that social engagement, or do that extra favor. You really don’t need to explain yourself to other people that much. That goes hand-in-hand with learning that it’s okay to miss out on things sometimes, and stay focused on what’s most important to you.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenny Holmström.

Jenny Holmström is the CEO of Coupleness, an app for couples with a mission to make it easy and mainstream to invest in your relationship. She has worked for the UN and big corporations, and co-founded a child rights organization. Jenny is an award-winning communicator, always striving to make a positive social impact.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

From a young age, I was motivated to make a positive change in the world, and that has been the driving force behind my career from the beginning. I have been fortunate to work in many different settings and organizations, like UNHCR. Building my previous organization, and the movement Pornfree Childhood — raising awareness about kids’ consumption of pornography and what adults can do about it — taught me so much. What was most powerful for me was that once I fully understood the extent of the problem, I felt compelled to take action; I just had to do something. But as much as I was driven by my passion, it was also tons of work and very stressful, and I started to realize how fragile a relationship can be. With small kids and not much time to nurture my relationship, I learned the hard way that I could not take my relationship for granted anymore. I knew we needed to do something to nurture and maintain a healthy relationship, but when I looked for things that could support us, it was hard to find proactive tools. Couples therapy seemed to be the only solution, but that doesn’t always fit in with people’s schedules and finances. When I met one of my co-founders, Ted Rosén, we discovered that we shared the same frustration about how tough it can be to juggle everyday life with kids, a career, a house and a relationship. Just like with my previous organization, it was one of those moments when I just had to take action. It was clear that a convenient, proactive tool for supporting relationships was missing, so we teamed up with one of Sweden’s most renowned relationship experts, Registered Psychologist Linn Heed, and created one ourselves.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I believe many of us, including myself, don’t really know how to actively take care of our relationships in ways that work. We don’t learn this in school. Were you ever taught how to love or how to be loved? Maybe it’s the stories we’re told by Hollywood, but for some reason, there’s a pervasive belief that relationships should just be good, without any work. But eventually, we all learn that this is not the case. Couples therapy is nothing new, and it’s great, but often reactive. What we have created with Coupleness is a proactive tool that is a hybrid of self-reflection, journaling and communication between partners. We’ve made it easy to use, so people can use their screen time for something positive — that is, to invest in their relationship.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There are certainly a few! One that’s really funny is that we have a feature in the app we call the Question of the Day. It’s a daily question that our couples answer and share with their partner, and the questions are designed to help couples get to know each other better, express what they are grateful for, and remember the good old days. A few months ago, somehow the way we worded the question was a bit misleading and the question ended up sounding very naughty! We usually have three people reviewing the questions, checking for spelling mistakes and confusing language, but this one slipped through and we don’t know how it ended up going live. And yes, we definitely got some user feedback about that question!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Early in my career I joined a graduate program at E.ON, and one of my first managers was Stina Liljekvist. She became more than a manager to me, having the ability to coach in a magical way. She makes you feel truly valuable to the team and company, she is a queen in asking the right questions to help you grow, and she is so grounded in herself. From her, I learned the importance of just being myself. When I think about it, I think she saw an entrepreneur in me before I did.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I love how social media and networking tools like LinkedIn make the world so much smaller. Connecting digitally has given me new friends and investors, and is how I came in contact with relatives overseas whom I had never met. “Goodbye” is almost never a true goodbye anymore because you can see each other on Instagram, and it feels like you’re still connected. I really appreciate this, as someone who hates goodbyes. So, I think innovating with technology to help relationships improve can be incredibly positive and powerful.

However, spending lots of time looking at your phone instead of your partner — phone snubbing, or “phubbing” as it’s now known — can be detrimental. For so many people, social media is affecting our relationships negatively. An American survey shows that 45% of people would rather give up sex for a year instead of their cell phone, and 32.7% spend more time on their phone than with their significant other. 70% of participants in another study on technoference (the interference of technology in relationships) reported that smartphone interruptions negatively impacted interactions with their romantic partners. So I think it’s important that we are mindful of how, and how often, we are on our phones in our daily lives, and try to access the good without getting sucked into the bad.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. It’s okay to simply say “no.” You don’t need to say why you can’t make that social engagement, or do that extra favor. You really don’t need to explain yourself to other people that much. That goes hand-in-hand with learning that it’s okay to miss out on things sometimes, and stay focused on what’s most important to you.
  2. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. If you find yourself with a close colleague or manager who is not your cup of tea, and you’ve tried to make the situation better and it didn’t work, it’s better to move on instead of hoping that they will change.
  3. You are not your work, you are so much more. I tend to find myself in fun and really rewarding jobs, and since I’m now running my own business, I live and breathe Coupleness. However, I am Jenny, not my job. I’m a mother, fiancé, friend, daughter and so much more. It’s important to not lose ourselves in our work, no matter how ambitious we are.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

There’s no way that I’m done! We’re just getting started. I think this last year has shown us all how important our relationships are, and we are ready to support and nurture relationships all over the world.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

That you need to have a track record before you can disrupt. That you’re not evaluated by your potential, or what problem you want to solve, or your perspective on what can be done; you’re evaluated by what you have accomplished so far.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Definitely Prof. Robert Waldinger’s TED Talk, “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.” I feel like we’re all striving to be happy, but we know so little about what’s really impacting our happiness. We think, “If I only had this, or if I only earned that, then life would be good.” But the longest research study on happiness tells us that close relationships are more important to our happiness than money, fame or even genes. Thanks to this lesson, I try to take care of my relationships as much as I take care of my own individual health. I maintain them and stay active.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

That would be the movement we’re creating with Coupleness: Active love everywhere.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher.” I love this quote by Oprah Winfrey. I have experienced the power of surrounding myself with people who are good for me. It’s especially important for entrepreneurs to have people around you to bounce ideas off of, help you navigate challenges, and enjoy all the fun stuff with. Find people who really get it, since it can be quite lonely sometimes. That goes for co-founders, friends, family and romantic relationships as well.

How can our readers follow you online?

I love LinkedIn, and on Instagram I’m @jcholmstrom.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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