Couples Therapy for Business Partners

Recently a professional who had gone through the breakup of his partnership a few years ago came to us for help before embarking on a new one. “I did not realize how hard it would be on my own,” he admitted. “In retrospect, I think we could have worked it out.” He confessed that he just didn’t know how to approach the issues that led to the breakup.

We consistently advise those who are considering a partnership to be clear about their objectives; partnerships are a long-term solution and forming one to solve a short-term business problem is a recipe for failure. The opposite is also true: it is a costly mistake to break up a partnership to solve what may be a short-term problem. One of the characteristics of successful partners is their awareness that they are “better together than apart”. In some cases, partners realize this too late.

Partnership mediation for partners who want to continue together is much like couple’s therapy for marriage. The objective is not to make decisions for the partners but help them get out of unproductive cycles to a more resilient relationship where they can better communicate and work through obstacles on their own. One critical differentiator is that mediation is forward-looking, not as focused on how you got to the impasse as traditional therapy tends to be. While the “story” of the partnership is important, the focus is on the future and clarifying roles, goals and motivations.

It’s not surprising that in this case the partner did not know how to deal with the issues that led to the breakup. Some were personal financial issues. His partner was someone he saw as a mentor but now he was bringing in much more business than his partner. It’s not uncommon for businesses to evolve but the relationships among partners struggle to change accordingly. Sometimes there is tension between partners and they don’t understand exactly where it’s coming from. Partners need help peeling back the layers of conflict, which often have to do with some aspect of roles, contribution and control. These can be very difficult conversations to have without a third party to help uncover underlying concerns and present them in a nonthreatening way.

There are always going to be issues but having a stronger relationship can keep your partnership from coming apart needlessly. Re-igniting the spark in your partnership is vital not only to keep your partnership from breaking apart but to help reach new levels of success.