Like a Good Marriage, It Takes Commitment!

I remember it like it was yesterday, I was involved in a full scale argument with my wife of about 3 weeks.  Now, understand, I grew up in a house where I never heard my parents argue.  It just wasn’t done.  Sure mom and dad had discussions together when they disagreed, but a raise-your-voice-heated exchange?  Never happened, never has.  The consequence of our argument was clear to me… my marriage was doomed.  Arguing was a clear sign, in my mind; this marriage was a huge mistake.  So I asked, in a very tentative voice, what seemed to be logical at the time…”So…do you want a divorce?”

At that point, my wife gave me a tremendous gift.  She was incredulous.  Yes, absolutely incredulous and absolutely livid.  “What are you talking about!?!?” she demanded.  “I don’t want you to EVER, EVER use that “D” word with me again!!!”  If I remember correctly, her voice became even more shrill and her volume increased significantly!  “ I am married to you, Michael Landrigan and I will always be married to you.   Nothing, absolutely nothing I say or you say will make me stop loving you!  We are married and that is the way it will stay!”  Succinctly and pointedly, she let me know that she was absolutely committed to being my wife and no matter how harsh the words or how pig-headed either of us might be (typically that would be me), she was determined to make our marriage work.  What a blessing!  That was over 30 years ago and I now remember it with a chuckle. 

Everyone that enters into marriage brings their own particular views of what a marriage is and their own expectations.  I naively thought married folks never argued, primarily because my parents provided us with a remarkable example.  My wife knew better and had a clearer view of what was necessary to make our marriage survive in the long term. 

Business partnerships are much the same.  Each person joins the partnership with certain ideas or concepts about how the partnership will operate and unfortunately, when the partnership doesn’t live up to their idealist impression, the partnerships often fail.  These partnerships lack the absolute commitment and determination to do whatever it takes to make the partnership succeed.  I’ve been around about a half dozen partnerships.  Unfortunately, most partnerships became exercises in futility.  Often, one partner perceives that another partner had somehow wronged him.  This leads to accusations, often exacerbated by external personnel, like attorneys, accountants or spouses, each adding their opinion and often creating new demands and more hard feelings.   It is a terrible, awful, disgusting downward spiral which ends up in failed communications, silence and bitterness, loss of capital and probably failure.  What a shame!

On the other hand, I have witnessed a couple of partnerships that work incredibly well.  In these companies, you’ll hear the principals say things like, “Let me talk about that with my partner,” or “Before we go any farther, I’d like to get my partner involved.”  In each case, the commitment to doing the right thing for their partner is of higher importance then taking care of themselves.  There is an absolutely selfless aspect to their actions and total dedication to maintaining the health of the partnership.  They are willing to forgo their own needs rather than limit their partner and there is complete financial transparency and constant communications.

In perhaps the best partnership I ever saw firsthand, the partners had adjoining offices with a door through their common wall that allowed them easy access to each other.  It was the norm for either of the partners to actually yell through the door, asking questions or getting caught up to date.  To an outsider, this would have seemed unusual, but for those partners, it was absolutely essential and allowed them to communicate effectively. 

In another partnership, the partners have divided up the work based on activity.  One partner is primarily responsible for sales and another is responsible for operations.  However, they constantly communicate with brief updates during the day.  They are also absolutely committed to making the partnership work and you can hear it with phrases like, “I’d like to move ahead, but let me get some input from my partner. 

Another key element is the concept of forgiveness.  I’ve seen brothers, and fathers and sons who come to an impasse over some sloppy or dumb activity undertaken by their partner.  Unfortunately, they haven’t been willing to “give the benefit of the doubt” and the partnership suffers and eventually decays and dies.  The lesson is this, if you have partners and there is the possibility the other person has done something foolish, talk with them and give them the benefit of doubt.  The worst thing partners in conflict can do is stop communicating.  Shutting off communications may well lead to a total “war-like” environment within the firm.  This often spills over into personal lives and in at least one case I’m familar with, led to the end of what had been a solid marriage and complete estrangement of parents and some of their children.  Instead, you must talk to work through your situation or disagreement and be willing to forgive!

Business partnerships are like a great marriage…it takes absolute, tenacious commitment to the partnership and a willingness to sacrifice!

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