A business partnership is a lot like a marriage. You entrust a great deal of your success and happiness to another person, and put your complete faith in their commitment to protecting your shared interests and treating you well. They’re so much alike that it’s not surprising people pursue both partnerships — business and marriage — with the same person.
I’m one of those people, and while you’d think that when your partner is your partner, you’d end up with a partner squared, in reality, it makes it easy to fall down on the job in both roles.
It’s hard, for example, to pick up slack for each other at home when we’re both having the same rough time at work. Even deciding where the line is between those two worlds can be difficult. When we operate within some established boundaries on those fronts, we both feel respected and secure at home and work. When we don’t see eye to eye on these kinds of logistics, we make it hard for each other to enjoy spending all day every day together.
Especially since being together so much actually means we miss some daily opportunities to show interest in each other: at the end of the work day, when you kiss each other goodbye in the morning, when you greet each other at home before dinner. These little checkpoints are when we normally praise someone, ask how their day was, wish them well, tell them we missed them. When your partner is your partner, you don’t always get those.
Most days, I admit, I don’t even know whether my partner would say we had a good day at work or a bad day. But I’m trying more often to ask him how his day was. Because even if I was there and have my own take on it, I don’t really know how it all felt to him, but I’d like to.
It takes extra effort to be good partners to each other in both places. Sometimes I envy friends whose spouses offer third-party support to their entrepreneurial endeavours. I see how proud they are, or hear about their unwavering confidence and encouragement, and I don’t think that’s easy to do when your partner is your partner.
But I’ll try. There are plenty of triumphs that are decidedly to my partner’s credit, and we should celebrate those more. I should say I’m proud of him, make his favourite dinner, and send him a message to say congratulations. And he should let me do that without pointing out whatever role I played. Not just because he deserves to soak in some pride, but also because I want to be his wife sometimes.
And I try to hear his concerns about work — even about my role or how I treat him at work — with the ear of a wife instead of a business partner whenever I can. It takes a conscious effort and a decent aptitude for deliberate cognitive dissonance. I’m not batting a thousand on it, but I’m getting better. And since we can’t always be everything to each other, we’re accepting that sometimes we both need someone else to talk to.
What if we never get there? Maybe most importantly, we know which kind of partnership we value in each other more, and if there comes a day when we just can’t make multi-mode partners work, we know which way the kill switch flips.
Until then, we’ll keep trying because the fact remains there’s nobody else we’d rather be partners with, squared or otherwise.
Originally published October 29, 2015 in Our London.