Have you ever been in a partnership that's lost its sparkle? You think back to when you were first working together – passion, excitement, and a sense of aliveness was a big part of your experience. Every day was an adventure as you explored each other's hopes and dreams for the future, beliefs and business experiences, and got to know each other more and more closely. At some point in the relationships, perhaps 6 years in or 13 years in, you begin to realize that although you still have respect for each other, you are just not quite as connected as you had been. In addition, little irritations with each other's habits, ways of looking at the world, and choices, have begun to creep in.
I've known partnerships like this. Actually, during more than 30 years of business, I've lived some of this! It's a natural part of relationship systems to have peaks and valleys. Every partnership knows this happens at some point in their relationship. What matters is how you navigate these ups and downs. Even in the midst of turmoil, there is hope for an even better partnership.
One partnership I worked with was in just this situation. Jimmy and Albert were in their late forties or early fifties, and had been business partners for 11 years. They both enjoyed their work, business was doing pretty good, but the partnership felt a little stagnant. They had started talking about expanding the business or starting a new business together. To their surprise, the more they talked about this to each other, the more they found to fault in the other. Being in each other's presence was sometimes uncomfortable. Each was secretly scared that their business partnership was falling apart.
Albert saw the idea a expansion as a grand adventure. Though he still enjoyed being in charge of sales and marketing, it was getting a little old; he wanted the sense of excitement the two of them had had when they first started out. He saw them as a strong business partnership that could handle the additional strain of new challenges. Albert was perplexed and irritated by Jimmy's attitude.
Jimmy life, on the other had, didn't look forward to any changes. In addition to his work in charge of production and operations, he was the one who took care of the finances. He enjoyed what he did very much. He just didn't see he need for expansion; they were doing OK just where they were. Jimmy was irritated by Albert "rocking the boat".
As a partnership they seemed anxious and careful. They didn't feel that anything was "wrong", just that they weren't very happy together. They hardly looked at each other and mostly talked to me rather than each other. They did not seem to be friendly toward each other. They were very proud of their business and acknowledged that they had been pretty good partners. But they didn't really see who they were as a partnership, separate from their roles. They still respected each other, but they were afraid that with the constant irritations they were headed towards a failed business partnership.
We began by increasing positivity. John Gottman, the renowned researcher on what makes relationships work, recommends a ratio of 5 to 1 of positive statements made to each other versus negative statements. By doing this a partnership can increase their emotional bank account and so weather the natural storms and irritations in a relationship. They learned that what was said, how it was said, and when it was said, mattered. They learned what words triggered the other, and how to work with that.
Jimmy and Albert became more aware of the impact of their words and body language. They started to really pay attention to the good things each of them did for the other and for the relationship. They learned to sincerely tell each other how much they appreciated the other. It was not easy to do, as the words did not come naturally to them, but they are now more apt to catch themselves and rework what they are about to say. They are more confident. And they are even having a little fun with it!
We continue our work together. They are learning to appreciate each other's differences, and talk each other's language. They are learning relationship intelligence skills, and are more able to discuss difficult topics without blowing up at each other. They are gentler on themselves, kinder towards each other, and are becoming better friends. They are more playful, have more fun, and loving humor has come back into their way being together. They have reacquired their spirit, their sense of who they are as a partnership, and dream about their future together. They are much happier – even radiant!
Here is my wish for the two of you. Notice how you use words, and say something nice about your partner -- to your partner. Sincerely thank them for the little things, and appreciate what they do that supports your partnership. Increase your emotional bank account with each other, so that you can weather the inevitable storms. And if you or someone you know, finds this hard to do, call me; that's what I'm here for! As your coach I will commit to your relationship's radiant success. Working together a partnership will learn how to increase positivity, discuss difficult topics with truth and grace, and become fun-loving business partners again.