After a 20-plus year relationship (the first half cohabiting, the second married), I started to ask myself how—and why—I had accepted an extremely unhealthy relationship/marriage, while my professional life thrived.
On further reflection, I realized that the two major low points in my marriage happened at the same time as the two biggest highlights of my career (up to that point).
Eventually I found the courage to file for divorce.
As the years went by, I reestablished my emotional self outside of my relationship. I rediscovered my true self, and found intense clarity around what’s meaningful to me in relationships—more than I had ever experienced.
Recently I became friends with an artist who was going through his own divorce. We discussed his art and how it translated to products. As we explored various business opportunities, I realized much of my business advice to him could be applied to relationships as well.
That conversation inspired me to take a closer look at my business relationships—why they worked, the key elements of success, and how I navigated negative circumstances with business partners—usually resulting in a deeper level of mutual respect and trust—in a way that made our relationships even more productive.
As I recognized the benefit of these business relationship practices, I started to apply them to my personal relationships, filtering personal dynamics through the lens of mutual benefit, full disclosure, and other basics of professional communication. I started to put my tough-but-fair business reputation into practice in my personal relationships.
Until then, I’d interpreted the boundaries I applied in work relationships as being too harsh to translate to personal interactions. I was wrong.
What I've learned, while certainly specific to my situation, is that best practices in business relationships can be applied to fantastic effect in personal relationships, too. I'm still learning, but I find myself coming back to a few core principles I've learned in my business relationships.
1. The business language: external business partner approval.
Entire teams work on external business partner approvals. We dig into the nitty-gritty about where, how, and with whom our external partners associate before signing any deals with them.
The personal equivalent: awareness and care of important values.
You have to know what's important to you and what's important to your partner before you can confidently move forward in a partnership.
When I began my relationship with my ex-husband, I didn't understand any of that. Now I have a list of “values and qualities” that I refer to as I consider new friendships and relationships. I use that list to help guide me through making the choice to start, build and continue relationships.
2. The business language: transparency.
I always stressed transparency with my business partners, but accepted being lied to in my marriage. I never wanted to be caught off guard by news about a project getting derailed.
The personal equivalent: radical honesty.
My first long-term relationship post marriage was, unfortunately, with a married man. One day he asked me a series of questions—some funny, some serious. His questions started with: “do you promise ...?" After I answered his questions, we were in a park walking and he asked me what I wanted from him. I said, "total honesty." Honesty eventually emerges as a core pillar in any strong relationship.
Our work performance was measured as a team, from inception to delivery. We worked closely to make sure we were meeting our milestones, we communicated when there were problems and we solved them together. We talked about worst possible scenarios and ultimately we succeeded as a team.
The personal equivalent: align, agree and communicate.
It was all too easy for me to not address the problems in my marriage. Now, all I want to do is be on the same page with someone. That means communicating and understanding our individual needs, so that we can figure out what’s best for each of us separately and within the relationship.
4. The business language: political correctness and mutual respect.
We conduct ourselves with consideration and exercise self-control in the interest of long-term business relationships, and we sometimes let those habits fall away when our personal relationships get stressful.
The personal equivalent: kindness and mutual respect.
In the worst business meetings, I treated my suppliers business partners with far more dignity and kindness than I did in the middle of an argument with my ex-husband. I simply can’t fight anymore. I now approach conflict in personal relationships the same way I would approach a high-stress business problem: with consideration and respect.
In business, both partnership outcomes and individual performance are tracked. Did we do what we said we were going to do? Were both parties happy with the outcome, and the means through which it was achieved?
The personal equivalent: stay in tune with your wants and needs both within the relationship and outside of it.
Regularly assess how each part of your life is impacting the others.
Had I taken the time to think through where my marriage was headed or what was important to me, I would have left my marriage long before I actually walked out the door.
Stick to your personal goals and reassess how your romantic relationships (and even friendships) are impacting those. You don't owe everything to your partner, at the expense of your individual identity. You can't be a good partner unless your own needs are being met—by yourself most of all.
6. The business language: doing due diligence.
Business teams gather as much information as possible to make informed decisions about partnerships. These decisions are really made on the basis of alignment—or misalignment—of research data and the needs of all parties involved. We choose potential business partners every day. One piece of criteria doesn't often make or break a relationship—it's the whole picture of the partnership's pros and cons. There are always trade-offs.
The personal equivalent: thinking logically about the potential of your relationship and making informed decisions about when to stay and when to leave.
We mindfully nurture healthy business relationships, setting each other up for mutual satisfaction through communication and informed commitment. When faced with the decision to continue a relationship or end one, I now apply the same strategies. Knowing what I want and need, and being certain whether or not I can fulfill the other person’s wants and needs makes the decision to build or to leave a relationship much easier.
Data, performance failures, overall satisfaction—this is all information we draw on when explaining the decision to end a working relationship and move on.
We don’t scream, yell or run out of the room. We have a mature conversation about what worked and what did not work and why we have reached the decision to part ways. It comes down to finding the most effective partnerships to reach your desired goals.
The personal equivalent: leaving the relationship with integrity and peace of mind.
By applying this to my personal relationships, ending them has become much easier for me. I ask myself questions about the efficacy of the relationship in nurturing our best individual selves. By making my decision based on that information, I feel more confident that my choice to leave any relationship is a choice to stay true to my personal values.
8. The business language: onboarding.
As we begin new business partnerships, we draw on data for what worked (or didn't work) in the past. We come into a new partnership ready to apply our insights and the hard data before us to create an even more informed, efficient and rewarding partnership.
The personal equivalent: Unwinding from a previous relationship and synthesizing your learning experiences to create better, more intentional relationships in the future.
Using my new approach to personal relationships, I find myself better equipped to start a relationship with each relationship I've mindfully chosen to leave. I'm more in tune with my own wants and needs, I know more about what doesn’t work, and I'm open to trying new approaches.
I have grown, I have made peace with the past, and I am ready to build a relationship that's open, strong, vibrant, honest and fun.
9. The business language: reinvesting in a relationship.
When a project or initiative “fails” or doesn’t meet expectations, the relationship with the business partner is usually reassessed. The partners might “take a break” or a project might be “put on hold.”
Often the partner whose performance is in question will usually call a meeting in which they admit shortcomings and acknowledge failures.
These conversations are about what we could have done differently and what we will do going forward. The structure informs everyone's perspective and subsequent decisions.
The personal equivalent: forgiveness and starting with a clean slate.
I now revisit certain relationships with clarity about what works, taking care to nurture that versus saying “no” forever.
10. The business language: longtime employee moving on to other opportunities.
I recently heard of an acquaintance being laid off after 14 years at a company. Reflecting on my career, I realized the longest time I’d spent with a company was 7 years (at two different companies). Both times, I remember that I’d spent a fair amount of time contemplating what was next for me.
The personal equivalent: leaving before things become the worst they can possibly be.
So many of us stay in situations we're unhappy with. When things don’t work for you anymore and you aren’t aligned with your company or partner, be honest with yourself. Uncertainty is scary. But being certain about what you need and want will help you move on without wasting unnecessary time in an environment where you are no longer thriving.
We pass on great excellent ideas because a certain element isn’t aligned with the needs of the business or the partnership at that time. It doesn’t mean the idea or the partnership will inevitably fail. It just means it’s not right at this moment.
The personal equivalent: we love each other, but we aren’t compatible right now.
We are drawn to, or connect with people deeply and intimately. That feeling is fantastic and inspiring. But the idea of a relationship is different from the reality of it. It won’t always work out, and that’s OK. Enjoy the conversation, stay in tune with your needs, and leave when you feel like it no longer serves you.