Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Prevent Partnerships from Deteriorating

Romance, business, exercise, tutoring, and co-authoring.

Key points

  • It's difficult to maintain a partnership over time, be it romantic or professional.
  • In a romantic relationship, both partners can benefit from having some level of independence.
  • In a business partnership, having a similar work ethic may be more important than a complementary skillset.
Akshay Gupta, Pixahive, Public Domain
Source: Akshay Gupta, Pixahive, Public Domain

The partnership highway is littered with roadkill, not just romantic partners and business partners, but virtually any sort of partnership. After all, at the beginning, it’s easy to see the synergies, but individuals’ differences soon emerge, often causing conflict.

How can you boost the chances of your synergies outweighing the conflicts?


I can do no better than to invoke psychologist Fritz Perls’ Gestalt Prayer:

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
and you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

There, Perls displayed the humility to realize that even a world-class psychotherapist has difficulty fundamentally changing people. Certainly, among my clients, I've found that couples that remain happy start out with mutual respect and continue to honor their separate lives, coming together mainly when it's felicitous to both.

It often helps if both partners have significant careers. That helps to maintain both financial and interpersonal agency. Too often, when only one partner contributes most or all the income, the other partner becomes too dependent, not just financially but time-wise: craving lots of time with the partner who may be exhausted from the workday. And sometimes, the income-earner wields that as a bludgeon. For example, she or he may assert more right to determine what to spend on. She or he may even denigrate the partner's worth as a human being.


Perhaps more important than a complementary skillset is having a similar work ethic and intelligence. Lack of skill complementarity can be hired but partner incompatibility cannot.

Of course, upfront, agree on both strategy and tactics. That's an under-considered benefit of developing a business plan: the product or service, how it is to be created, marketed, funded, and budgeted. But as in a romantic relationship, have regular meetings to air issues, perhaps away from the workplace and over a meal. Amid the maelstrom of the workday, such matters can get suppressed only to fester and later emerge more difficult to solve.


Exercising with a partner can be motivating but in some cases requires compromise, for example, if you're going to jog, hike, or walk together. In such cases, discuss whether it's wiser for the faster partner to slow down to stay with the slower one, the faster one to go ahead but wait periodically for the slower person to catch up, or just meet at the beginning and end of the route.

If one partner is only slightly better than the other, the other one might benefit from trying to compete. But when there's a large gap, it's usually wise to accept the difference and, if you want to compete, to do so only against your own past performance.

Tutors and students

For adults as well as kids, one-on-one is a potent way to learn, but it usually works better for the tutor to not teach masses of material but just give feedback on errors.

For example, a client wanted to learn a piece of software and studied on her own but emailed her tutor when she got stuck or needed help. Another example: I’ve had newcomers to the U.S. hire a native English speaker to chat and correct errors in context. The student recorded or wrote down only the errors, and practiced those. That’s individualized, contextualized feedback.

The student may feel reluctant to take so much control of the tutoring. After all, by definition, the tutor knows more. But she or he may not be an expert on optimizing the use of tutoring. Even if the tutor recommends an organized curriculum for the tutoring, it's often wise to politely stand your ground, for example, "Let's try the error-focused approach for a bit and then we can reassess."


What often works is for the better writer to create the first draft, asking the co-author for input as needed. Then, the co-author reviews that and subsequent drafts to provide additional input.

The takeaway

These ideas should help keep you on the partnership highway not the shoulder, let alone become roadkill.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

A previous post offers more on making a romantic partnership work.

More from Marty Nemko Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today