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AZRIELA JAFFE

3.3.99  
Partnerships Have "Flu" Seasons, Too
Is the relationship seriously infected — or do you just need a break from your colleagues?

I've had the flu on my mind these days. For the past week, my husband and I have been nursing our three babies, who all caught the flu within a few days of each other. If you've ever cared for several sick children at once, you know how stressful this week has been.

This morning, I found myself thinking about a metaphorical "flu" that can infect business partnerships -- when the relationship sours, sapping your energy, and you just can't seem to rebound. Over the past few years, I've talked with many business partners who managed to heal their "sick" relationships. I've also met plenty whose partnerships died.

The flu metaphor is also a good way to think about diagnosing such problems -- and treating them. Consider the following:

When are you least able to cope with the vicissitudes of sharing a business? When you're also battling other stresses -- such as family or financial problems. Like your body, your business' "immune system" is weakened and your relationship is more susceptible to a rupture, even if you and your partner normally get along well.

Before you push the panic button, ask yourself: Is this crisis a reflection of chronic unresolved issues, or have we just caught a case of emotional flu? Don't rush to terminate your relationship. When you have the flu, it's hard to remember when you ever felt healthy. If the partnership is solid, you'll regain your footing.

Partnership flu is as contagious as the viral kind: Once one person stops feeling good, that feeling is sure to spread to other partners. If you are just having a bad day or week, physically isolate yourself -- or at least keep your thoughts to yourself -- instead of infecting your partnership with toxic comments. Discern the difference between an issue that warrants immediate attention and a bad mood.

If it's a serious concern, treat it accordingly: My husband and I prefer holistic treatments. But in this recent bout of flu, my daughter Elana's fever spiked to 106 degrees, and she became delirious. We rushed her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia and immediately treated with antibiotics. Had we not recognized the seriousness of the situation and responded as we did, she might have died. If you don't detect what's ailing your partnership, it faces a similar threat.

Sometimes, it takes outside assistance to heal a sick relationship: If you and your partner have tried everything and your relationship keeps getting sicker, turn to a business coach, counselor, or trusted adviser. Suffering partners frequently make a fatal mistake -- they wait until animosity takes over before seeking help. At that point, they just want to get out.

Consider the value of a fever: Parents know it's not necessary to treat every little blip in temperature. A fever is a sign that the body's immune system is fighting infection. In your business partnership, you need a fever every now and then to clear the air. Many partnerships suffer from one of two extremes -- either complacency has taken over, or the partners have hot tempers that impede healthy communication. Strive for a balance between calm communication and passionate expression.

Healing requires time: It can take a few weeks to feel like your old self after the flu, and you may still be susceptible to other infections. When there is unusual tension between partners, give yourselves time for healing. Postpone major decisions and commitments until you're all in a better frame of mind.

The flu is rarely fatal. With a few days rest and some chicken soup, you'll likely be as good as new. That goes for a bad case of partnership flu as well.

Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe at AZ@azriela.com. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

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