Unrequited Love in a Partnership Can Be Perilous
It can break your business as well as your heart
Usually, when business partners break up, it's because they
run into personality conflicts or business troubles, and the
relationship unravels. Sometimes partners break up for the opposite
reason -- the relationship becomes too close, threatening to disrupt
their marriages. Or one partner may fall in love with the other person,
who doesn't feel the same way. It occurs more often than you might think.
I have spoken to people who have stifled their personal feelings for
their business associate, fearing they'll ruin the business if they come
clean. I met one man who told me that he had to stop traveling on business
with his much younger female business partner. He didn't trust himself to
keep an appropriate distance. Neither were married, and it wasn't unusual
for them to have a drink together late at night when they were on the road.
He never told her how he felt -- he just made up excuses for not joining
her on business trips. He believed that if she knew, she would end the
partnership. He didn't want to lose her companionship on the job -- or the
prosperity and satisfaction of their successful business. So he settled for
Here's another entrepreneur's description of his struggles with this
issue. Let's call him Dan. "My wife died almost three years ago," he says.
"To get back into circulation, I started taking adult education classes,
where I met Gloria, who took an interest in my business. She wanted to be
more than a secretary, and I needed someone to help me put some spark back
into my business: It died when my wife died. We worked together quite a
bit, and I fell in love with her. I asked her to marry me, but the feeling
wasn't mutual. She was going to stop seeing me, but she realized we had
spent a lot of time and energy creating the business together, so we
decided to continue. I still love her, but I realize she will never make a
commitment to me unless God creates a miracle for me.
"I love being with her and working with her. We are great friends. I
ask her questions about our relationship, but she sidesteps the issue.
She's probably afraid that I'd break up our business if she told me I am
only a friend and nothing more. I probably would if she married someone
Dan can't turn off his feelings for Gloria, despite his business
interest in doing so. Likewise, Gloria can't promise she won't marry someone
else to preserve the partnership. We often think of entrepreneurial risk in
financial terms. Yet, it can have little to do with profits or how many
customers walk through the door. This business is on the line purely
because of the volatility of human emotions, not cash flow and sales.