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Help! My Business Partnership is Leaving Me Emotionally Drained 😩

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

I had a business partnership where this person was constantly pouring out their personal, emotional struggles on me. A very talented individual, gifted at what they do, but every conversation somehow felt like an episode of Dr. Phil. And because I was a people-pleaser with poor boundary-setting skills, I became emotionally exhausted in the partnership.

On the other extreme, I had a hard business partner as a rock, stoic in every business decision, completely emotionally unattached from every move, and difficult to work with. And again, because I was a people-pleaser with poor boundary-setting skills, I allowed myself to be bullied, manipulated, and controlled.

Needless to say, these two extremes were clear examples that I needed boundary-setting help in my business partnerships if I was going to have successful ventures with future partners.

In my studies of boundaries in relationships, I learned that most business partnership problems we entrepreneurs face are caused by boundaries that are either too penetrable or too fortified.

Let's think of our boundaries like the gates of a medieval castle – you know, the ones with the moat around it and a drawbridge that lowers and closes, allowing useful people to pass through while blocking harmful people out. Like the castle gates, the boundaries in our business partnerships should aim for that perfect balance between being receptive to positive influences and blocking negative ones.

If we fail to achieve this balance, we're at risk of experiencing various issues in our business relationships. If our boundaries are too penetrable, for instance, we'll be vulnerable to absorbing a partner's needs and emotions as our own. However, if we go too far in the opposite direction and our boundaries are too fortified, we're in danger of ending up emotionally isolated and alone.

My business partnership problems were caused by boundaries that were too penetrable on my end or too tight on their end.

Entrepreneurs with Too Penetrable Boundaries

Not only have I been in unhealthy business partnerships, but I’ve also experienced them in others as well. Because I'm in the business of launching people's businesses, I've seen all types of business partnerships.

I’ve noticed that someone with penetrable boundaries will usually be partnered with someone who has fortified boundaries. Funny, huh?

When I'm sitting down with the partners to develop their branding, I notice that the penetrable partner is weak, overly flexible, or poorly expresses themselves in the strategy session. I notice a lack of emotional separation, dependency, and a partner-pleasing attitude from one partner. And in some extreme cases, I've seen the partner with penetrable boundaries emotionally enmeshed and codependent on the other partner.

These partnerships are weird because there’s no clear distinction between the emotional lives of the two partners. This usually happens when a boyfriend and girlfriend start a business where they spend every waking moment with one another.

This also happens with parents and children that are in business together. I've experienced this many times when branding or rebranding a family business. There's continued codependency in the parental relationship that extends way longer than it should. Codependent business partnerships take the form of one person (mom or dad) dedicating everything in the business and personal life of the child. I've witnessed that this arrangement is generally bad for both parties since one side never has their own needs met, and the other never learn how to solve their problems.

In both cases above, the partner who suffers from penetrable boundaries needs to reclaim their autonomy in the business. It would also be good to establish some physical and emotional distance. Maybe one works from home while the other works at the office. I believe they also need to be clear about their purpose and calling in the business. This will require some personal development, focusing on you and your gifts and talents and what you bring to the table.

Entrepreneurs with Too Fortified Boundaries

On the flip side of boundaries, entrepreneurs who have extremely fortified boundaries generally find it difficult to get close to their business partners.

I once partnered with a stone-cold fortified business owner on a venture. I pray I don't get into one of these relationships again. This person was way too serious, never opened up to me emotionally, and did whatever it took to succeed at everyone else's expense. I thought I could help this partner realign their mindset on business and life, but instead, I was put in a losing situation.

In my studies of healthy boundaries, I discovered that this former partner of mine suffered from the most extreme form of fortified boundaries by being totally emotionally distanced and could never express any vulnerability. Yet, this partner was never wrong or always too proud to admit it. I remember opening up to this person about wanting to be by their side to help them, and it has the opposite effect - this partner became more distant.

The Bible says

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

Suppose your partner is stone-cold like mine was. In that case, the Biblical solution for fortified boundaries is to purposefully express how you feel and let them know that if the partnership is going to succeed, they also need to express how they feel. The fortified partner needs to get to a point where they are comfortable asking for help and loving themselves in the partnership.

Ultimately, if a fortified partner can't bring their boundaries closer to you, then it's time to end the partnership.

In conclusion, healthy boundaries in business partnerships will be found somewhere between penetrable and fortified boundaries. We'll have healthy boundaries in our business partnerships once we can combine a concern for our own needs with a concern for our business partner’s needs.

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