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12 Dec, 1999

Secrets of Success for Personal and Professional “Partnerships”

Originally Published: 12 Dec 1999

Of all the many social trends taking place in the modern world these days, perhaps the most evident is the rising rate of divorce.

A friend of mine sent me some newsclips which reported that 50% of American marriages end in divorce, and many of those that don’t are mere working relationships. As this highly-touted era of globalisation takes root, and more and more couples get hit by burnout earlier in life, more and more marriages are set to hit the rocks.

Interestingly and somewhat paradoxically, a primary characteristic of globalisation is mergers, acquisitions and the forging of corporate alliances. I have sat through numerous press conferences and listened with much amusement to the chief honchos of mega-companies describing their latest business “alliance” as being just like a “marriage.”

They talk about how both alliance partners (corporate, that is) will seek to “synergise” their strengths. They cite the need for mutual commitment and communication. They ask journalists to keep in mind the “long-term vision” and the many gains to be made if everyone works together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and sensitivity that takes into account different corporate cultures.

I must confess that I’ve often been tempted to ask whether any one those executives have applied the same principles to their own marriages at home.

Once the corporate marriage is sealed with much fanfare, an extraordinary amount of time and effort goes into making sure it works, even if it requires executives to sacrifice their personal marriage. Hence, as corporate alliances grow, personal alliances fray.

What is marriage after all if not an alliance? Yet, what God puts together, man regularly and quite casually rents asunder. Preserving the personal alliance of marriage falls way down on the list of human priorities, something that is casually entered into and just as casually dismembered.

In fact, it would be fair to say that corporate alliance partners get shown more respect, sensitivity and commitment than personal partners, possibly because people’s jobs depend on it.

The whole process of maintaining a marriage is becoming so complex that people just prefer to live together and have children out of wedlock. Marriage is, after all, considered little more than a piece of paper, an optional arrangement that seems to terrify people.

As for divorce, an even messier business, especially in the developed countries but increasingly so in this part of the world. Divorce lawyers are making a good living, thank you very much. One friend recounted spending six years in the courts.

In the corporate world, partners are in short supply. Entering into a partnership involves a horrendously complex arrangement of lawyers, financiers and others. Companies are always looking for the “right” partner who “share the same vision” and have the “same corporate philosophy.”

In the personal world, partners are plentiful. In fact, partners appear to quickly bore of each other and are constantly in search of someone new and interesting. The search for “Mr/Mrs Right” is long and arduous indeed, perhaps expectations are much too high and patience levels much too low.

Even while they maintain a personal relationship with one partner, both men and women are often out having it off with another. Such a situation would never be tolerated in the professional world and come under intense questioning in corporate boardrooms. In the personal world, it can lead to divorce.

No-one likes arrogance in boardroom alliances, nor bedroom alliances. No-one likes to be dominated. Everyone wants partnerships based on equality.

In the old days, these partnerships, strengths and synergies were pretty clear cut. The man brought in the money and the woman took care of the home. Because both entail significant decision-making and management responsibilities, it was an equal partnership except in some cultures and religions where managing homes has always somehow been considered “inferior” to managing companies.

These days, many women pursue equality by managing businesses and competing in the corporate world. While that may bring on a sense of fulfillment and achievement to some extent, if everyone is out building corporate alliances and seeking to cultivate “customer relationships”, who minds the relationships at home?

Who minds the home? Probably a maid. Who minds the kids? The day-care centre or a boarding school.

I once asked a friend what makes personal alliances work. She cited give-and-take, sacrifice, saying sorry, simple things like that which are natural parts of any human relationship. Sadly, marriages are becoming so egotistical in approach that saying sorry and admitting mistakes are always seen as shameful, face-losing courses of action.

Religions seem quite helpless to do anything about it. In Buddhist Thailand, keeping a minor wife on the side is sort of like the macho thing to do, quite acceptable to men and perhaps less so to women though they don’t seem to be able to do much about it.

In Catholic Christianity, marriage is considered a “sacrament” but not quite treated as such. Divorce is banned in Catholicism, which made some sense because it required both partners to think long and hard before entering into the deal, and then having once sealed it, to work long and hard at making it work.

The Protestants “protested” against this ruling. They take a more liberal approach, not because it is Biblically correct but based on “situation ethics” that can include unfaithfulness.

The Muslims, unfortunately, have made themselves the butt of many a joke with flagrant abuse of the “permission” they claim to have to acquire up to four wives. In many parts of the Middle East, old-fashioned chauvinism and feudal traditions take precedence over Islamic tenets as clan barons and other macho males routinely marry and divorce for the most flimsy reasons, citing alleged Quranic doctrine.

There is hope, nevertheless. Sooner or later, I reckon those same executives who build professional alliances will realise that if they apply the same principles and language to their personal alliances, they could well avoid grief at both fronts. So perhaps globalisation could solve two problems at once.

Me? I’ve been married to the same woman for 23 years, and loved every minute of it, by God’s grace.

Editor’s Note: As of September 2012, I’ve been married to the same woman for 36 years, and loved every minute of it, by God’s grace.