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The Odd Couple: In Business and in Love
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The Odd Couple: In Business and in Love
By June Campbell
Mr. and Ms. Caveman were probably the original business partners. Not
only were they a family but they operated a home business that involved
hunting, gathering and protecting themselves from predators. And just
like modern day spouses and business partners, they faced the challenge
of dealing with certain, uh... differences in work styles.
A typical conversation may have gone something like this: Ooga tidying
up the cave, mutters ominously: "Curse you, Org. You've thrown your
clubs on the cave floor again. What a slob." Meanwhile Org tosses his
dirty pelts in the corner and growls, "Loosen up, you uptight
neatfreak. Forget the cavework and come on down to the fireside feast."
Ooga and Org may be the original Odd Couple, but in 1999, modern day
partners encounter the same problems. Neat and Messy couples are
everywhere - and when they share a work life, the problems escalate.
Take the case of Roger, an engineer who operates a home business with
his wife and business partner, Beth. "We were really busy on this one
occasion," recalls Beth. "We were getting ready to send out promotional
packages to a number of prospective clients. I discovered that Roger
spent the entire morning prying staples out of the papers and
re-stapling them so the staples all lined up evenly. I wanted to kill
Then there is the "in business together " couple that almost divorced
after discovering a dead gerbil under a pile of files and papers. It
had been missing for six weeks. Or Edwin, the real estate broker who
called in the Fire Inspector to have his messy garage declared a fire
hazard. His wife and business partner habitually chucked all junk mail,
newspapers and other unwanted material in the garage for indefinite
storage. Edwin wanted to park his car indoors again. Or consider the
guy who stored his dirty dishes in the oven while his wife was away on
a business trip. "I had no choice," he explained. "The counter was
covered with my unwashed laundry."
Funny, yes, but if you are part of an Odd Couple, you may be tearing
your hair out. How will you ever learn to get along when your
irritating partner makes you crazy on a daily basis? It's true that
opposites often attract. Therapists believe that when selecting a
partner, whether for romance or business, we subconsciously seek
wholeness through the attraction. "The tidy one may initially be
attracted to the messy one's spontaneity, warmth and humor, while the
messy one is attracted to the other's orderliness, ambition and
organizational ability, " said Ruby Duxbury, a family therapist from
Winnipeg, Canada. "The couples give balance to one another."
Strangely, the very traits that initially attract us are the ones that
later become a source of annoyance. "The seeds of discontent are sewn
right from the first moments of the relationship," according to family
counselor and columnist, Krisanna Jeffery. Krisanna takes couples back
to their first meeting and helps them get in touch with what attracted
them in the first place. "Surprisingly, it is usually the very thing
that's irritating them now. This awareness usually creates a warm
feeling and reduces the irritation."
Opposites may attract, said Julie, a Web-site designer who is involved
in an Odd Couple relationship with Kevin, her husband and business
partner. "But when opposites live and work together, it takes work and
understanding. Kevin is organized, gets up in the morning, and loves
order. I'm disorganized, live for spontaneous moments, and am happy if
I can stay up 'till 3:00 AM every day. I have a much greater tolerance
for clutter and disorder than Kevin does."
Julie and Kevin make an effort to understand one another's differences
and both know that they can't change one another. Stubbornness helps
too. Kevin remarked, "Probably the single biggest factor in our
continuing life is a monumental storehouse of stubbornness. We're both
too stubborn to give up when things get tough."
When Kevin and Julie turned to personality testing to help them
understand their differences, they found that they were completely
opposite in every category. Tests like the online Keirsey Test or the
Myers and Brigs Temperament Indicator provide a framework for
understanding the differences among personalities. "We have learned
that it's not a case of good and bad, or better and worse. We are
simply different. We understand each other better since taking the
test. Now when conflicts develop, we make jokes like, 'Stop being such
an extra-terrestrial.' It usually lets us laugh at the situation,"Julie
And laughing at the situation is good advice.
Patti and John have been an Odd Couple in business and in romance since
1992. Patti describes herself as the "Oscar" -- free spirited and right
brained. John is "Felix" -- organized, left brained, and a packrat.
"John's the President of the Company and my title is VP, Marketing. One
way that we keep the relationships working is that I am self-employed
and his company hires my company for sales and marketing services. That
way, I don't consider myself an employee and feel free to take other
interesting assignments and time off without having to ask permission.
Another way that we make the relationships work, is we will say 'now
I'm talking to you as my spouse' (not as a co-worker) and that
indicates that different type of support and listening is needed,"
More help for Patti and John came in the form of a book called The Odd
Couple Syndrome - Resolving the Neat/Sloppy Dilemma, by Selwyn Mills
and Max Weisser. "There's a scene where the Oscar- like guy pulls up to
the other's home in a ratty old dirty back-firing car and throws
overflowing plastic bags onto the coffee table. The Felix-like one has
a snit, thinking that his table might get scratched -- the place is
immaculate. Well, that scenario could be John and me. I read this story
with the tears of laughter pouring down my face, as my uncapped black
felt-tipped pen was staining our duvet cover. This happened twice
within about 10 minutes, after I swore to take better care. John was
not amused, especially the second time,"said Patti with a giggle
In many cases, it's the neat one that has the hardest time coping with
the situation. "After all, the messy one isn't bothered by neatness.
They just don't want to do the work of keeping things tidy," said
family therapist, Ruby Duxbury. "The neat one, on the other hand, is
bothered when things are messy."
Apryl and Chris, another in-business couple use a closed door policy to
help them keep their sanity and to ensure private space. Apryl
remarked, "I m not disgusting messy, but more clutter messy and Chris
is organized beyond all belief. I have my own system -- I know what is
in each clutter. How do we live together without killing each other? I
keep the door to my office closed. That is the one room in our home
where I can be as messy as I like."
If having separate rooms isn't a possibility, therapist Ruby Duxbury
suggests that you decide upon an equitable agreement around what
compensation the tidy one gets for tidying up. The messy one trades
something in return for being messy.
In extreme cases, Odd Couple incompatibilities can lead to divorce and
an end to the business relationship. Sandi, a writer from Chicago
discovered after her breakup that she suffers from Attention Deficit
Disorder (ADD). "The nagging about my mess just made me feel horrible
about myself. I thought there was something really wrong with me
because I just couldn't get my brain to organize things, no matter how
hard I tried. Now that I know about ADD I understand that I am just
wired differently. Perhaps things might have been different if I had
understood about ADD. These days you can hire organizers who help you
learn how to find systems for paper, junk, old clothes. I'm thinking of
hiring one when I get the money."
Before it comes to a breakup, Ruby Duxbury offered one last piece of
advice. "Both of you should keep a picture in your minds of the most
wonderful moment you've ever had together. For the business
arrangement, think of a successful event that happened because of your
shared talents. Then, when you're tempted to annihilate your partner,
you can call up the other side of the picture and regain appreciation,"
finished the therapist.
for Getting Along
1. Remember what attracted you to your partner in the beginning.
2. Keep a picture in your mind of the best moments or successes
3. Make a list of the assets and positive qualities your partner has
brought to the
relationship and to the business.
4. Use personality testing (i.e. www.keirsey.com) to better
understand one another.
5. Learn to laugh at yourselves.
6. Allot private space to each one. Respect one another's space.
7. Negotiate an equitable arrangement in which the tidy one "gets
something" in exchange for tidying up
8. Realize you can't change the other.
9. Communicate, compromise, respect and enjoy one another.
10. Seek professional counseling if the situation becomes too stressful.
About the Author:
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