7 Reasons to Break Up with a Business Partner

reasons to break up with a business partnerPeople who go into private practice together go in with big hopes and dreams. They usually know and like each other. They respect each others’ clinical skills and see their other skill sets as complementary. They are excited about starting a business. What could go wrong?


Good people, even good therapists, don’t always do well in partnerships. Good friends don’t always make good business partners. Sometimes people don’t know each other as well as they think they do. Sometimes the necessary tasks of business surface issues that would never have occurred to the people involved when they were just friends.

Yes. It’s always a good idea to try to resolve differences. As with any couple, that’s how a relationship grows. But that takes willingness on both people’s parts to engage with the problems, to accept responsibility for whatever part they played in them and to change.

Often good supervision with a more seasoned therapist or a consultation with a business consultant can help a partnership not only survive but thrive in the wake of conflict.

But if your partner won’t engage or if trying to deal with conflict only results in more conflict, it’s advisable to part ways – at least when those ways involve business.

Here are the top 7 reasons to leave a partnership when the partner isn’t partnering:

  1. Illegal activity or unethical activity:

 This should be obvious. We are known by the company we keep. If you find that your partner has been engaging in illegal or unethical activity, you can’t afford to remain connected in business.  Such issues as cheating on the taxes, writing off personal expenses as business expenses, cutting deals with clients and, especially anything that has even a hint of sexual misconduct are totally unacceptable. Cut your losses and end the relationship.

  1. Very different quality standards:

 If you adhere to one set of standards but your partner is consistently unconcerned or subscribes to a very different idea of what a “standard” even means you will soon lose patience. Remember, you each represent the business, not just yourself. High standards while working with clients should go without saying. But “standards” covers everything from how you dress for work, how you clean your office, how you do your paperwork, how you treat community people and referral sources and how you each represent your practice when with others.

If your partner has consistently different standards for what it means to be excellent, save yourself the aggravation and look for someone who is more in tune with you.

  1. Uneven division of labor:

Being in partnership in private practice requires both being a good therapist and being willing to do the business end of the business. There are many ways to divide the tasks but both of you need to feel that the division is fair and reasonable. If you feel like you are shouldering most of the grunt work while your partner is sitting back and sharing the benefits, it’s not going to work.

  1. Financial woes:

Conflicts around money habits and decisions often break up a partnership.  Marked differences in opinion about how much money to spend and reinvest in the business and how much each should draw as salary are difficult but essential to navigate. If you can’t see eye to eye on this one, it will be a constant source of tension.

  1. One upmanship:

 You may not have noticed that the friend you found so charming is, in fact, narcissistic.  The mutual enthusiasm of your discussions about starting a business might have blinded you to the person’s need to always be right, in charge, or the center of attention.  Once dealing with the day to day realities of doing business, you found that your partner is really your rival.

Every decision – from whose name is first on your sign to who should clean the bathroom – becomes an issue of ego. Every perceived slight becomes a big deal. Meanwhile, your feelings are minimized or disregarded.

  1. Your partner refuses to talk about it:

It’s ironic and sad. Here you are, the two of you, counseling others about communication and relationships and your partner refuses to engage in constructive conversation and problem-solving with you. You tried. Really you did. But your partner’s response to your concerns is to accuse you of being too sensitive, too needy or too, too – something. If only you’d see things their way, everything would be fine. Not.

  1. You’ve lost trust:

Numbers 1 – 6 add up to a loss of trust. You don’t trust your partner to behave well, to share the load, to make good financial decisions or to put the needs of the practice before personal needs for the limelight. Whatever respect you have for the partner’s skills as a therapist has become secondary to your disappointment and resentment. You no longer have faith in your partner’s loyalty or interest in mutual success. Without trust, you don’t have a partnership.

Break-ups are difficult because we invest so much hope and excitement and optimism in the creation of the relationship.  Especially if the partnership started out as a friendship, it can be very hard to let it go.

That being said, sometimes a break up when things go bad is what is required for your own survival and future. Your reputation is your most important asset. If your partner is damaging that in any way or if you are maintaining your reputation as a practice by subordinating your own ethics, needs or standards, the price for staying connected is way too high. It’s unsustainable.

Don’t put off the inevitable. See the lawyer and accountant and do your best to make the “divorce” as amicable as you can to preserve your option to rebuild your practice.


7 Reasons to Break Up with a Business Partner

Marie Hartwell-Walker, EdD

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. is an author, licensed psychologist, and a marriage and family therapist who has been in practice for more than 35 years. She is a regular contributor to Psych Central and one of the therapists who answer questions at Ask the Therapist.


APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2016). 7 Reasons to Break Up with a Business Partner. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Aug 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Aug 2016
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