The Secrets of a 30-Year Partnership Revealed

Posted 06.20.2016

So, it was back in March of 1985 when I was dared to ask Diane Dougherty out on a date. She worked in an office across the hall from mine in a Washington, DC trade association. It was my first real job out of college and she was an intern in town for a semester. I was coming back from lunch with an older, married guy co-worker named Dick Loomis and Diane passed us in the hall. As she went past us, Dick said, “Wow, she’s cute. You should ask her out.” I completely agreed with Dick’s assessment but was coming off a rocky relationship and sort of mumbled something like, “Yeah, maybe sometime but not now.” Loomis popped back at me with, “You’re scared to ask her out!” Before I’d even thought it, I heard myself saying, “Bull$&!@! I’ll ask her out for lunch tomorrow, how about that?”

The rest, as they say, is history. Today, June 20, 2016, is our 29th wedding anniversary. It’s been quite an amazing run since that first lunch date at Connecticut Connection in DC. We’re grateful for so many things — two great sons, countless incredible experiences, being married to our best friend and loving each other more today than we did back in 1987. All of that is even more amazing to us since, for the past 16 years, we’ve also run and grown a business together. Most people know by now that when it comes to the Eblin Group, I might be the guy who’s writing the books and the blog and doing the coaching and speaking, but Diane is the operator who (with help from a great team) runs the business.

People often ask us how we have such a great marriage and run a business together at the same time. It seems like a situation that would be ripe for conflict. “What’s the secret?”, they ask us.

There’s no secret really, but there are some lessons we’ve learned that probably apply to most enterprises, whether you’re married to your partner or not. Here are seven of them:

Pick the Right Partner — If you want to boil the list of seven secrets down to one, this is the one. Picking the right partner makes the other six lessons on the list possible. How do you know a person is the right partner? There are so many variables but both of us would put mutual trust, respect and admiration high on the list.

Set Goals Together — Diane and I have always been very goal oriented and have invested a lot of time over the years in having conversations to set goals together. The Life GPS® process that I’ve written about here before has been an important tool in clarifying personal goals. We’ve also spent a lot of time setting and adjusting goals for the business over the year. All of that time invested has kept us on the same page and in sync.

Play to Each Other’s Strengths — We each bring strengths to the table and we both recognize that neither of us has all the strengths. If you want to sum it up, my strength is content, Diane’s strength is process. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the simplest explanation. In any case, we play to celebrate and each other’s strengths. We don’t compete with each other.

Remember It’s Not Personal — We don’t always agree on everything and neither of us is in a perfect mood all day, everyday. When it comes to the business, we don’t take things personally. It’s just a business issue to be sorted out or an emotional moment that will pass quickly if neither of us make a federal case out of it.

Keep Learning — Both of us love to learn and apply those lessons to the business. It could be an idea from another industry, learning from the competition and trying to do it better, piloting a new program or exploring how to leverage a new technology. We think that’s served our clients well over the years and it helps keep things interesting for us.

Have Fun — When you are running a business (or leading anything from a small team to a large organization), work can be all-consuming if you aren’t paying attention. The dangers of that are obvious and even more magnified when you’re running that business in partnership with your life partner. We’ve always been very intentional about setting up boundaries and guardrails for when we focus on business and when we do something else.

Commit — The line of progress hardly ever runs straight up and to the right. There are dips and plateaus along the way. That’s true in a marriage and it’s true in a business. If you want to be around for the good stuff, you have to commit to your partner and always keep the bigger picture goals in mind. Clarity of commitment makes getting through the dips and plateaus a lot easiers.