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5 Most Common Questions Asked in 'Co-Founder Couples Therapy' A psychologist for entrepreneurs answers FAQs from co-founders about maximizing the most important professional relationship.

By Sherry Walling, PhD Edited by Chelsea Brown

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

No one but your person knows exactly what you're going through. You take the same risks and want the same things. You're legally bound by a contract, ideally (more on this later). I'm talking about your co-founder.

Like real marriage, co-founder "marriage" is an intense partnership, a big investment at the mercy of human connection, communication and flaws. Many entrepreneurs consider the mechanics of this dynamic before the emotions, though both aspects are equally important.

Your psychological health, and that of your co-founder, are paramount to the success of your company.

As a clinical psychologist, by the time I see co-founders in my office, where I advise entrepreneurs, some personal grievance has already occurred. Inevitably, the business also suffers. Co-founder couples therapy, or thinking actively about the health of your relationship, can prevent a bad breakup — or worse, a bad exit.

Here are the five most common questions asked by my co-founder clients, from whether friendship is a requirement to the ideal cadence of communication.

Related: 4 Sane Strategies for Maintaining Healthy Co-Founder Relationships

1. Do we need a prenup?

The short answer is yes. Ideally, your lawyers draft a contract outlining roles, stakes, and, importantly, exit plans. Things tend to implode when one co-founder wants to move on but there is no clear structure in place to do so.

I always advise not to split operations 50-50, and instead, designate one person as a final ruler on key decisions. Many people find this tricky, but in my experience, it's the best arrangement for the long-term health of the business and the working relationship. Making one person an authority also prevents stalemates.

2. Do we have to be friends?

It would be great if you liked each other. It's far more important to gain the mutual trust and respect that comes with combined effort, integrity and professionalism. It is possible to run a business alongside someone you wouldn't choose to spend time with outside of work. The reverse does not apply: It's not a great idea to just be friends, to launch a company with your college roommate because you get along so well.

Complementary skills and designated roles are more important than friendship. One of you is technical, and the other is an expert in sales, for instance. If you work well together, chances are, you're going to like each other. Stress and shared goals will naturally create a bonding experience.

Related: How To Know When It's Time to Break Up With Your Co-founder

3. How do we know if we're compatible?

I get many questions about compatibility and how to crack it. Personality tests, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, can be helpful frameworks. These tools facilitate a better understanding of a partner's personality and judgment. You can also learn a lot about yourself that will inform your own relationships. I recommend Sally Hogshead's book, How the World Sees You and the CliftonStrengths Assessment (formerly StrengthsFinder).

You could look to the zodiac if that helps you, but when it comes to compatibility, three things matter most:

  • What is my co-founder's working style?

  • What is my co-founder's communication style?

  • How does my co-founder react to stress?

At a roadblock, will your partner disappear and try to solve the problem solo? Talk endlessly about solutions and distract others in the process? Become agitated and reactive? It's helpful to anticipate your individual and shared reactions to plan accordingly.

4. What if we've had a bad falling out, but still work together?

Once you determine that the relationship is not worth saving (there are many steps before this), it's often best not to work together too closely. In this case, you might sell the business using a broker. This is, of course, easier with an online operation.

You might hire a CEO to run daily operations so that you and your co-founder only need to meet when the CEO transitions. Finally, one of you could buy the other one out. That would involve lots of interaction up front, though it does ensure a clean break. If you had a plan to dissolve the business when you launched, the terms of a sale should be easier to negotiate.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Should Manage Personal Dynamics As Co-founders Of a Venture

5. How often should we talk?

Successful co-founders I work with have regular functional communication, frequently on platforms like email and Slack. I would also suggest a designated meeting in real time, even 30 minutes per week or 60 minutes every other week via phone or Zoom. Daily communication can become white noise, especially while working remotely and asynchronously.

In-person (or e-person) check-ins make for more seamless decision-making and allow space for both vision planning and small personal updates. In a face or voice, you can better see or hear the excitement or stress in your co-founder's demeanor and catch potential problems before they spiral out of control.

Co-founder relationships are complex unions that are often fraught. How you navigate this dynamic can have permanent consequences for your business. It's best to be proactive about the emotional aspects of this relationship, not just the logistics.

Sherry Walling, PhD

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO and Lead Psychologist

Dr. Sherry Walling is a clinical psychologist, podcaster, author, and mental health advocate. She helps entrepreneurs navigate transition, loss, conflict, and exits. She hosts the ZenFounder podcast, and is the author of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Shit Together and Touching Two Worlds.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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