Breaking Up Is Hard to Do in Any Relationship

“They say that breaking up is hard to do,

Now I know, I know that it’s true,

Don’t say that this is the end,

Instead of breaking up I wish that we were making up again”

… Neil Sedaka (1962)

There is no question that breaking up is one of the worst emotional roller coasters you journey on, regardless of whether you are the “breaker upper” or the “breakee.” It occurs usually after there has been significant investment of emotion and time, into something that inevitably flames out.

A long-term relationship with a vendor is somewhat like a marriage. At first there is the thrill of the newness. There is a passion for the situation at hand, and if there is an issue, you try to talk it out and find a solution. You take no one and nothing for granted. You are innovative, willing to try new things. And always, you can trust your partner to have your back.

After a while, there is a feeling of comfort that occurs. Passion may still exist, but the flame burns a little less. You need to work at it more and ensure that complacency doesn’t set it. You begin to just assume that somethings are the way that somethings are. Innovation starts to wane off a bit and an attitude of “it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” You don’t immediately communicate when there is an issue, because, well, it’s blown over before, so chances are it will again. But you still feel the trust of your partner.

However, if it is always the “same-old, same-old” then a restlessness can set in. You notice that as you’ve been sitting on the sidelines with your partner, the world has changed. There are new potential partners out there, and you begin having surreptitious meetings with them, feeling a little guilty, almost like just having a lunch or coffee with someone other than the incumbent, is like committing a mortal sin. The more you spend investigating these other opportunities, the more you realize that your passion has once more ignited. They challenge you to be more innovative, and to talk about what the potential issues are in your current scenario, and offer ideas about fixing it.

You are intrigued, but guilt is holding you back. I mean, you’ve been with the incumbent for so long and don’t you owe them something? You discuss with your current partner, how the passion could be re-ignited. Are there things that both of you could do to turn up the innovation? Are there new things, approaches you could try? But you find that either you are not communicating your need for change adequately, or they are just not responsive.

And then you start to fret. What happens if I initiate a process to break up this relationship?

  • What are the switching costs?
  • What is the upheaval that it is going to result in, both for you and other stakeholders?
  • What about the intricate network that has been created with this long term scenario? Will others who have a relationship with this partner be angry and upset with you? Will they shun you? Will they side with the “breakee?”
  • Although you no longer believe that your partner is fulfilling your needs, perhaps it is the “devil you know, vs. the devil you don’t know?”

All of these questions and others will be swirling around in your head. It will be enough to literally make your head spin!

And in the end, you may choose to stay with the incumbent, because you have a tremendous amount of fear of the unknown. And you stop meeting with the new entity because every time you meet with them, you are reminded of everything that you don’t have.

But if you choose to delve more deeply into what the new potential partner has to offer, you may find that it far exceeds your expectations. You give the incumbent one last try. You go out to tender and you hope that perhaps now, that they will see you’re serious, and that they will surprise you.

But alas, they don’t. They have obviously taken your business for granted. They are angry and upset. They say, “but I trusted you” as if their trust was all that was required. You try to explain the reasoning, but they aren’t listening. They blame you, and will not consider that they themselves were the reason the business was lost.

So you award the business to the great new partner who impressed not only you, but many others who were part of the evaluation team. They have passion for their business and yours, and are interested in working with you to employ new innovative approaches. They are open to your new ideas, and dialogue is easy. The future ignites your passion. You are no longer “comfortable” but it is great to feel this newness and once more dream about the future possibilities. You feel reinvigorated and re-energized.

And you’ve learned a lesson not to get too comfortable in a relationship. Becoming comfortable in a relationship is okay, as long as it doesn’t become complacent. Trusting and being trusted is okay, unless that becomes the foundation for staying together. A slight dip in passion and innovation is okay, as long as it isn’t allowed to become a chasm, and that you and your partner are intent on ensuring it doesn’t. And when things aren’t working, it is necessary to have constructive dialogue and problem solving.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this scenario is about business, but I’ve written this so that you see that a relationship with a supplier is like a marriage. It takes both parties, consistently working on it, to make it sustainable. And if they aren’t, then it’s time to move on.

Think about your relationships today, and ask yourself, should I be here or not?

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