Can you help?

An interesting email reaches me on the subject of a dysfunctional partnership:

Hi Ben, 

I’m a long time reader of your blog and I’ve sent you a couple of emails in the past about different things. Anyway, I was wondering if you could put my situation to your readers and see what they would do. 
I’ve been with my partner for just over 2 years now. We’ve done some great work together and 5 months ago we got a job at one of the top agencies in the world, and the chance to work on the best briefs. 
The problem is, she isn’t pulling her weight. 
I’m the writer and I’ve always done most of the heavy lifting when we’re concepting. Her specialty was throwing in a wildcard now and again. Sometimes, they’d be brilliant and I know that I’d never have got there myself. Other times, they’d require a fundamental change to the laws of nature and I’d let her down gently. But that was our thing, and for a while, it worked.
But now, she’s not even doing that. Our brainstorming sessions consist of me coming up with ideas and her often sitting in silence. On top of that, I’m also taking on more of the art direction whilst still doing all the presenting. 
Her attitude is pretty negative and I think she may be lacking confidence but I’m feeling like I’d be better off going it alone or finding someone new. However, I don’t want to throw a spanner into the works 5 months into our dream gig. 
I’m sure she knows I’m not 100% happy and I think she knows why, but I’ve avoided bringing it up as she doesn’t handle criticism well.
So what would you do? 
Sorry for the essay, but I was hoping you could put it out to your readers as it’d be great to hear from anyone who’s been through something similar. 

No problem.

My 2 cents? I remember feeling exactly this way at various points in my career. I felt like the central idea was the only thing that really mattered, and if I had come up with more of them than my partner then I felt resentful at the degree to which he CLEARLY wasn’t pulling his weight.

Then I got a bit older and realised I was doing two stupid things:

First, I was getting myself in a froth over something unimportant. It would genuinely piss me off to the point of almost ruining good partnerships and friendships. I recall having a really big stand-up row with one of my ADs on our second week of placement at AMV. We were actually pissed off at each other so needed to vent, but I think it was just down to feeling like we might be fucking up this great opportunity and taking everything WAY too seriously. Anyway, we went back in the building, wrote some good ads and stayed for several years, thankfully avoiding the kind of stress that might have given me a heart attack, all for some Sainsbury’s price ads.

The second thing I realised is that I was wrong. On balance I think I might have come up with more ideas than one or two of my partners, but then someone has to say the idea bit. If you keep score about it then you’re only going to annoy yourself and your partner, and it will never reflect that fact that your partner’s suggestion to go down the pub or watch that old Aerosmith video was what made the idea pop into your brain. It doesn’t mean you won, or you were better; it just meant that, as a team, you cracked another brief. Hooray! Now the hard work starts. And that’s the other thing I learned to appreciate: as a copywriter I’d generally find that more of the work was done at the front end of the creative process. Art directors handle more of the later stuff: selecting photographers; sitting in the studio for hours on end moving type around; making the reds a little warmer in the grading suite. In the end the amount of work done by both of us was pretty even, and the execution was incredibly important to the success of the ad. That’s one thing they didn’t really teach us in Watford. Yes, the idea is critical, but so is the way it’s executed, so you need to be a team that’s good at both.

I digress…

That was just some general advice for those of you who think your partnership is unbalanced – it might be all in your head. But as far as the above situation goes, I can see some other big problems that are all too common…

‘I’ve avoided bringing it up because she doesn’t handle criticism well’? 

Here’s some news: most people don’t handle criticism well, especially when it’s aimed at their creative output. If she’s told you an idea then she’s taken a chance on you liking it, and you’re supposed to be tight together, so when you tell her it’s no good it’s probably understandable that she doesn’t handle it well. You might argue that she should rise above it, and that she ought to understand and accept the slings and arrows of the job she’s chosen, but you’re only two years in, so it might still smart. And are you giving that criticism in the right way? Are you sure you’re right? You’re not a CD, so who says you should sit in judgement of her ideas? I’m just being provocative to make a point, but it’s worth thinking about whether or not she deserves your criticism. I fucking hated those Yeo Valley ads with the rapping farmers, and if my AD had presented them to me I’d have laughed in his face. But then I’d have missed out on making some famous and well-loved ads. So if I don’t know for sure, how do you? The answer is nobody does, so maybe give her another chance.

The other thing that sticks out for me is ‘I’ve avoided bringing it up’. Yes, I know it’s hard, particularly as you have to spend all day together, but if you’re not going to be honest with each other then yes – you might as well split up. Take her out for a coffee and show her this post. Tell her you know she’s good but she seems to have gone a bit quiet lately. Is there a reason for that? You’re supposed to be her partner and be there to support her. It sounds like you haven’t even delved into why. Get drunk if you need to, but have it out. Clear the air. If she used to be good, she can be good again. She hasn’t just turned into a moron in a few months. Maybe, just maybe, the space you’re creating, with the odd misplaced sigh, or the roll of the eyes you thought she wouldn’t notice, is inhibiting her creativity.

Last thing is you could be right. She might be a millstone round the neck of your ascent to the advertising heavens. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened, and if that’s the case, sure: find another partner and split up with her (in that order). No idea who’ll get to keep the job in the fancy agency, but if you can’t do it together that’s the kind of quandary you’re going to have to face.

(The final thing you can try is the Landmark Forum. I swear by it. So do Dave Trott and Mark Denton. It might clear away what’s causing some of the above. Or it might make you realise you’d prefer to be an airline pilot.)

Do any of you have any advice for my anonymous reader?