Marriage is a team sport. Just as you couldn’t win a football match without ever passing to your teammates, you can’t keep a marriage healthy without supporting and communicating with your spouse.
As is evident in the many marriage consultations we have with clients, marriage can start to fail when couples stop working WITH each other and start working AGAINST each other.
Here are some questions to ask yourself right now:
Do you see things as ‘me’ rather than ‘we’ in your marriage?
Are you and your spouse living your lives separately rather than together?
Does it feel like you are constantly keeping score of who puts more effort into the marriage?
Do you avoid telling your spouse your problems because you doubt that you’ll receive their support?
If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, chances are that somewhere along the road you and your spouse have stopped being the team you were when you first got married. And believe me, you are not alone. But no matter how distant you may feel right now, you CAN get your spouse back on your team.
It might take a lot of rewiring to start thinking about how things affect ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ again, and regaining a ‘what’s mine is yours’ mindset. But as long as you are both committed to working on your marriage, you can get there.
Remember that as a team, you can achieve so much more than you can as two individuals. Instead of feeling constant friction, you will feel the comfort that comes with someone ‘having your back’.
Essential Steps to Making Your Marriage a Team
1. Support each other, no matter what
Being in a team means supporting each other, win or lose.
This means having a united and giving mindset – especially when it comes to facing challenges in your marriage. Say your wife or husband loses their job, gets sick, or struggles with an addiction. Are you going to be there for them through this time? Because although it’s not pretty, this is when they most need your support.
Being a team also means standing by your spouse and their decisions, even when you may not completely agree with them. Become you want them to do the same for you. And let’s be honest – we all make mistakes sometimes.
It also means celebrating one another’s achievements. Just as a sports team will have a celebration after winning a big match, you need to be the person who breaks out the champagne bottle when your spouse has a success. And vice versa!
An essential aspect of having each other’s unconditional support is that you and your spouse should both feel comfortable sharing any problems with each other. Sharing your problems with your spouse means that you have faith in their ability to help and support you to cope with what is going on.
When you solve problems together, the connection between you becomes strengthened. So if you have been choosing to not share what is really going on in your life lately, try having faith in your spouse again and telling them about any problems you are facing. By doing this, you are giving them an opportunity to be there for you.
A problem shared truly is a problem halved.
2. Make your spouse’s needs and goals as important as your own
Love is about giving, and making someone else’s needs as much a priority as your own. With two people working together to achieve their goals, whether they be marital goals or personal, you will both achieve these a lot faster.
Sometimes, in order to do what’s best for the team, you may both need to make some personal sacrifices. For example, if one member is struggling with weight and fitness, then both members may need to be prepared to eat more healthily and make time to exercise in order to improve the health of the team.
This also means recognizing one another’s personal interests and finding ways for each person to be able to keep these up, alongside your family life. For example, being prepared to make sacrifices such as; “I’ll take the kids to drama practice while you play golf”, or “I’ll make sure I get home straight after work on a Thursday night so that you can attend your cooking class”.
There should be no room for resentment or dissatisfaction about these arrangements as long as each person is being equally supported to pursue their outside interests and goals, and putting equal effort into their family life.
In all of your daily decisions and actions, think ‘Is this something that’s going to help our marriage or hurt it?’ ‘Is this going to support my partner’s goals as well as my own?’
3. Share the workload
In a team, everyone puts in equal amounts of effort in order to achieve a common goal. The effort, and desire for your team to achieve success is what really counts – rather than any differences in ability between teammates.
In a marriage, especially if you have children, there’s no denying there’s a lot of work involved. Which often isn’t exactly fun or exciting. For example, all the daily chores that no one enjoys - the endless dishes, laundry and cleaning.
When you’re having problems working together in your marriage, it can be easy to start keeping a scorecard of who does the most work. Who cooks more, cleans more, earns more, and looks after the kids more (the list is never ending). Keeping score of what your spouse is doing compared to you can cause you to become bitter and resentful whenever you perceive that they are doing less.
The key is to share the workload of your home life in a fair way. A good way to do this is to sit down and come up with a plan in which there is an equal division of labour, so that each person knows what needs to be done and who’s going to take responsibility for it each day or week.
It also means showing appreciation for the things that your spouse does do at home, and being able to identify when they are struggling with something. For example, one person might really struggle to make it home in time to cook dinner after work, while the other person gets home in the afternoon. In this case, the spouse who is home earlier may need to be prepared to cook dinner during the week to help out the later spouse, who could perhaps cook in the weekends.
4. Be united in your parenting
Being a team means being united in your decisions in the home, especially when it comes to childcare. Because as we’ve touched on in previous blog posts, parenting is a lot more effective when you are on the same page, and are supporting each other’s boundaries and disciplinary actions.
When one spouse is putting a lot more effort into childcare, this can cause a lot of tension in a marriage. Although one parent may work more and the other may spend more time looking after the children, it is highly important that both parents should be equally involved and united in decisions related to their children, and invested in optimizing their health and development.
Both parents should feel comfortable setting boundaries and disciplining their children, and supporting the limits the other spouse has set. You don’t want to use your children as a way of competing with each other. For example, the classic scenario of one parent doing all the disciplining and the other always being the ‘good guy’.
So make sure you are always on the same page when it comes to parenting, to ensure the health of your family life.
5. Live in a shared space
A key aspect of the marital team is sharing your living spaces, and working together to create a positive atmosphere in your home. This means letting someone else into your space, and isn’t always easy.
Again, sharing your home means making joint decisions about how you set up your living areas, and making sure that they are optimized to suit each person’s needs. It also means being mindful of each other in your shared spaces. For example, cleaning up in the bathroom after you have finished so that is clear for your spouse to use.
If you want to save your marriage, you need to actively make the effort to SHARE living spaces with your spouse, rather than avoiding each other at home. For instance, if you get up to move into the kitchen when your spouse enters the lounge, you are sending them a hostile message: I don’t want to be in the same space as you.
Being able to be comfortable in the same room, even if you are doing separate things, is essential for maintaining intimacy in your marriage. And this is also true when it comes to the bedroom.
If you and your partner are sleeping in different beds due to feeling a lack of closeness, it’s time to think about whether you really want to save your marriage. As steps such as this only put you on track to becoming further and further apart.
Sharing a bed maintains closeness between you, and increases the opportunity for physical connection. The passion will not have a chance to relight in your relationship if you are keeping a barrier of distance.
6. Be a financial team
It’s no secret that financial troubles are a common factor which drive a marriage apart. It is all too easy for couples to start keeping tabs on each other’s spending and pointing fingers, especially if their financial situation is tight.
For example, a husband sees that his wife spent $100 at a shoe store and demands to know why she spent this money on shoes when she knows they are on a budget. His wife replies “Well you spent over $100 last week on golf gear, so why am I not allowed to treat myself?” And the argument continues.
To avoid this kind of situation driving a wedge between you and your spouse, you need to become a financial team. Being a financial team means that you pool your income and assets, rather than having separate bank accounts. Does it really matter if one person earns more than the other? Pooling your finances means you can save together for things as a team. It also indicates trust in one other and respect for what each person contributes.
Being a team also means that you are united in your ideas of spending, saving and budgeting. For instance, having plans in place such as a budget of what you can afford to be spending money on each week, which each partner has agreed to stick to.
Of course, often one person will be more financially savvy than the other. And if your partner is not sticking to the financial plan you’ve come up with as a team, this could understandably cause you to feel frustration and resentment. In doing this, your partner would be hurting the team by thinking about ‘me’ rather than ‘we’.
If this is the case, first try talking to your spouse and going back to the financial plan you have set and your financial goals as a couple. Explain why their unnecessary spending is directly undermining the achievement of these goals, and try to focus on the reason why you made these goals in the first place. For example, perhaps you are saving so that you can afford a house, new car or holiday together.
If your spouse still isn’t on board with this, it may be a good time to visit a financial advisor as a couple and see if there is any advice they can give on the situation. For example, perhaps you could have a savings account that it is only possible to withdraw from if you and your spouse both give your written consent.
Remember that if you feel you’ve tried everything to work things out in your marriage, and you and your spouse still aren’t functioning as a team, it IS okay to get outside help. Marriage counselling allows you to access the help of a third party in who can provide you with fresh perspectives and strategies to try in repairing your marriage.