Marriage Is a Team Sport

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I became an avid fan of beach volleyball this summer, but not by watching NBC.

It happened on one of those warm evenings when we stayed at the beach without hoodies or jackets, rare here even in the late summer. We celebrated the nice weather by taking a picnic to Big Corona for a swim and walk along the edge of the 70-degree ocean.

The fervor of excited volleyball players – every court on the beach was in use – diverted my attention from a delicious summer novel, “Gone Girl.” People of every age and ability level were driven to emulate the American volleyball champions. Even teams that lacked the ability to get the ball over the net high-fived and back-patted one another after every small victory. There were whoops of, “Yeah! Great save!” and enthusiastic jumping up and down in encouragement, regardless of whether or not they scored a point.

So much team-speak reminded me of a professor I had in grad school for “Techniques in Counseling Couples.” He enjoined us to use the notion of a team as a simile when we treated couples. He said that in conceiving of themselves as “we,” the couple could approach issues in their marriage as a team. “How will we handle this?” would take the place of “We are having a problem because of you.”

I was new to the game, and because of my fix-it-now background in nursing, I preferred concrete strategies and thought more in terms of assigning couples homework and fixing their styles of communication.

Years later, I concede that the professor was right. Strong couples, highly devoted and happy couples, do interact as teammates. Those couples who forget that they are on the same team begin to compete against one another. It isn’t rare for a couple to arrive for their first session and to say they’re not sure what is going wrong, but that they just don’t feel like they’re on the same team anymore.

Being on the same team translates to having to play the game even though sometimes you may not like your teammate very much. No one plays a whole season without noticing an irritating flaw in fellow players.

But, as a member of the American women’s swim team explained this summer, being part of a team sometimes means subjugating your own needs to what the team needs in order to succeed. In his book, “The Road Less Traveled,” Scott Peck asserted that an ability to sometimes give up one’s own need for the sake of the relationship is perhaps the pinnacle of self-actualization, and is the essential gift that marriage offers the individual.

Teammates don’t blame each other for a losing score. We don’t expect the pitcher to condemn or criticize the catcher in the post-game interview after a losing ball game. In the relationship of teammates in athetics, it’s well understood that to win games, the whole has to operate as one.

Teammates tell other people good things about each other. Winning more games is unlikely when players sit at mealtime and attempt to show how the other has failed to do well enough. Telling other people good things about your spouse, in front of him or telling your spouse good things to her face are elementary to making a happy life.

The post-Olympics high inspires otherwise rational people to hit a black and white ball around the beach, while running fast in deep sand. The high-fives and fanny-pats look like the most fun to me, though.

Try some of the excitement at home and see what happens when you say, “Way to go!” “Great idea for dinner, Hon!” “You rock that screwdriver, Babe!” “Awesome save on that barbecue, Sweetie!”

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