I learned the value of teamwork early in life. Growing up in a house with five brothers and a sister, there was always a game to be played and a competition to be won. When we added our friends to the mix, we easily created teams of adequate size for a wide variety of neighborhood sports. My siblings and I took our competitions inside the house, too, covering for or tattling on each other to benefit the alliances that constantly evolved among us.
Years of sibling rivalries passed and I married Dan, the most loyal fan that ever lived. He was competitive, yes, but demonstrated such intense loyalties to his teams that sports calendars (all things Philadelphia and Notre Dame) often dictated our social calendar. Dan bled blue and gold on fall Saturdays when his Fighting Irish kicked off, and cried tears of green on winter Sundays when his beloved Eagles inevitably botched their chance at the Superbowl. Dan loved sports, arguably, to a fault. I learned that if I was going to stay happily married to Dan, I’d better start loving them, too.
A sports team’s sense of unity is crucial to their success on the field. I soon learned that this sense of unity could be helpful in our marriage, as well. Metaphorically, the team, our coach, the uniform, and the plays, were all key contributors to our happiness.
What follows is a different kind of sports analysis; how football shaped my marriage:
1) The Coach: To us, our coach was God and our Faith. When things were tough, we first turned to the rules of our Faith and followed the examples of faithful couples around us. Our sacred marriage vows bound us to commit “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,” and sometimes that was hard. But, through prayer, reflection, and lots of practice, we continually evolved to become a couple we considered to be uniquely happy and in love. If God’s advice isn’t your go-to, try looking to couples you emulate and reflect on what makes them admirable. Find a coach to lead you to victory.
2) The Uniform: A wedding ring is a sign of commitment. This small piece of jewelry is an outward symbol of status to society. I wore mine with pride. When Dan used to do something silly, I would roll my eyes, only to see him flash me his wedding band and say, “You picked me!” It always made me laugh because he was right. He reminded me (every day!) that I picked him and I promised to be on his “team” forever.
3) The play book: It is widely accepted that communication is key in creating a successful marriage. Human development specialist, D. Wayne Matthews, suggests that couples set aside a “communication date” a few times a week in a positive atmosphere. He acknowledges that communication breakdowns are inevitable in a marriage, but that couples need to have a set of tools to resolve the breakdowns and then avoid them in the future.
While Dan and I never had official “communication dates”, we worked through some more and less successful ways of communicating with each other. Without scheduling them, we had lots of communication dates to sort out what worked and then to tweak what didn’t. In our experience, name-calling and accusations never lead to positive conversations, so we learned to talk about our feelings in a more productive way, through trial and error, and ultimately, respect.
One perfect example of this is when I discovered that Dan didn’t like being called “grumpy.” Sound silly? I think so, too. (I never did get to the bottom of why he found this so offensive, but, regardless, he didn’t like it.) So, sometimes when he was being, well, grumpy, I made a point to tell him that. The trouble is, Dan had previously communicated to me that he didn’t like being called that name and I deliberately called him a name that I knew he didn’t like.
Sure, sometimes he was being grumpy, but since he didn’t like being called that name, I needed to respect his feelings and find something different to say. “Instead of working against him, why not join him?” I thought. I reminded myself that we’re on the same team – we have the same goal in mind (a successful, loving marriage), so it only made sense to cooperate.
You and your spouse are on the same team – respect each other’s wants and needs without always understanding their point of view.
Being married to Dan taught me invaluable lessons in teamwork. It taught me the importance of healthy communication, practice, and respect. This football season there’s no one wearing my uniform. I lost my teammate and I’m struggling to navigate the field without him. Life was more fun on Dan’s team. Together, we were a duo that could compete with the best of ‘em; Jordan and Pippin, Montana and Rice, Hanna and Dan. We played hard and we won big. We may not be “Hanna and Dan” anymore, but this team doesn’t give up, this team perseveres, and this team will win. Good game, Dan. Good game.