Do you ever feel like you and your spouse are on different teams? Sometimes couples have an adversarial relationship rather than one where they treat each other as allies. Couples easily can caught up in the terrible three postures of blame, defensiveness, and justification. Our culture further feeds this divisive and polarized position as everyone seems bent on choosing a side, often an opposing one. We expend an inordinate amount of time and energy proving our point and explaining our position and very little time listening in an effort to understand a different viewpoint. Many of the couples in therapy either defend or detach at times of disagreement and haven't learned the art of compromise. Sometimes it's difficult to stay attached and connected when you are in a conflict, but it is possible. When we interact with respect and kindness we can maintain connection. We may need to remember that in a relationship, especially a marriage, we are working together to either manage or resolve conflict with both parties hopefully invested in a positive outcome. So why do spouses often work against each other?
Sometimes partners are more concerned about themselves than their relationship. People can get so fixated on being right or in control that being on the same page is less important. Or maybe they never learned how to share with others and were used to getting what they wanted. Some people are used to being in charge at work and carry that home to their personal relationships. But even great leaders recognize that cohesive teams are more effective and productive than single entities. We have witnessed this phenomenon in sports when one star athlete can't carry the team to victory without a strong supporting cast. Successful marriages work together to achieve the same goals and objectives, but do it by recognizing each other's strengths and weaknesses while maximizing the positive qualities of each other. Teamwork requires acknowledgment that we're working toward the same goals even when we have different ways to get there. It also helps if we believe that our differences and arguments aren't purposeful or malicious attempts to hurt the other person. How do we get on the same team as our partner?
Some of the above mentioned suggestions will help, but ultimately team players listen more than they talk and value each other's opinion even when it is different from their own. Sometimes simply learning to agree to disagree works or maybe trying more than one approach if the first one doesn't work. Team players work at not personalizing issues and conflicts, but focus more on finding reasonable solutions. Effective and constructive communication is necessary to work as a team and resolve conflict. Couples stay connected when they can both apologize and forgive one another. We're all human and make mistakes, but moving forward requires a commitment to let go of the past and focus on the present. Another essential ingredient in a team is trust and that's true for couples as well. Trust requires consistency in words and actions over time. When trust is broken, either teams break-up or they seek to repair and heal the brokenness. When we're on the same team, we want the team to succeed which requires a plan of action that both parties agree to and work on. Relationships really do matter. A quote from Ecclesiastes 4:12, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."