Periodically I hear the saying “there’s no I in team”. To that I say, really? I mean, I understand the message behind it – don’t be selfish, a team needs to be working towards a common goal, blah blah blah. But even with a common goal, at its core a team is still a collection of individuals.
Anyone who has ever played or coached a team sport knows that there is actually a lot of “I” in team. The challenge is getting those individual pieces to fit together, and positioning individuals so that pursuit of their own goals lines up with the common goal of the team.
Pursuit of a common goal
To do that you need to first identify what the common goal is. What is the team actually trying to accomplish? In sports the goal is often “winning”, but the blueprint for achieving that goal isn’t always straightforward. Is your goal to win a championship? Is it to win as many games as possible? Sometimes winning as many games as possible can be detrimental to winning a championship, as you also have to build chemistry, develop players, balance rest and avoiding injuries. These things may cost the team a few wins short term, but be beneficial in the long run. So having goals and defining the blueprint to achieve those goals are two different things.
The individual players on the team may all support the team goal, but they also have their own personal goals. These are often things like playing time, role on the team, number of touches/catches/shots etc. For the players, there needs to be a balance between “we” and “me” (the team goals and the individual goals). The team may be winning, but if a player feels their personal goals aren’t being met they may still not be happy. The players may also buy into the team goal, but disagree on the best approach (or blueprint) to achieving that goal.
In sports it’s up to the coach to manage this balance between “we” and “me”. To ensure individual players buy into the team goal as well as show them how they fit into it. It is often said that coaches spend as much time managing egos and personalities as they do coaching game strategy (I would call this babysitting, but I suppose “managing personalities” sounds more professional). Teams have their greatest success when the players’ individual goals are being achieved in pursuit of the team goal. Sometimes you’ll hear this referred to as team chemistry. When the team chemistry is good, individual players tend to sacrifice some of their own goals for the benefit of the team.
The Marriage Team
In a marriage you are part of a team. The number of “players” on the team is reduced to two (well, usually. I suppose there are exceptions). In any case, whether you are in a traditional marriage or a member of a polygamist cult the same dynamic exists. Each person brings into the marriage their own individual goals, but the goals of the “team” are usually a bit murkier. The team goal is likely something like “I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you”. You may add things like starting and raising a family together, traveling a bit, or going for burgers every Friday.
And just like in a sports team, you will have the greatest success when the members of the team are able to work towards their personal goals while in pursuit of the team goal. When the team chemistry is good, it feel GREAT. You feel as though the other member completes you. As a couple (or group, not forgetting any polygamists out there) you are greater than the sum of your parts.
When Trouble Arises…
Let’s go back to sports for a moment…
Take any team in sports and look at their current seasons winning percentage compared to their winning percentages over a 10 to 15 year span. For some teams there are huge differentials, for others the differential is small. But the point is that teams have varying degrees of success. Being successful in the short term is difficult enough, building sustained success is much harder. Even the best teams will have ups and downs.
If a relationship is a form of team, why should anyone expect it to be different? When people say their wedding vows, there is usually some variation of “in good times and in bad times, in sickness and in health, till death do us part”. Right there in the vows, the couple is being warned “hey, this isn’t always going to be rainbows and butterflies”. Just like in sports you are going to have good days and bad, good stretches and bad.
It’s important to learn to deal with adversity because it WILL happen. It’s just a matter of when, and how severe will it be. I think people acknowledge that there will be ups and downs, but they don’t think they will be that bad. Or they think that somehow “we will be different, after all we love each other”.
In my marriage, we never really fought and I saw that as a sign of the strength of the bond we shared. One unfortunate side effect of that though was that it meant we never learned how to fight. We didn’t learn how to deal with adversity, so when it came it seemed insurmountable.
Dealing with Adversity
On really important thing to remember about adversity is that it’s not a bad thing, it’s a natural part of any relationship. When you are “in the moment” it can seem like the end of the world, but failure and adversity is really just an opportunity to learn, and improve.
There are a number of quotes on adversity, but here are two that I like:
Adversity is the test that you must pass on the path to accomplishing anything worthwhile
The strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire
Honestly, you don’t really learn that much about yourself and your relationship when things are going well. Problems can pull people apart but they can also bring them even closer together. In John Gottmans “7 Principals of Making Marriage Work” he says that how often a couple fights doesn’t tell him anything about their potential success. What is important is HOW people fight.
It’s not easy, but try to focus on the actual issues and not the person. Remember that words cannot be unsaid. Actions cannot be undone. The hurts you create in the heat of the moment can linger for a long time. People may forgive, but it’s harder to forget.
Setting Marriage Goals
One thing that helps a team get through adversity is the team goal. As I mentioned above, team goals for a marriage are usually not very clear. I don’t think may couples sit down and plan out their objectives, they are just assumed. And maybe that’s the problem.
In tough times couples NEED those common goals to hold things together. They need to know that there’s something to look forward to, some reason for them to remain together. But how do you do that when you aren’t really sure what those goals even are?
Here’s my suggestion:
Pick a “happy time” and sit down with your spouse to talk about what your goals are. What do you want to accomplish as a couple? You may be assuming they have the same goals as you, and hopefully most of them line up. But maybe some are different. Set some long and short term goals, and set them together. And then revisit them periodically.
Articulating those marriage goals will probably bring you a bit closer together. You may also find that there are some conflicts in your goals, but that’s fine. Coming across conflicts at a “happy time” will give you a chance to practice working through issues when you aren’t in the heat of a moment.
Those goals may just be the things you need to hold things together when adversity hits.