By Anne Gagliano
In our busy lives today, it’s easy to lose track, or even get off track, of the things that matter. We juggle so many balls in the air that sometimes we drop one. But one that must never get dropped or forgotten or lost is the direction of your marriage. The tone, the meaning, the definition. What makes you a couple, what keeps you close, and what separates this relationship from any other. It’s easy to drift off course if you’re not paying attention, and this may be catastrophic if not caught in time. One way to take stock, to evaluate, is to ask yourselves this; are we roommates or teammates?
There is no “I” in “team,” or so the saying goes. Marriage is all about teamwork. But if you’re not a team, then you may be as separated lodgers that simply occupy the same space, like roommates. Two individuals that share rooms cordially while leading entirely separate lives. You come and go as ships in the night, aware of the other, but not overly concerned in the details. The only shared goal is peaceful co-habitation. This may seem silly in describing a marriage, but all too often this is what can happen if romance is allowed to die. Romance is a fire that must be tended and fed, or it simply burns out, turning a once hot and heavy passionate relationship into something cool and distant with walls that separate. Roommates are fine, they’re just not great; they’re not even in the same vicinity as great. But a teammate is, and this is what we all should strive for if we want that next-level marriage; living as teammates instead of as roommates.
What is a teammate? And how does this word apply to the marriage relationship? A teammate is a member of the same team. One that works towards the same goals. One that plays together, fights against common enemies on the same side, and moves as one in the same direction. It can be a work team, a sports team, even a team of animals yoked together as in horses or oxen. The team must cooperate if they are to get the job done. It is a partnership, a collaboration, an alliance in the battle of life. If husband and wife ‘team up,’ together they are stronger than if they proceed alone. And if goals are established and shared, marriage takes on a magical sense of unity and purpose that replaces the distance that is felt of mere roommates. Firefighters, you of all people know the meaning of teamwork; with your crews you function at the highest levels of cooperation in action. Apply these same types of principles to your marriage and watch the unity and passion and excitement soar. This is how teammates roll:
Teammates are on the same team financially. Money issues are one of the top three reasons for divorce in this country. The three reasons revolve around ‘gaps;’ sexual gaps that lead to lack of intimacy or even infidelity; money gaps or differences in spending, saving and earning habits; and communication gaps, or the inability to discuss these and other issues without fighting. According to a study done by Kansas State University, money arguments may be the top indicator of an impending divorce.
Larry Burkett, a leading financial counselor, has this to say about finances in a relationship: “Money is either the best or the worst area of communication in (a) marriage. It is either teamwork and shared goals or a fight waiting to happen.”
Mike and I believe the best way to become teammates financially is to view money as “ours” instead of as “yours and mine.” We’ve always had one bank account and all monies earned by either of us go into the same pot. The ‘yours and mine’ attitude, of having separate accounts or keeping everything divided, leads more easily to secret spending, mismanagement by one or both partners, and even to the worst attitude of all regarding money in marriage—mistrust. We agree with author Dave Ramsey who says; “We can’t keep each area of our marriage neatly separated—money touches everything, so if a couple is fighting about money, that tension can also affect areas like trust, parenting—even intimacy. Not only is it better to be open with one account for reasons of trust, it’s easier—ever try splitting bills with a roommate?”
Roommates keep finances separate; teammates share all. With an open approach to finances, secret spending and mismanagement are less likely to occur; how can one person pay a common bill if they don’t know what’s left in ‘the kitty?’ And how can a gambling or shopping addiction go unnoticed if both partners have full access to the same account?
As a couple, you face financial problems together; roommates keep struggles to themselves. Teammates set financial goals and strive to find ways to reach them. They make large purchases in tandem and harmony, like houses and vacations and retirement; roommates have their own agendas and resent probing questions. When viewed as a team, financial issues are shared, not fought over.
Teammates are on the same team parentally. Even the sacred task of parenting can become divisive if you lose sight of the team. Married moms and dads can become as single parents if the task is not equally shared. Mom may do all the work while Dad is distant and disinterested. Or Dad may come to prefer the company of the kids over that of Mom. You take the kids here, I’ll take the kids later; we’ll pass them off then go our separate ways at days’ end. I’ll parent my way, you parent your way. They matter more to me than you do. With this singular attitude, the bedroom can become a room in which you both inhabit but no passion resides, like roommates.
Teammate parents, however, roll a different way. They stand as a united front that is never divided by the duties of parenting. They are co-parents, with each contributing equally to the task of raising and guiding and disciplining the kids. The children know that both Mom and Dad have an equal say in all matters, so they won’t try to pit them against each other. And at day’s end, Mom and Dad are teammates, not separate roommates that simply live in the same house. By example, the kids will learn what teamwork is all about. We’re all on the same side, we all fight for the home team. And that’s what makes a house a home and the inhabitants therein not roommates, but family.
In my next column, I’ll continue with yet more examples of how the teammate approach to marital goals compares to that of roommates.
If you’re interested in my book, check it out here: http://www.pennwellbooks.com/shop-fire-books-videos/new-products/challenges-of-the-firefighter-marriage.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 33 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.