Mike and his teammates after a fire. (Photo by John Odegard.)
By Anne Gagliano
The tone, the purpose and definition of your marriage, is something every couple must take stock of periodically, just to make sure you’re still heading in the right direction, that you’re not somehow getting off track or drifting apart as a couple. One way to do this is to ask, “Are we roommates or teammates?” As laid out in Part 1, there is quite a difference between the two. Roommates are simply two individuals who cordially share the same rooms while leading entirely separate lives. Teammates, on the other hand, approach marriage differently; they are on the same side moving in the same direction with lives that are completely intertwined, dependent on each other for success, happiness, and strength. One powerful example of a “team” may be found in horses. Yoked together by a wooden bar, they become as one as they pull a heavy load. Will they endure twice as much with two? Will the load be lightened a bit with a partner? Alone, a draft horse can pull about 8,000 pounds. With a teammate, however, the two can handle 24,000 pounds! Their strength is not doubled but tripled! Marriage may be viewed in just the same way: As a team, your strength is exponential. Here are yet more ways (continued from part 1) that teammates, not roommates, roll:
Teammates are on the same team socially. It’s easy in the busy, high-octane world of firefighting to become so busy with the firehouse as to lose touch with your spouse as your time together diminishes, turning a once vibrant relationship into a perfunctory co-habitation, like roommates. Firefighters form tight bonds; they are more than co-workers—they are a brother/sisterhood. Because of this connection, they often wish to hang out together off-duty and share their social lives as well as their professional ones. This is good, to a point, but it must never replace the social life of your spouse. Your spouse should always be, first and foremost, your very best friend, buddy, and playmate; the health of your marriage depends on it.
Dr. John M. Gottman, a psychological researcher and clinician who has spent four decades researching marital stability and divorce prediction, has this to say about couples who spend social time together: “…70% of a relationship’s satisfaction is determined by the couple’s friendship. Couples that play together during every stage of their relationship stay together. Couples who do not eventually separate or endure an unhappy relationship.”
Play helps couples connect emotionally as fun activities invite both partners to relax, open up, and laugh. Playtime is a form of intimacy as you gain knowledge of each other’s inner world, sense of humor, skills, and interests. Studies show that strong couples are more playful and laugh more easily than insecure ones. They know each other very well and are secure in their compatibility, and this renders them confident in public.
Always look for ways to be social together, to get out in the world and play as you did at the beginning of your relationship. Reinvent date night; don’t just do the same old same old. Try attending a lecture on a topic that interests you both, such as marriage seminars, book signings, or church conferences. Attend a class together, such as dancing, painting, or rock climbing. Take a local tour that you’ve never done before or revisit a local museum. Or find a new bike trail, hiking trail, park, or lake to visit. Try game night with other couples, just to compete and laugh and watch each other in action. The point is to have fun and be best friends; playing is the easiest way to remain emotionally connected.
Teammates are on the same team directionally. Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., of Psychology Today, writes, “Goals are a relationship necessity …. Ensure that the individual and couple goals are in alignment. This alignment is critical for creating harmony and allowing you both to reach your dreams. Once that alignment is secure there is no limit to how much you can accomplish together.”
Creating goals as a couple is one of the most powerful things you can do. These goals keep you moving in the same direction, pulling that heavy load together—not fighting to go separate ways. Have fun with it, see where it takes you. To do this, start small. Set a goal for six months, such as a weight loss target or paying off a credit card or cleaning out the garage. Then make bigger plans; set goals for two years, five years, 10 years, 20 years, and even for retirement. Make sure these goals are specific, attainable, realistic, and in line with your values. Then reassess them periodically, together. My husband Mike and I pray over our goals as we write them in a notebook or on a calendar, then later we pull the list out and reread it together over a cup of coffee to see how we’re doing. Do we still wish to pursue certain ones, or do some need to change? We then cross off the ones we’ve accomplished with tremendous satisfaction.
When you achieve a goal, celebrate it, rejoice together. Reward yourselves with a fun trip or a specific purchase or even just a big hug. Nothing is better than sharing success with someone you love. Life continues to be exciting and new when traversing long and winding roads together, side by side, with someone whose heading in the same direction as you are. A traveling companion gives you the courage to head down roads you never dared to attempt alone.
There are a few more ways I believe couples who are true teammates roll; in my next column, I’ll list the final ones.
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.