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A Team of Two

4 steps toward building a vibrant marriage partnership
A Team of Two

I slowed down in front of the green house with the "For Sale" sign freshly planted in its front yard. During the last six weeks, my husband, David, and I had looked at dozens of houses to find a new home. None seemed suitable for our family of five. This particular house looked a bit small for our needs, but I grabbed a flyer to take home to David.

To this day David gives me credit for "finding" our home. We never would have purchased the house, however, without David's quick action. He was on the phone when I got home, so I simply handed him the flyer. He read it quickly, finished his conversation, and immediately called our real estate agent. Given our city's red-hot real-estate market, David wanted to make sure we were the first to bid on the house. Sure enough, it turned out to be just right for us—bigger and better than anything we'd seen so far.

Working together as a team, we bought our first home. But every day in that same house, David and I continue to develop our teamwork in all areas of our marriage. Through the years we've learned being a team extends past a project, platitude, or goal. Our teamwork is tailored to our unique relationship—and keeps changing as the years go by.

What Kind of Team Are You?

God calls a man and woman to live together in marriage as one flesh, so teamwork seems a natural by-product. But what does it mean to be a team?

For couples who share similar tastes, gifts, goals, and desires, teamwork can be as smooth as pair's figure skating. However, some couples find their partnership works more like a track-and-field team. They're on the same team, but their lives are individual events. Sometimes a couple's marriage resembles an auto race. The driver is the star of the show, but he or she never would win any races without the crew chief moving quickly at every pit stop.

Think about your interests and personalities. What kind of team best represents your relationship right now? Is it the best fit? What would you like your marriage team to look like?

Remember, your marriage doesn't need to imitate anyone else's. For instance, on a practical level, I assumed David and I would form the same kind of team my parents enjoyed. My mom and dad bonded over the household projects they tackled together every Saturday. Similarly, our friends Paul and Wendy collected river rock, arranged native plants around their hand-built waterfall, and together converted their backyard into a nature retreat.

In contrast, my husband tackles garden projects only when necessary. I've accepted that basic yard work will get done at our house—but it won't be a bonding experience. However, we still can be a team even if we aren't working on a project together.

Develop Your Teamwork Style

David and I came into marriage knowing we're fairly compatible. Besides our writing and teaching gifts, we both enjoy children and like to travel. But similarities alone don't produce partnerships.

What does? A strong commitment to each other's personal growth and a deep commitment to oneness before God. Here are some strategies we've used to help us function happily together.

1. Dream together. A recent national radio spot suggested couples take one hour on their anniversary each year to dream together. According to this marriage expert, even one hour increases marital longevity and happiness. Dreaming together deepens the spirit of partnership. Wherever the winds may blow you, you remember you're on the same ship.

Be willing to encourage and follow each other's dreams. Who knows where your spouse's next idea could take you! It's taken us to the Amazon and Andes on a seven-week missions trip, as well as to Africa and Austria to visit beloved friends. Most recently, dreaming together led us to adopt our six-year-old daughter, Anna.

Dreaming together means dreaming for each other, too. You and your husband may have individual goals—pursuing a certain hobby, learning a new skill, visiting a college friend far away. That's when you strengthen your track-and-field team style—helping each other train and cheering each other on.

Thought stimulator: What's one thing you could do to move toward a mutual goal? How could you encourage your husband's dreams? What do you need from him to pursue your dreams? Which items on your spouse's wish list are most threatening to you? Out of love for the other person, which may you need to lay aside?

2. Agree in advance on any sacrifices. While Paul and Wendy have a beautiful backyard, the past ten years haven't been a bed of roses for them! Together they decided Paul would go back to school to earn his doctorate in psychology. But to prevent resentment along the way, they each outlined what sacrifices they would and wouldn't make to realize Paul's goal.

Life's full of choices. Will you take that other job? Will you work nights? How many sports or clubs will your children be involved in? And will you use that tax refund for new furniture or a vacation? Choices impact both partners. Being a team means making those choices with your partner and with your mutual goals and desires in mind. Likewise, when you say "yes" to one thing, you say "no" to at least ten others. Being a team means choosing the sacrifices together, too.

Thought stimulator: What are you willing to sacrifice to reach mutual goals? What sacrifices are unacceptable? Are these sacrifices pleasing to God?

3. Divide and conquer. Just because you have similar gifts and callings doesn't mean teamwork flows naturally. When we first married, David said "yes" to teaching seminars or classes "together." That translated into him coming up with all the ideas and giving me an outline of what I should say. I balked because it felt artificial.

What's more, David didn't appreciate my "you should have said" critiques of his presentations. We've had to learn to work together on mutual goals while still maintaining autonomy. Now David and I can teach a class together, but that doesn't mean our teamwork on other fronts—home, parenting, finances—always runs smoothly. Even with frequent meetings to compare calendars, we can be at odds about what gets done around the house and how we'll spend our time.

Sure, many couples divide and conquer when it comes to the daily "to do" of home and family. Just remember, the how-to of making this work is fluid, not fixed. Work out your systems—and then communicate often, clearly, and kindly. Not every solution fits for every season or situation. And don't rule out asking for help.

Amanda holds most of the cooking and cleaning responsibilities in her and Brian's home, but Brian's usually happy to help when she asks. She says, "Sometimes I start grumbling about why he never does anything—but it's because I don't ask! I forget I have a cooperative teammate."

Thought stimulator: Which tasks or goals do you prefer to work on by yourself? Which ones would you like to pursue together? How could you divide that responsibility to give each person "authority" in specific areas, while still accomplishing a mutual goal, whether physical, spiritual, or otherwise?

4. Nurture your team spirit. So what happens when "divide" means you feel stuck with all the work? What about when "conquer" doesn't happen because you're overwhelmed by other life stresses? That's when the "spirit" of being a team transcends the "work" in teamwork.

Sometimes, all I need is a reminder we're teammates, not opponents. Ultimately, we both want the same thing: to love God, to love each other, to love our children, to grow as people, to live in peace. Other times, when I feel my "team spirit" waning, I commit to praying earnestly for David. Asking God to help my husband realigns my heart with his—and blesses us both.

Thought stimulator: What circumstances challenge your team spirit the most? What concrete action can you take to nurture your commitment and cooperation? In prayer, ask God to give you a spirit of oneness in your marriage.

The green house has been ours now for ten years. With a home business and our active children, it's time for us to start looking for a new place to live. We already agree on what we want in a house, but our teamwork was challenged when I frequently brought up the need for a move and David fervently resisted it. He felt pushed, and I felt my needs were ignored. Thankfully, coming back to each other in humility restored our team spirit.

Occasional squabbles aside, my husband, David, and I build our marriage partnership as we heed God's calling: to look to the interests of others, to consider another as better than ourself, and to lay down our life for our very best, lifelong friend—our mate.

Mission Marriage

Before you get to the daily details of who takes out the garbage, how you run your finances, or which committees you'll be on, you need to be deeply convinced of your purpose as a couple. A mission statement helps you focus on the things you value when daily life rushes past you at breakneck speed.

Creating a mission statement helped one couple, Troy and Shannon, thoughtfully say "no" to the constant moves his career demanded. Soon after, Troy began fighting cancer. Writing out their purpose and priorities kept the vision of their partnership clear in their minds as they battled the cancer. That statement was an incredible testimony to their marriage when read by those who attended Troy's memorial service.

Renée Sanford and her husband, David, form a writing team and are the authors of How to Read Your Bible.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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