I once tried to convince my husband Ted that we should apply for The Amazing Race together. I envisioned the ultimate couple’s retreat: world travel, dedicated time away, and an array of team-building “activities.”
Ted didn’t exactly jump at the idea.
Looking back, it’s good he didn’t encourage me. If cast, I’d most likely have gotten us lost (being the horrible navigator that I am) and in a fight in some foreign country on national television.
While we’ll never be teammates on the show, I love what The Amazing Race reminds me of when it comes to marriage. I find that most couples who win are for each other. They work together in order to succeed. And I believe that’s vital for a strong relationship.
So how can a couple better embrace life as a team? Here are five great ways.
1. Get on the Same Page
Ted and I’ve discussed what we want the next few years to hold for us. For example, we want to pay off debt and be more purposeful when it comes to romance. What about you? Are you and your spouse on the same page when it comes to future hopes and dreams?
One way you can do so is to brainstorm together. Grab some paper and pens. Individually make lists of what you desire the next year to hold for you.
Next, come together and discuss your lists. What items are common? Which are unique? What are some practical ways you can work together to accomplish these things?
2. Enjoy Something New
I used to not like Thai food. Now it’s one of my favorite cuisines. What brought about this change? I decided to share in Ted’s “joy” of it despite my dislike. As a result, I discovered I’d eaten at the wrong Thai places in the past.
This taught me the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone and trying things that Ted likes, even if I’m convinced I won’t like them. These experiences have not only enriched me as an individual, but they’ve gone far in helping Ted and me grow together.
You can do the same. Maybe it’s not Thai food. Maybe it’s not food at all. Perhaps it’s a vacation spot or a hiking trail. Whether you end up with a new favorite or not, I guarantee you’ll find your relational bond strengthened just because you decided to lay your own comfort aside and share in the other’s joy.
3. Choose Lightheartedness
We ended 2014 with much coughing and sneezing. A week before Christmas, we were hit by an upper respiratory infection that lingered … and lingered.
Do you know what we did? Laugh. We chose to hear the chorus of coughs that resounded through our house not as an inconvenience that threatened to ruin our holidays, but as part of our end-of-the-year story. A chapter that we decided would be marked by chicken noodle soup and movie nights rather than frustration.
Decide together to approach life with a sense of lightheartedness. While this points to the ability to laugh together, don’t stop there. Also choose to practice a lightheartedness that comes from a heart that’s not weighed down by grudges.
If you’ve kept a list of the ways your spouse has failed, disappointed, or hurt you in the past, determine to let these things go — either personally or, if they’re deeper issues, through the help of a trusted counselor — and decide that you won’t keep a “record of wrongs.” That instead, you’ll strive to not be so easily offended and to do your best to overlook offenses.
4. Make Peace with the Past
Last year, Ted’s blood pressure skyrocketed into dangerous levels. His doctor struggled to bring it down. His meds were increased and he underwent a number of tests. During this time, one of our daughters started breaking out in an inexplicable rash that resulted in multiple trips to the allergist and I had to have several moles removed. It was stressful to say the least.
Can you relate? Maybe the last few years have been rough on your marriage as a result of financial issues, health challenges, or relational struggles. While it’s likely you’ll have to face some of these issues again, determine to make peace with these events. What I mean by that is this: Decide together to see these challenges not just as annoyances, but as opportunities for growth, both individually and as a couple.
What’s one way you can do this?
Sit down together and reflect. Talk about how the struggles wore on you, and also how they made you stronger. Resolve that in the future, you’ll try to face difficulties with an “us vs. the problem” attitude instead of a “me vs. you” mentality.
5. Fight as allies
For us, conflict over the years has been inevitable. It’s never been about whether we will fight, but about how and when we fight. We’ve learned that in order to maintain that “us vs. the problem” attitude rather than the “me vs. you” mentality, we’ve had to determine to fight as allies, not as enemies. This means doing our best to work through conflict in a way that serves to unite us and benefit the long-term health of our marriage.
How can you do the same in your relationship?
The next time you find yourself in a heated argument, consider temporarily stepping away from the conflict to give yourself room to calm down and think through the fight. As you do, make an effort to attempt to understand where your loved one is coming from. Also, be sure to consider those things for which you need to offer an apology. Taking responsibility for your part in a fight can go far in facilitating reconciliation and strengthening your team.
As couples we don’t have to win or even be on The Amazing Race to show that we’re a strong team. Decide that no matter what challenges you may face, that you’re in them together.
[This post also appeared at HuffPost Weddings.]