Making a marriage successful takes teamwork

Oct 12 2011 - 4:34pm


This weekend my husband and I celebrated 12 years of matrimonial bliss.

Looking back, I could only think of two times in the past year where I thought he might leave me. I know, impressive right? We are really getting good at this marriage business.

We recently had a newlywed couple over for dinner. They just celebrated their first anniversary and are stuck here in Germany trying to get visas. He's British and she's American. For whatever reason, this is the only place they can both legally live as man and wife.

When I asked them how their first year was, they smiled. "Oh, it was great!"

"Really?" I asked, "That's amazing! We're lucky we didn't kill each other." The moment the words were out of my mouth their posture relaxed.

"Are you serious?" she said, "Because we thought it was just us..." We then went on to discuss some of the unexpected trials of that first year.

I recently heard someone refer to marriage as a soccer game. Have you ever seen 3- and 4-year-olds play soccer? It's a riot. They each know one thing: kick the ball. So they hover around it like a bunch of fruit flies, trying to get in a good whack here and there.

If marriage was a soccer ball and newlyweds were players, it would look a lot like that little toddler league. It can take years to realize that the other guy is your teammate, or that kicking the ball to him could actually help you out. In memory of our first post-traumatic year, I've come up with six soccer analogies to pass on, in case any newlyweds are listening.

1. Remember the importance of the assist. Let your spouse help you out. No one likes the "I" player and learning to pass the ball now and then is a skill no marriage can live without, especially once kids come along. You have to let your companion be part of the team, even if it means sometimes you take a back seat and let them score.

2. Don't stay in one position. It's important to take time trying out different fielding positions to see where each of your strengths lie. From cooking to child rearing to balancing the budget, you might be surprised to find that your marital mold isn't like anyone else's. Throw out preconceived notions and find out where you each play best.

3. Listen to the coach. Whether it's finding a few good relationship books or getting into early couple's therapy, remember that the world is filled with professional people who know a lot more about marriage than the rest of us. Be smart and ask for help before overlooked hurts fester. Ten years from now you'll be glad you learned to communicate early on.

4. Cheer for each other. There is nothing more important than gratitude in your marriage. Take time every single day to build your companion up. We are constantly serving each other, even if it's subconscious. Point out the positive character traits and things you love about your spouse. Do this every day.

5. Accept your red card. If you don't learn how to say sorry you might as well go live in the woods by yourself right now. Understanding how to offer a real, flat-out apology is one of the most important and most difficult skills we can master in marriage. When you're wrong, own it. No one likes the old, "I'm sorry, but..."

6. Know the plays. Talk about your life and your plans and your dreams on a regular basis. Good things come to those who make plans, so take time to dream together. Think two years, five years, 20 years down the road and talk about how you'd like your life to look. Life gets busy and if you stop dreaming and planning together, you will eventually lose one another. Look into each other's eyes and dream a little. It's why God made Friday nights.

No marriage is perfect, but if you're willing to work hard and watch your cholesterol, you just might make it to that golden vanilla cake anniversary we all hear so much about.

For us, 12 down, 38 to go. Good thing I married someone so athletic.

Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at or visit her blog at

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