When we think of sports, there are two distinct types, team sports and individual sports. When we look at relationships, couples start out playing as a team and then at some point, switch to the tactics of an individual sport. Or, a team sport that is played badly!!
At the beginning of a relationship, most people will play as though they are part of a team (if they aren’t then it probably doesn’t stand a chance anyway). They work together to get desired results and to help each other. The mindset at this point is not about how to win the game on your own, but how to win the game together by looking out for your team mate and working together to achieve a common goal.
As a relationship progresses and gets into the comfort zone where you start to take each other for granted (and of course not every relationship does this), the mindset becomes that of an individual sport. How can I get to the finish line first, how to I achieve what I want from this?
To illustrate this further, I am going to use the game of soccer (or football to the fans) as an example of how it works.
On the soccer field, the players must work together to score a goal. Each player has a role in the game and for the most part sticks to this role. A forward will typically wait for the backs to save the ball, clear it from the backline and pass it onto the midfielders. From here, the forward will try and score a goal. Even at this stage, they often pass it back and forwards to the other players trying to find the best solution together.
When this works perfectly, they find the solution and score a goal. Everyone is happy, all the players on the team celebrate the goal together. At times the forwards may need to drop back to help defend. They do this because they see their help is needed and in order to win the game, they need to help their team mates.
Similarly in a relationship, both people have a loosely defined role and expectations of each other which are usually formed early in the relationship. When both people are performing their role and working together as a team to achieve their goals, they usually find the solution and kick that goal. Then celebrate that together.
In a relationship, these early goals are often career achievements, purchasing a home, getting married, or having children. Couples usually work really well as a team, each passing the ball to each other, falling back to save a goal when needed and driving forward when the opportunity presents. They work together to defend and attack as needed to achieve their common goals.
Typically in a soccer match, when a goal is scored against the team, they are down for a moment, reflect briefly on how it went wrong, regather and start over as a team. Nobody blames anyone else for the goal against them. They lost the goal as a team and they accept their own role in that. In fact they will often console one another and help to boost their team mates back up.
In a healthy relationship, when a goal is scored against the team, the couple will rally together, be down for a moment and then regather to start over as a team. There are no recriminations against each other and they may in fact comfort each other through the tough times. They draw together to fight the tough battles and celebrate their victories together and for each other.
In soccer, it can all fall apart when just one player stops performing their role. For example, the striker or forward player gets passed the ball and can see an opportunity to score on front of them. The only problem is, there is an opposing player in the way and the best option would be to pass the ball to the other forward who is better placed to kick for goal. But, the glory, the excitement and in many ways, the selfishness of scoring takes over the player and he doesn’t pass the ball. The opposing player takes the ball and the opportunity for a goal is lost.
The player stopped playing a team sport and started acting for his own glory and benefit. It didn’t work. Team sports need to be played as a team.
As with your relationship. The moment you stop passing the ball to your partner and working as a team is the moment the team starts to fail in its desired goals.
What role do you play in your relationship and are you both still playing as a team or have you decided to go for glory on your own?