“If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Mark 3:25

The dice went flying across the room. A friendly game of Yahtzee had just turned bad. Sad to say that was me that hit the box and sent the dice through the air. I was angry because those very dice were just not rolling in my favor and I was losing to my wife. I hate to lose and that is exactly what was happening. I guess I was reacting to that old adage that if all else fails just disrupt the game so you can’t finish and thus cannot lose. Needless to say, that belief didn’t work at the age of five and it certainly wasn’t working for me as an adult. My actions shocked my wife. My actions shocked me. It was clearly not one of my better moments. Truth is my actions were actually a loss for me and my relationship. Fortunately it was just a game, but it was symbolic of the early struggles my wife and I had in trying to become one.

Have you ever felt that you were in competition with your spouse? Ever felt like you were on two sides of the battlefield trying to wage war with one another? Maybe you raise your voice to emphasize a point and your spouse raises their voice right back (or retreats to another room). Perhaps you nitpick one another endlessly to show how the other could do it better, differently, or more like you. Maybe you think your spouse gets to go have all the fun and you are stuck having to watch the kids. There are probably countless scenarios in which you might feel that you and your spouse are not on the same page and in fact playing against each other in the “game” of love, relationship, life, or whatever you want to call it. My guess is that if you find yourself in competition with your spouse on a regular basis, it probably leaves you feeling pretty discouraged and weary. It may even lead to wanting off your team.

It just isn’t any fun to be going against someone with whom you desire, or at least at one time desired, to be on your side. After all, the purpose of marriage has never been about competition with one another. God’s word describes marriage in this way: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24.) That sounds like anything but competition. Unity is the goal of marriage. Not sameness where we look, think, act, and believe all the same things. Sameness leads to one person being unnecessary. Instead, God appears to desire unity of purpose (to glorify Him) while maintaining, honoring, admiring, and accepting uniqueness. After all, the body of Christ is called to be unified but cannot function unless multiple body parts are represented. Both of you are important to your team and your team is important to God, your children and those around you.

A marriage with two people who feel like they are enemies of one another is not a safe or fun marriage. It is time today to think about how you might break that competitive cycle. Here are some thoughts:

Remember that you are on the same team. Commit to playing cooperatively versus competitively. Truth is if you go looking for evidence you’re your spouse is your enemy, you will find it. However, if you want to see your marriage as a team, then start looking for evidence that it could be. If you go looking, don’t minimize what you find.

Embrace Differences

Embrace differences and let them be growth opportunities. As I noted before, the body of Christ has different parts that come together in unity. Same for our marriages, we are each uniquely created individuals. Are you willing to see your spouse as a creature to whom God gave unique gifts, talents and experiences? Would you be willing to embrace and dare I say even value the way that person differs from you? You might experience your spouse in a whole new way if you do. Don’t get me wrong, differences can be a great source of frustration. This is why they present as growth opportunities if you are willing to view them as such. As a result of how my wife and I differ, I get a chance to grow in my ability to manage frustration, embrace someone who is different from me, begin to modify something about me, etc. Sound unreal? Give it a try and see.

Les Parrott's Making Happy
Get more — Free! e-booklet — Les Parrott's Making Happy

Know that there is an adversary; it’s just not your mate. Scripture describes this adversary as roaming about like a lion waiting to devour. He is also described as a thief who is bent on robbing, killing and destroying. That is who our true enemy is, not each other.

Act more like a teammate and less like an adversary. Do you realize that teammates become really good at what they do? They work tirelessly to practice and hone their skills individually while also learning how to fit into the team. Are you willing to commit to that? Are you willing to put the effort into running the race (marathon) of your marriage to the best of your ability regardless of how the other runner shows up?

I can hear the argument already, “My spouse never (won’t/can’t/doesn’t) plays like a teammate.” Well that does complicate things, but let me challenge you that it does not mean you have to stop being the best team member you can be. As Christians we are called to run the race. We are asked to sacrifice something to pursue Christ and become like Him. So you say you can’t do that. Your situation is too unique. Your spouse is too cruel, or too distant, or too controlling, or too whatever. Well, I would agree with you that you can’t do it alone. That is precisely the point; you can’t but He can. We cannot be great teammates on our own, but we serve a God who is way bigger than the problems we face. That doesn’t mean we stop trying. It does mean that we have to keep our focus on where our true strength lies (see Philippians 4:13).

I hope these ideas are helpful to you becoming a team player in your marriage. They have been of help to me in mine. If you pursue this, there will be difficult moments but there also could be great rewards. Let me offer you the first words of encouragement as any good fan would do, “Go Team!”

If you are interested in more about how to stop treating each other as enemies and begin playing more as a team, check out some of National Institute of Marriage’s resources online.

Copyright © 2013 National Institute of Marriage.

Dr. Robert Burbee is an Intensive Therapist at the National Institute of Marriage. Founded in 2003 and located in Branson Missouri, the National Institute of Marriage provides Intensive Marriage Counseling, Marriage Conferences, and numerous other Resources for Couples