The Key to a Winning Marriage

An acquaintance the other day asked me what I do, and I told her that I’m a marriage counselor and a life coach. Then she asked an interesting question: “Is compromise the key to a happy marriage?”

At first I was tempted to say yes. Compromise is certainly one part of two different people sharing a life together. We can’t do everything we want whenever we want it; we have to find ways of adapting to each other’s needs and inclinations.

But thinking about it a little more closely, I instead said an emphatic, “no.” Compromise is not really the key. Compromise is kind of like when one person wants a room painted yellow, the other wants it painted blue, and we compromise and get green. Compromise is sometimes win/win, sometimes not. There are certainly times when we compromise, but it isn’t the driving force of a great relationship.

What is the driving force of a great relationship? A winning premise; a conception of what our relationship is all about that includes a shared vision of the two of us together.

A great relationship is founded on the premise that you and your mate are allies; that you are a team together.

Play for the Team

Imagine you’re on a great basketball team, you have the ball, and you’re on a fast break down the court. You see your teammate up ahead with a great position, so you pass him the ball so that he can shoot. You could have taken the ball all the way down the court and maybe taken the shot yourself, but you passed it to your teammate instead.

Is that a compromise?

Not at all. As a team, we are working toward the same goal: We want to win the game. To win the game we have to play together as effectively as we possibly can. We have to know our teammates extremely well. We have to pay attention to where they are and what they’re doing. We have to be focused on the goal, and committed to playing together at the highest level possible.

This is not compromise; it is a conscious understanding of goals, priorities and strategy. In sports, there is nothing as disappointing as a bunch of phenomenal players, each of whom thinks that he is the star and whose focus is primarily on his own personal glory.

To win as a team requires that everybody see himself as part of that team, and to think in terms of the team’s success and glory. The level of commitment to achieve this is total. It can’t be 99%. We can’t have part of ourselves thinking, “Gosh, maybe I don’t want to be doing this, maybe there could be another option…”

The difference between a 99% commitment and a 100% commitment is huge.

Go All In

In a marriage, when we commit to getting to know our spouse extremely well, to knowing what matters to her or him, what his or her dreams and hopes are, what his or her vision is for our marriage, we are getting to know our teammate. We will come to understand how he or she responds to different kinds of communication, how to ask for what we want in ways that he or she is likely to hear, the different moods and events and timings of activities that work and don’t work.

This is something that we both need to do as allies with the same vision for our marriage.

When the two of us spend time together clarifying and refining our vision for our life together, we’re setting the stage for success toward that vision. We are defining the shared direction toward which we both want to head.

This will be a different direction than we would be heading if we were single. Alone, we would, of course, have a different vision. But we also could not create the same kind of life as we can together. It might be a great life, but it would be a different kind of life.

Just imagine one superstar basketball player facing off against a full squad of players. He couldn’t do much, because that game is about the relationship between great players.

A marriage is about the relationship between two great people.

And the details matter. A great marriage is not built through a romantic encounter every once in awhile, it’s built through the daily moments of connection; how we treat each other every day: responding immediately to a request for attention, responding positively and asking a couple of questions in response to good news, asking about each other’s day, and just paying respectful attention to each other.

What’s Your Premise?

But the foundation for all of these behaviors is a deep commitment to one another, to your relationship, and to building your relationship as teammates, as allies, as two people working together to create something wonderful.

If you’re having some troubles in your marriage, or if you want to make your good marriage better, take some time to examine the premise that the two of you share about your marriage.

Does it include the commitment to join together as allies? Does it include taking whatever troubles you have between you and facing those troubles together as a team?

If not, there’s some good news, because there is a lot of leverage to be had in making that commitment now – and I have seen this change marriages that have struggled for decades. As Nietzsche said, “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”

Approach your marriage as teammates, as allies, as friends, and you’ll create something together that you never could have created on your own… you’ll create a bond of trust and respect that runs deep enough to endure the inevitable hardships of life, and rich enough to flourish in life’s abundance as well.

Joel F. Wade, Ph.D. is the author of Mastering Happiness. He is a marriage and family therapist and life coach who works with people around the world via phone and Skype. You can get a FREE Learning Optimism E-Course if you sign up at his website,