Saturday, February 24, 2007

Marriage is like a three-legged race

Marriage: a Three-Legged Race.

When I was a child I remember picnics where we ran the three-legged race. Two people had their middle legs attached, and the objective was to run in unison with your middle legs tied together, so that between the two of you the couple had three legs. The race required coordination so the couple ran together in harmony. It was not an easy task, but eventually the couple learnt how to run together by coordinating their bodies as one.

Marriage requires a similar skill. Marriage is a team effort, where the two of you are stronger than each alone. A good marriage can be defined as a union where two people are stronger as a couple, than as two separate individuals. If however, the two are divisive, and competitive with each other, you weaken the team. And thus a poor marriage is where two are worse for being a couple, than being a coordinated team.

The secret to running as a three-legged team is collaboration. Being critical of your partner only slows the team down. It is like your right hand hitting your left hand and pretending your body is not hurt. When you attack your partner, you attack yourself. If after running a three-legged race, you lose and criticize your partner for not helping, you are guaranteeing that the team will fail. Better to look at the problems that caused you as a team to fail, than criticizing your partner individually. In a three-legged race you either win together or you lose together. So too in marriage. You either both succeed, or you both fail. Blaming your partner for a marriage failure is like the left leg criticizing the right leg for not winning the race. It may make the left leg feel better, but it will not remedy the failure.

Marriage is not for everyone. Some people prefer to be single than to work together as a team. Unfortunately we as a society have pathologies singleness. We assume single people are lonely, unhappy and looking for a marital partner. This is simply immature, excessively romantic and idealistic. I know many people who are happier as an individual than as a couple, and assuming this is unnatural for humans is ridiculous.

If you wish to be married, then you must work at becoming a team. You must learn how to be a couple, as two people have to learn how to run a three-legged race as one. The key to running a three-legged race is to move your combined middle feet together as a unit, not separately as an individual. This requires coordination, a spirit of teamwork, and patience as you learn how to support each other rather than criticize and tear each other down.

All team sports require the individuals give up most of their personal ego for the benefit of the team. For example, on a football team, it is imperative for a quarterback to be blocked by his front line. Every successful quarterback always congratulates his front line when they win, and when they lose they are very discrete about criticizing in public their team members. Successful football teams work together as a group. With group sport teams, they all succeed or they all fail together.

Marriage is the same as team sports. Team is the essence of marital success. The team cooperates, coordinates and collaborates. In so doing they either succeed together or they fail in their mission as a team.

Biography at end of article.
Stephen Martin, MS. MFT, has over 25 years experience as a licensed marriage and family therapist. In that time he’s helped thousands of couples heal their marriages. As a recognized leader in his field, Stephen Martin served a term as President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the largest association of marriage and family therapists in the world.
Stephen can be reached at (650) 726-1212 or by email at

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