When Two Firstborns Compete for Fifteen Years

“Your daughter can’t marry him. It will never work. They are both firstborns. Everyone knows firstborns are too competitive and don’t make good marriage partners.” Such was the sage advice given to my mother after we announced our engagement.

Stereotype or not, both us are competitive. We each like to be in charge. If someone tells us we can’t do something we do it or die trying. We thrive on challenges—meeting them, then exceeding them.

Yes, sharing this personality type could be a recipe for disaster in a marriage. And believe me, marriage didn’t abate the competitive edge. We just thought there were challenges to face in our single days. As anyone who is married knows, those were just a walk in the park! And anyone married longer than we have been knows we’re still walking blissfully in the park when it comes to challenges.

So, how do we keep competing through life’s challenges and keep from a constant power struggle? We decided on our wedding day 15 years ago to compete on the same team. When two people want to be winners and will do what it takes to win, put them on opposite teams and you have a competition. Put them on the same team and the winning efforts are doubled. And the victory is oh so much sweeter!

Here are 15 things I’ve learned in the last 15 years about being a team player in marriage:

1. Never criticize your spouse to others. This should go without saying, but it is deceptively easy to begin criticizing our spouses. It may masquerade as a joke, but if it is putting your teammate down, it’s not funny.

2. Spend time together every day. As busy couples and parents, it is hard to carve out time for just the two of us. However, we try to spend some time chatting in the evening after the kids go to bed at the very least. Some days, our schedules allow for afternoon coffee together. And so delightful are those date nights made possible by willing grandparents!

3. Keep your eyes on a common goal. We are two very different people. He prefers primitive camping outdoors, and I prefer a luxurious bed and breakfast (can you say high maintenance?). However, we have common goals spiritually, financially, as parents and share dreams for our future. We keep our sights on these as we walk through life together.

4. Respect each other as individuals. Although we have common goals and many shared interests, we are still quite different. For one thing, he’s a man and I’m a woman. Tea rooms don’t excite him, and new fishing pools don’t attract my attention until I’m trying to store them and they snag my lace tablecloths. We are very much a couple and a family, but he does take the occasional fishing trip and I head out for lunch or shopping with my mom, daughter or sister.

5. Don’t invite emotion into a disagreement. In fairy tales and novels, women well up with tears and men rush to gather them into their arms promising to make it all better. If that’s the way your marriage works, great. However, I’ve learned that married women need to grow up a little bit. If I have genuine grief, my husband is always there for me. If my feelings are hurt because I’m not getting my way, it’s probably best to hold in the tears or shed them when my husband isn’t around. That’s not to say I bury my feelings or do not communicate them.

These words from The Juggling Act: Bringing Balance to Your Faith, Family, and Work were helpful to me:

“When Pat and I disagree on a problem, I have learned not to get emotional about it. It frustrates him, and then I just get more frustrated. It’s sort of a crazy cycle where both of us lose touch with the issue and get distracted by the emotion of the situation. I try very hard to remain logical and explain my point of view.” -Linda Gelsinger, wife of Silicon Valley executive, Pat Gelsinger

6. Be aware of the big conflicts in marriage and deal with them proactively. You have heard the big three sources of conflict in marriage: money, in-laws, and well, that other one. Figure out a plan before they become an issue. If issues do arise, refer to #5.

7. Appreciate each other’s differences. Often conflict comes from trying to make our spouses just like us. If I think of this logically, I do not want to be married to a woman. Therefore, when my husband acts like a man, I try to smile and be thankful for that. He does the same for me. Even when it involves tears or china. Bless him!

8. Set boundaries to protect your marriage. Satan has always tried to bring down the institution of marriage with conflict and infidelity. A clear plan to handle interaction with people of the opposite gender is important. My husband and I have boundaries set around technology and personal interactions with other men and women. We feel our marriage is worth protecting.

9. Understand and speak your spouse’s love language. It almost seems like psychobabble, but it really is true that we interpret love in different ways. If my husband has the love language of acts of service, then keeping his pajama drawer stocked and good meals on the table communicate love to him much better than love notes and back rubs.

10. Practice acceptance and affirmation. Some things are not worth fussing over. If my husband leaves his socks on the floor, I think of all the other women who wish their husbands were there to leave socks around. I pick them up and put them in the laundry with a smile. He knows that I will occasionally pack him a wonderful lunch and forget to put in a fork. He reminds me with a grin. Again, bless him!

11. Criticism is rarely constructive. Any more, I try to make sure anything I need to ask my husband to change is really necessary. No one likes to hear they are doing something wrong. Just like #10, if it doesn’t really matter, why mention it?

12. Remember love wears work boots, not high heels. Real love is of the I Corinthians 13 variety. Not so much the roses, chocolates and fine dining variety. The love that matters and is lasting happens when I act it out, not when warm, fuzzy feelings overtake me.

13. Live out your own romance. That being said, romance is a beautiful part of marriage. (read: part) However, if I always find my ideals of romance in novels, it is the equivalent of spending my whole life reading other people’s Facebook statuses instead of getting out there and living it. And some ways of copying others’ romance are just wrong. Purity and mutual respect are crucial in a good marriage!

14. Make children fit the right equation. My math skills are a little shaky, but too often I see marriages look like this:

(Husband + wife) + children – husband = children + wife – children = wife 

This is unfortunate because not only does the husband feel left out of the family and feel as if he’s lost his wife, but there also isn’t much marriage left when the kids leave home.

We prefer to follow this equation:

(Husband + wife) + children = (Husband + wife) – children

Do you see the constant here? Oh yes, we love our children. My husband works long hours for them. I stay home long hours with them. My husband teaches them responsibility and how to work. I teach them math, English and history. My husband plays games with them and wrestles with them. I read stories, sing around the piano and bake in the kitchen with them. My husband takes the boys on fishing trips and our daughter out on dates. I take the kids to the park and my daughter to the mall. They are very much a part of our life. But they are the variable. Our marriage is the constant.

15. Keep the right Foundation in place. If it were possible to follow all these ideals to the letter, our marriage would still be shaky without the right Foundation. Before we were married, we served God individually, so He is naturally the third Person on our team. We realize that winning is impossible without Him, and losing this marriage game is inevitable if we crowd Him off the team.

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