Fielding A Winning Relationship: The Playbook To Success


For some of us, romantic relationships are a mysterious foggy swamp and we gloss over when we hear complaints like: why can’t we understand what our partner want in a relationship? Why don’t we just read some of the various articles on dating and take the discussion on emotional connection, listening, and being a great partner, and apply it to our relationship?

To clarify, it’s not that many of us don’t want to make our partners happy, it’s just usually, when we hear buzz words like active listening or being more emotional, we usually get that glossed over, confused look on our faces. But maybe it is not our inability to listen and connect emotionally, maybe the opposite is true, maybe we just need to hear the same message in a different language. In fact, maybe you don’t even need to look that far to find a language many people might understand better, perhaps relating football to a relationship will help get your message across to the partner in your life.

Below are the eight ways that a happy relationship is just like winning in football.

The four downs of a relationship (plus one for good luck):

As most of you already know, in football, a team gets four downs to convert to a first down; well in relationships, it works very similarly. A famous researcher, Dr. John Gottman, has shown from his years of research that happy couples have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. In football, you could run or pass your way to a first down, but you get four chances to do it to keep the drive alive. You just want to make sure you are not moving backwards by result of a sack or negative plays.

In relationships, it doesn’t matter what the positives are; as long as you are moving forward more than moving backwards, you will have a happy relationship. Just as a team might not pass on every down to get to a first down, you do not need to only get your partner flowers 5 times (one time might help though), but simple things like a compliment or a hand on the back would work. Just keep the drive moving forward, not backward with your positives.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation:

NFL players don’t just sit on the couch until Sunday, they are out there most days of the week practicing and watching tape of good and bad plays. It is important to focus not only on the negative plays but the good plays as well in order to understand what is working well and how to build upon strengths. This intensive film study and practice is a way that teams do everything possible to learn about their opponent and improve their chances of winning.

The same attitude holds true for dating, you want to not only examine the fumbles (like that time you totally forgot an important anniversary due to stress at school or missed complimenting your partner’s outfit before an important job interview), but also the things that are working in your relationship, including what you appreciate about your partner and what you feel you have been working at improving. This will help deepen your connection to you partner and your relationship. Beyond just the good “plays”, it’s important to remember that even if your partner is the greatest, relationships take work, and you don’t just need to be on your A-game on that Saturday date night, instead, you need to continually be learning about your partner, yourself, and how the two of you interact. Researchers have found that the more one knows about their partner, the higher quality relationship they’ll have. However, unlike football, you do not have tape on your partner, instead, it is through your interactions with them that you will continue to learn about them. Football players do not just wait around for a win to happen, they prepare. You should be doing the same in your relationships, be prepared to have an amazing relationship.

Do not be afraid to challenge the play:

In football, even the refs can get it wrong sometimes. When a ruling is made by the refs that a team disagrees with, they can challenge it, and many times a different ref will look at the tape to make sure the call is correct.

When we argue, people believe they are right. However, when we are stressed out from an argument, it’s hard to see our partner’s perspective. But, it might be easier to see a 3rd person’s perspective. Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a brief exercise where couples can write about a conflict they are having, and write how a third person might solve this issue. This can help take into account both sides and see how an uninvolved party might handle things. Most of the time, when you see a third parties perspective, you end up compromising on the issue at hand. Just remember, even paid refs get a call wrong, you will sometimes too; try this activity and challenge yourself to let go of some pride and see the situation from an outside perspective.

R-E-L-A-X, Call a time-out to regroup, rethink, and get back on track:

Aaron Rodgers said it best, sometimes it’s ok to just relax. Football seasons are 17 long, grueling weeks. As a result, even the best athletes need a break to rebuild their body and mind.

In your relationship, if you or your partner are in a heated argument, don’t be afraid to take a break, not from the relationship, but from the argument. NFL players will get massages or ice baths to heal their muscles, heal your own muscles by listening to calming music or going for a walk if you feel yourself getting too angry. As humans, when we get too angry or stressed, many times stress hormones flood our brains and we can’t even think straight.  Therefore, anything that will help you unwind can be helpful. When you are calmer and can think more clearly, your brain literally function better. This way, when you come back to the disagreement, you are thinking more clearly and better able to solve the issue with your partner. If you feel yourself worn out in an argument, you most likely will not be able to resolve it without your full health, a break is always an option.

Sustain the drive:

Most great NFL offenses don’t just continuously bomb the ball down the field (if they did, Jamarcus Russell might still be in the league), they usually methodically drive down the field by running and passing as a way to keep the defense off balance. In fact, coaches rarely preach about just winning the game. Usually, they break down the game into smaller battles, like blocking, blitzing, and tackling well. When these small tasks are completed, a team can be pretty confident in getting the W.

The same is true in satisfied relationships. We do not need to continuously be spending 100 dollars on nice steak dinners and flowers and chocolates on every date, instead, do the small things. Just like how a two yard run could set up a play action bomb down the field, or sound tackling can prevent a team from converting a first down. Keep doing the small things that keep your relationship moving forward, like showing you care and are thinking about your partner. Remember that the small gestures are key to the longer “passes” and the overall wins in your relationship. Do not forget the small things you can do on a daily basis to make your partner happy, don’t just be focusing on the long passes. Again, remember, any positive yards are good yards.

Prevent Defense is not always the best defense:

We have all seen this way too many times, you team is up 2 with a minute to go, and the opponent has to drive 90 yards to score. Your team goes into its prevent defense, not really being aggressive and just focusing on not giving up the big play. What happens next is all too familiar, the opponent drives down the field, kicks a field goal, and wins the game as the clock expires.

Playing prevent defense in your relationship can be just as detrimental. Maybe you’ve been dating for about six months now, and you’re more comfortable with your partner, so maybe you start subtly trying a little less. Less compliments to your partner, less small gifts for them, many call this coasting by. Just as prevent defense can kill an NFL team, so could playing that in your relationship. If an NFL defense has been winning by blitzing the entire game, don’t stop blitzing. Never lose sight of what got you your partner and what made them happy in the beginning of your relationship.

Sometimes a Field Goal is Perfect:

Realistically, every team wants to score a touchdown when they’re in the red-zone. However, sometimes, due to whatever reason, teams opt for a field goal. Points are points and I guarantee every time, the team that has the most will win the game. The same goes for physical intimacy. In fact, researchers have actually found that hugging increases happiness and even can improve your immune system! I would certainly take a few more hugs in my day if it would prevent me from getting sick. Sometimes, just holding your partner and rubbing their back can help you win too. Do not think that just because you are close to scoring, you are guaranteed a touchdown.

Run the Wildcat!:

A couple years ago the Miami Dolphins introduced the Wildcat offense and it took the NFL by storm. Week in and week out, new formations would be created that would confuse defenses. The wildcat was so successful because it was a different formation than the usual. If NFL teams lined up in the same formation every single play, chances are, the defense would catch on, and they would eventually have to punt.

Try running the wildcat in your relationship. Psychologists from New York have found that when couples do novel activities together, their relationship quality increases. This does not need to be something crazy like skydiving, but simple things like going to a new restaurant, cooking a new recipe together, really anything done together should help. Always be thinking of ways you can incorporate the Wildcat into your relationship.