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Dramatically Improve your Relationships by Becoming a Team

Team

“We may have all come in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

I once had a totally commonplace, uneventful thought that transformed the way I viewed relationships.

I’m not sure that it was mine; it certainly wasn’t anything groundbreaking or unique. I may have read it somewhere, I can’t remember now.

It was the notion that when two people in a relationship think of themselves as on the same team, things get much easier. Positive feelings grow freely. Score-keeping and resentment are nonexistent. 

Insights are very personal—a simple phrase that turns my world upside down might do absolutely nothing for you, and vice versa. Perhaps this notion was so life-changing for me because I grew up surrounded by people who seemed self-focused, always looking for where they had been wronged.

They weren’t selfish or egotistical people. They were insecure people.

My father had insecurities that led him to make everything about himself—if you didn’t say the right thing at the right time, trouble was sure to follow. I spent years walking on eggshells, trying to anticipate my next misstep. It was exhausting.

And I remember women who constantly, endlessly talked about what was wrong with the “deadbeat men” who never seemed to treat them the way they deserved to be treated.  

As a kid, it seemed as if adults everywhere put everyone else on the hook for their own happiness. In my childhood innocence and natural wisdom I wondered, why they didn’t take care of their own happiness? 

Being on the hook for someone else’s happiness not only felt like enormous pressure, it was an impossible task.

No matter how much my dad approved of something I did one day, he might disapprove of the very same thing the next day. No matter how nice a man was to a woman, he’d inevitably forget to compliment her dress and she’d have him back in the doghouse.

All of this look-what-you’re-doing-to-me, you-should-be-treating-me-better business is not born out of independent, empowered women (or men) simply refusing to put up with less than what they deserve. That’s often how they like to view themselves, but that’s not it at all.

Scavenger hunting for all the ways you aren’t being treated fairly is not an act of self-love. It’s an act of insecurity.

It’s born out of fear and looking to someone else to be your savior. It’s born out of the belief that your happiness comes from what others do, which manifests as manipulation, guilt trips, and passive aggressive behavior aimed at changing them so that you can feel better.

“Us” Not “Me”

When you’re focused on yourself, keeping score, and making sure you’re being treated properly, you’re not actually in relationship with another person—you’re in relationship with your thoughts about the other person.

You’re focusing on yourself, what you can get, and where your partner is falling short.

Thinking of the two of you as a team shifts your focus. Suddenly it’s not “me versus you”; it’s “us.”

It’s no longer “I did the laundry every day this week, what did you do?” It’s “We’re a team. I do the laundry more than you at times, and you do a million other things for me at times.”

It’s not “If you cared about me you’d call twice a day”; it’s “I’d love to talk to you more.”

The you-and-me-together way of looking at things is exactly what was missing for all of those disgruntled women complaining about their deadbeat men. The extreme look-out-for-myself-first approach is what made my relationship with my dad defensive and inauthentic.

Teammates

A couple weeks ago, I was talking with a friend about her marriage when she confessed that she was once a score-keeper. She used to keep a mental tally of what she had done and what her husband hadn’t, and she gave a whole lot of meaning to that score.

When I asked how she came to leave the score keeping behind, she told me that her husband said something one day that completely turned it around for her.

In the midst of one of her score reports, her husband said the reason he never thought that way was because he saw them as a team. She gives more in some ways and he gives more in other ways, but why keep track when they are always working together, in the end?

She instantly knew that was true. He did give more than her in many ways, but her rigid, defensive outlook hadn’t allowed her to even notice what he did for her.

Although insights are personal, she had the same game-changing one I did. She never looked at her relationship in quite the same way again. When she found herself feeling wronged, she remembered that she and her husband were teammates, not adversaries.

Being on the same team takes the frailty out of a relationship. My relationship with my father always felt fragile and temporary, like I was one wrong look away from being disowned. In fact, I was.

Don’t you see this in romantic relationships—especially new ones—all the time?  One or both people are afraid to fully be themselves in fear of what the other might make of their honesty.

I can clearly remember the wave of relief that washed over my now-husband’s face when we had a disagreement about six months into our courtship. He sat me down to assess the damage and I assured him that we were past the point of breaking up over a petty dissimilarity.

He says he knew in that moment that we were an “us.” It wasn’t “me” evaluating and judging him,” or “him” deciding whether “I” was right or wrong.

We were a team, and teams are infinitely more resilient than individual identities trying to coexist.

I wonder what this shift in perspective might do for you. Even if you aren’t a score keeper always looking for where you were wronged, taking on the team viewpoint can bring a new sense of closeness to your relationships.

Can you imagine what might happen if we extended this beyond personal relationships—if we saw entire families, communities, or all of humanity as part of the same team?

Imagine how we’d treat each other.

Here’s to spreading the insight to our teammates everywhere.

Photo by ClickFlashPhotos

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  • honey serena

    Wow, impressive timing! I was thinking about this just yesterday!! Fantastic article :)

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful message and perspective!!! Thank you for such brilliant insight, I love to see things in different ways! :) I thought it was great that you viewed people as not being selfish or egotistical, but it is insecurity! That is a great view to be more compassionate, thank you!!! :)

  • rllowe7

    “When you’re focused on yourself, keeping score, and making sure
    you’re being treated properly, you’re not actually in relationship with
    another person—you’re in relationship with your thoughts about the other
    person.”

    Wow!! That’s really all you need to know!

  • http://twitter.com/CTheFlow Christopher Walker

    Love this!

  • http://twitter.com/DrAmyJohnson Amy Johnson

    Thank you all for your comments and feedback. I’m so glad to see that this concept is resonating with others (beyond just me and my friend). I had a feeling it might!

  • http://www.vironika.org/ Vironika Tugaleva

    I agree completely with your words, Amy. This sort of dynamic is so important. That equality could be called respect. It’s the acceptance of the other as an equal deserving the same space for support, mistakes, and healing as oneself. The importance of equality, however, is to have a HIGH equality. Not the sort of equality where we’re equally miserable. For this reason, most people have to go through a process of personal transformation, a period of “Aha!” change where they learn about themselves. Once they know what they are capable of when they accept/love themselves, then they can easily give this to a person. Before we can be on a team and support a teammate, we often need to know how it feels to be supported by a teammate. The focus on “I” and not “We” is a cultural trend… every relationship matters in changing it. Every team that is formed brings us to a future where we see the whole world just like that.

  • Laura Torres

    Thank you Amy. In my first year of marriage I tend to forget the important positive roles my husband plays into my daily life. Women (not all of us) are such emotional creatures if we are hurt in the moment we tend to forget facts and focus on how we feel at that time. I too am guilty of taking note of all the wrongdoings. Working on my own shortcomings one day at a time.

  • Dochy

    Absolutely!!! This line spoke to my soul in a way that very few lines do! It kinda zapped me to the immense truth that those simple words contain!

    Brilliant post Amy!

  • Kate

    Dear Amy

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve just read it, and the post on resentment and they both feel like the answer to a question I’ve been putting out for a while; why do I feel so angry so much of the time? Well, the painful, yet liberating, truth is that I’ve been seeing myself as powerless, at the mercy of what others do. And this concept of aligning with others (I had a very similar relationship with both my parents as you did with your Father) has shown me how different life can look.

    It’s fantastic that there are people out there on the internet willing to share this kind of wisdom. I’d like you to know that you have been a great help to me, and I shall always be grateful to you.

    With all best wishes.
    Kate

  • Bridget

    I’m just getting around to reading this article now, and wow, I think the Universe intervened, because this was EXACTLY what I was feeling last night. I even tried googling phrases to see what others had to say. But my question is this: what about best friend relationships? Simply put: my best friend (he’s gay; I’m a hetero woman) and I have been best friends for over 7 years. In the last 6 months, he seems to be idolizing/worshiping another woman (who is VERY similar to me), and hangs out with her a lot. And Facebook (Lord helps us all) documents all of these events with her; mainly photos of the two of them. He seems SO PROUD of her, and I can’t help but to feel extremely jealous, overlooked, undervalued, etc. I can accept him as he is, but when he does things for her that he hasn’t done for me…..I’m hurt. Very hurt by it. I completely understand everything you’re saying here, and it makes perfect sense, and I will heed your advice (and I have stayed relatively rational on the outside). But bottom line: I am hurt. And when I ask him about it, he blows up. He just won’t talk to me about it.

    Anyway, thank you for the article. If there’s any advice out there, I would certainly take it.

  • http://www.mimaonfire.com/ Michelle

    Always enjoy Dr Amy’s articles! Very insightful. It actually will help me with a difficult relationship I am currently having with a family member. Maybe if I look at us as a ‘team’ as opposed to separate individuals battling it out, it will make our relationship run smoother. Great advice!

  • Amy Johnson

    Good for you, Laura. I totally agree that it’s easy to focus on feelings but shifting that focus to the team helps so much. Congrats on being a newlywed!

  • Amy Johnson

    Your comments makes me SO happy, Kate. Thank you for sharing and I’m so glad you found what you needed here!

  • Amy Johnson

    Thank you, Michelle! I hope it worked for you!

  • Dorothee Ledinegg

    Thank you. Fantastic.

  • http://www.lovemindbodyheart.com lovemindbodyheart

    Lovely post and so true. Powerful to remember – when you me from ‘me’ to ‘we’ – things shift.