When Kay met Brian, she was in the middle of an
intensive management training course.
âHe was so supportive,â she recalls. âI was so exhausted on our first date, I
probably had no business even going out. But it was wonderful. He took me out
for âcomfort food,â showed a lot of interest in the course, and said good
night early so I could get some rest.â
Not surprisingly, Kay started thinking of Brian as a keeper right away. He
made her feel exactly the way she wanted to feel with a partner.
Unfortunately, that supportive climate doesnât always survive years of married
life. When I counsel married couples, the partners often feel the other one
makes their load heavier, not lighter. They become competitors instead of
cheerleaders. How does this transformation occur? How does their attitude
change from âHow can I support you?â to âWhat have you done for me lately?â
Sometimes, itâs as simple as just taking on too much. So many couples I see
for pre-marital counseling plan to have children, renovate a house, pursue
demanding careers, start a business, and on and on. At some point, usually
when the children come, it all becomes too much. Each person is just too
depleted to give much support to the other.
Sometimes itâs because of the coupleâs goal orientation. When people get
married, somewhere in their mind they check âRelationshipâ off of their list
of goals. Without realizing it, they say to themselves, âOK, thatâs done, time
to go on to the next goal.â They feel the lure of the next hunt. We forget our
relationships need the same focused attention after marriage that they needed
But most of all, I believe people just donât appreciate the value of being a
cheerleader. And they donât understand how rewarding their relationship can be
if they commit to creating a cheerleader culture together.
Imagine you have a demanding day ahead of you. Maybe youâre giving a big
presentation. Maybe youâre meeting with a teacher who doesnât understand the
needs of your child. Maybe youâre running a marathon. Whatever the challenge
ahead, imagine that your partner sends you off with words of encouragement.
And you know that when you come home, heâll want to hear every detail. And be
ready with advice if-and only if-you want it.
Now imagine that your partner doesnât really have a picture of your day. He
knows youâve got some kind of meeting, but he doesnât know what part you play
in it. He doesnât know that youâve spent nine hours this past week getting
ready for it. That there were a couple of nights when you lost sleep over it.
And when you come home, he doesnât remember to ask about it.
Do you think youâll perform better in the first scenario? Of course you will.
And if things donât go your way, youâll weather whatever disappointment comes
your way better, too.
It sounds like Iâm stating the obvious, doesnât it? It is pretty obvious when
you stop and think it through. But in the pace of every day life, the obvious
can get lost. In fact, if you stopped ten people on the street and asked them
exactly what their husbands and wives were doing today, I doubt if more than
two or three could answer you in any kind of detail. Many people have whole
worlds that their partners donât see into.
When you donât really know what your partner is doing, itâs easy to think of
their routine just in terms of how it affects you concretely. Will she be home
at 6:00? Will he have time to stop for groceries? Will we have the weekend
All these questions are important, donât get me wrong. Itâs important to come
home! Down time together is just as important as pursuing goals, and I donât
intend for cheerleading to be an invitation to workaholism. But if youâre only
thinking about your partnerâs day in terms of mechanics, youâre losing a great
opportunity to really feel part of each otherâs lives, successes, and
So, how can you become cheerleaders and not competitors?
First, listen to each otherâreally listen. Put yourself in your partnerâs
place. Ask yourself, What would I be thinking if I were in their shoes? What
would I want? What would I worry about?
Sometimes listening is inconvenient. One Saturday morning, Evelynâs husband
started processing the pros and cons of a promotion he was being offered.
Evelyn felt herself becoming nervous. They had decided that this weekend,
without fail, they were going to finish building that planting bed in their
front yard. Evelyn was seeing her plan of a productive morning slip away. But
she knew this was one of those cheerleader moments. A moment when her husband
felt ready to talk and really needed her to listen.
Next, listen âbetween the linesâ to what your partner needs from you. Is she
feeling insecure and in need of reassurance? Does she need some kind of
concrete help? Sheila was the one who did the grocery shopping, but when she
had a big interview coming up, her husband Tom offered to take care of it that
week. She didnât have to ask himâhe saw the need and offered.
Ever so often youâll slip into the habit of assuming you know whatâs going on
in your partnerâs life without asking. Periodically, make a conscious effort
to get updated. Look at your partner as if youâve just met and ask him some
basic questions. The answers may surprise you.
Ten years from now, will you have that wonderful, secure feeling of knowing
your partner is always in your corner? And that thereâs no doubt in your
partnerâs mind that youâre his greatest ally? Will you be cheerleaders or
competitors? It all depends on the commitment you make, the time youâre
willing to put in, and the attention youâre willing to give, starting today.
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