Teamwork makes the dream work, or so the saying goes. And, actually, according to several studies, it’s true — assuming the dream is to be part of a healthy, productive relationship. At work, for example, 91 percent of employees confirmed that feeling valued as part of a team caused them to do their daily best. In the NBA, teammates who engage in outward displays of trust and cooperation (high-fives, ass-pats, helping each other up, etc.) have a higher win percentage than those who don’t. And in marriage, couples who start their relationship working as a team tend to cross the finish line together much more frequently than those who just passively mosey along.
Human beings are social by nature, so our need to be part of a team goes back to the days of cuddling with that special neanderthal under a mammoth pelt, next to a roaring cave fire. That’s why, when our home team —our relationship — is struggling, we have trouble communicating, cooperating, and scoring. The problem, however, is that it’s easy to think you’re acting as a team when you’re actually not. So what does good teamwork look like? We spoke to some relationship experts about what it means to be part of a good relationship team, and what to look for if you think you and your partner could use a bit of coaching. Here are their characteristics of a winning franchise.
You Are Fluent in the Language of Compromise.
According to Robyn D’Angelo, licensed marriage & family therapist, and the founder of The Happy Couple Expert private practice in Orange County, CA, compromise is a matter of winning and losing for both of you. “Even if a compromise is 99 percent in her favor,” says D’Angelo, “She knows there’s a part of you that’s not happy. As a team, your job as loving, mature adults is to experience those ‘micro-disappointments’ and move through them. It’s like walking; it takes balance.” This is to say that, when you lift up one foot to take a step, you engage the rest of your body to support your body. A good teammate, then, is able to give up something he wants while looking for other areas that can be engaged. “In a team, compromise is about ‘What I am willing to accept?’, and ‘What I’m not willing to accept?’,” says D’Angelo. A good team will be clear, flexible, and willing to manage emotions when something has to be given up.”
You Don’t Allow Negative Self Talk
“Being a good teammate means you generally like, appreciate and value what your team members bring to the game,” says D’Angelo. “If you find your thoughts focused on how much your partner nags, or how nothing you do is ever good enough, your partner is going to sense that, and is going to start feeling inwardly negative.” A good teammate, then, isn’t afraid to verbalize what he or she likes, loves, or cherishes about their partner, which everyone loves hearing. According to Juan Santos, lead counselor and owner of Santos Counseling, PLLC, negative self-talk can distract your relationship from its ultimate goal of happiness and fulfillment. “Focus on that mutual goal,” Santos advises. “And hold each other accountable when you notice negativity. A good team will be able to do this together, and constructively.”
You Notice Each Other’s Moods and Energies
“I used to watch the X-Men cartoon a lot when I was a kid,” recalls Santos. “I loved how Professor X. could read minds. But, that’s the opposite of what you want to try and do.” A good teammate, then, doesn’t assume he or she knows what the other person is thinking while trying to solve the problem. Instead, per Santas, to help the team grow, it’s more important to communicate and be on the same page before examining a solution. “Women get stamped with this label of wanting men to be mind readers,” says D’Angelo. “Spoiler alert: We don’t want you to read our minds, we want you to know us. And knowing us means noticing us.” Noticing a new haircut or outfit is great but, per D’Angelo, a good teammate notices shifts in our moods or our energies and responds lovingly. “It’s not your job to take away her pain or have all the answers but, as a team, you should be curious about one another to show how well you know each other.”
You Let Little Things Go
“You can’t grab something with a closed fist,” says D’Angelo. “So, receiving things like forgiveness, kindness, or apologies is impossible if you’re holding on too tightly to a negative emotion.” Being angry and frustrated about ‘little things’ is normal — and healthy! — but, as a good teammate, you know when to let them go. “It’s a cycle of connection, then disconnection, then reconnection. If a disagreement occurs, a good team tries to move toward repair as soon as possible,” says D’Angelo.
You Respect Each Other’s Time
“Partners in healthy relationships respect communicating the importance of each other’s time,” says Santos. “They explore what they like to do as a couple, and individually, to grow the relationship, as well as themselves,” he adds. “Men are more likely to do nice things for people who show them massive amounts of respect. That’s how male brains are wired,” explains D’Angelo. “In a relationship, it’s important to know that her brain is a little bit different. When it comes to planning and scheduling — two activities that actually relax the female brain — you both want to feel important. Including each other in the decision-making process shows that you care about each other’s schedules and interests.”
You Energize and Inspire One Another
“I never understood why all the men in my life gushed about Tom Brady,” admits D’Angelo. “And then I watched them watch him play. He trusts his teammates, and his teammates trust him. That’s why he’s so good, and so in his element on the field. You might not throw TDs like Tom Brady, but you definitely have that ‘thing’ that lights you up – and so does she. When you see each other, in your elements, you’ll become impressed, inspired and excited, which will help strengthen your team.” Santos adds that simple gestures can go a long way to energize your team. “Healthy couples know the importance of that ‘unspoken language’. Small things like eye contact or small talk are often overlooked, but can really help boost someone’s mood.”
You Don’t Keep Score
“Opponents keep score to track who’s winning and losing,” says D’Angelo. “You want to win, or point out how hard your opponent is losing. That’s the opposite of creating connection, motivation to collaborate, or any sort of partnership, which is what good teams do High Five each other – or pat each other on the ass – when either of you win. That’s a team I’d root for.” For the sake of a healthy relationship, Santos also says to avoid keeping score at all costs. “This usually happens early in the relationship, and it’s not healthy. If you find yourself in this type of situation with someone you care about, work on creating a value that opposes it.” Like, you know, teamwork.