Cue eye-rolls and unenthusiastic groans. At least that’s how television parodies corporate team-building exercises, airing failed "trust falls" and distasteful "diversity days."

Admittedly, these parodies can be side-splittingly funny, but the value of team building in the business world, and in your marriage, lasts long after the laughs fade. Rest assured, your participation – whether as a boisterous or blushing player – in these seemingly cheesy games reaps benefits for you and your team that are far better than cheddar!

Research agrees that corporate culture thrives as coworkers learn to communicate, affirm strengths, motivate performance and collaborate toward a common goal. In fact, the American Psychological Association found that of employees who feel valued in their workplace, 91 per cent report being motivated to do their best work for the employer!

Now, go beyond corporate to couple.

If team-building techniques can unite a group of semi-strangers, couldn’t similar exercises bond two lovers?

Keep reading to learn how you and your spouse can cultivate your unique couple culture as you hone strengths and overcome obstacles – one game at a time!

The yokes on you (and your spouse)

You best not call your wife a cow, but picture a yoke propped on the shoulders of two oxen as a symbol of your marriage.

In 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, Christians are warned to share a yoke only with other believers. Paul knew that a healthy partnership is grounded in comparable spiritual maturity and shared faith foundations.

A yoke is just a portion of the picture, though. It’s merely a harness that connects the team to a weight – be it a plough or a furnace on the fritz – which they must carry toward an objective. Even if the yoke fits, two same-sized oxen and two Christian spouses will fail to move or collapse under the burden unless both partners heave in unison, as a team.

Seven team-building activities

Are you ready to hoist the yoke with your spouse? With these seven principles penned by acclaimed psychologist and marriage expert John Gottman, and a relevant team-building game to support each tip, you can play your way to a winning marriage!

1. Enhance your love map: A street map aids road navigation; a love map helps you navigate your spouse. After all, the more familiar you are with your spouse’s personality, concerns, history and values, the better equipped you are to tackle life’s ups and downs as a team. Nowadays, a GPS automates road directions by replacing map reading with mindlessly executing step-by-step commands fed to you by a woman with a British accent. For better or for worse, there’s no such thing as a marriage GPS. You’ll need to put effort into reading your spouse!

Two truths and a lie – No, lying isn’t healthy for your marriage. But this fun and insightful game is! Think of two truths about yourself and make up one falsehood. Share these with your spouse and see if he or she can pinpoint the lie. You’ll be surprised at how much you have left to learn about your spouse.

2. Nurture fondness and admiration: Your spouse has a lot of admirable qualities. Your prerogative is to point them out! To grow fondness and nurture strengths, sincerely compliment anything and everything you can about your husband or wife.

Name game – For each letter of your spouse’s name, choose a complimentary adjective to describe them. Go for gold by doing this for their entire name – first, middle and last! Pay particular attention to highlighting and fostering strengths that directly contribute to the health of your relationship.

3. Turn towards your spouse: Imagine a dot-to-dot puzzle. With each line drawn, the scattered dots transform into a meaningful image. In the same way, drawing small lines of connection with your spouse gradually reveals a clearer and deeper understanding of him or her. Sound doable? Unfortunately, the busyness of life tends to make ignoring your spouse’s bids for attention all too easy.

High-low – Businesses hold regular team meetings, which Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, authors of The Good Fight, suggest is a means of keeping "workers happy, productive, and in the loop." Transforming corporate success to couple satisfaction, the Parrotts recommend having daily check-ins to share the highs and lows of your day with your husband or wife. Focus on attentive, active and empathetic listening as your spouse shares their peaks and pits.

4. Let your partner influence you: Do you trust your wife? Are you trustworthy? Trust allows for shared power in a relationship, rather than a marital dictatorship. Through mutual influence and validation for each other’s ideas, you and your spouse can cultivate a safe marriage in which you can be open without fear of judgment, dismissal or betrayal.

Blind mines – Take turns blindfolding and guiding each other through an obstacle course in your living room. Scatter random objects over the floor and use verbal cues to help your spouse dodge the mines. Practice listening to and relying on your spouse’s influence to gradually grow more comfortable sharing power in life’s larger decisions.

5. Solve your solvable problems: According to Gottman, the crux of this principle is collaboration to overcome situational dilemmas. Issues could include a begrudging division of labour or ignored sexual preferences. In these circumstances, heed Ephesians 4:3 to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." That means accepting quirks, forgiving shortfalls and respectfully collaborating on practical solutions.

Tied-up challenge – Tie behind your back or otherwise immobilise your right arm and your spouse’s left arm, or vice versa. Between the two of you, you’ll have two hands free with which you’ll attempt to complete a task. You could try making a sandwich, folding a paper airplane or tying a shoe. You and your spouse are "one flesh" (Ephesians 5:31), work like it!

6. Overcome gridlock: Do you become increasingly inflexible in your side of a conflict and refuse to listen to his position? Rather than sharing your hopes, dreams and aspirations with your spouse, perhaps you squelch them for lack of affirmation. When humour and affection decrease, stonewalling, criticism, contempt and defensiveness increase. Gottman calls this "gridlock."

Yearly strategy – The Lord says in Habakkuk 2:2, "Write the vision; make it plain." Louis Upkins Jr., author of Treat Me Like a Customer: Using Lessons from Work to Succeed in Life, cites this verse as inspiration to write out a strategic plan with his wife each year. To start your own strategising, brainstorm and write down your marriage mission statement. This could be as general as committing to bring joy to your family, friends and community. Then work together on specific strategies, outlining what you will or will not do to accomplish your goal. As you unearth and share your dreams and aspirations, your path out of gridlock will gradually begin to appear.

7. Create shared meaning: This is couple culture at its finest – and most fun! Note the nuances in your marriage. Your favourite make-out film, best-kept Saturday breakfast routine and habit of holding hands during prayer are just a few examples. Valuing these unique experiences forms a positive bond between you and your spouse.

Pictionary or charades – Think of words or situations that’ll help you and your spouse recall positive memories. For example, draw the place where you got engaged, act out your first kiss or mime an inside joke. As you draw or act these memories, rejoice in the symbols, rituals and unifying meanings that make your marriage special.

Of course, effective team building needs to be a regularly occurring, integral part of married life. So whether you’re aiming to conquer a New Year resolution or reignite the flame of yesteryear, commit today, tomorrow and every day to teamwork!

© 2014 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Cara Plett

Cara Plett is an in-house writer for Focus on the Family Canada

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