Imagine marriage as a two-player game.
Each morning, you wake up and accumulate points by doing all the things you do: going to work, buying groceries, or helping out your kid with that impossible algebra problem.
The goal? To win the game, together.
But that begs an essential question, a question that most couples never ask: “What's the game that we're trying to win together?"
It's an essential question because, let’s face it, a happy marriage could arise from striving to win at an almost infinite number of possible games.
You could play the wealth game, striving to pay off your house, buy a couple fancy cars, or set yourselves up for long-term financial stability.
You could play the adventure game, traveling the world with your family.
You could play the spiritual exploration game, using your time together to plumb the depths of mystical experience.
Or you could play the fame game, striving to build a platform as a performer, writer, actor, or influencer.
To win together, you must know which of these games you're playing. Not knowing, after all, is a recipe for confusion and conflict.
Being famous might make it hard to experience new adventures. Working the long hours and weekends to generate wealth might interfere with your ability to explore the depths of spiritual experience.
Put simply, if you don't know which of these games you're playing, you don't know how to invest your time and energy so that you win together.
So how can you begin answering this essential question? Here are a few tips.
This first step is similar to the "Values Practice" in The 80/80 Marriage. During a date night, on a long walk together, or in some other relaxed moment, have a conversation about this question: “What are the games we want to win together?"
Some possibilities include: the four mentioned above (wealth, adventure, spiritual exploration, or fame) as well as quality time with family, fitness, building community, philanthropy, impact, creative expression, or self-improvement.
To do this, we recommend starting separately. On separate sheets of paper, write down the 1-3 primary games you want to win together and list them from most to least important.
Then, have a conversation about your lists. Where are they similar? Where are they different? What did you learn about your partner from hearing their list?
If you're like most couples, you'll find some differences in the games you listed or the ordering of these games. At first, this might seem like a problem. But see what happens when you see it as an opportunity.
These differences, for instance, might be a sign that the best way to win together is by dividing your roles. If one of you loves to work and makes money easily, that partner should be captain of the finances game. If one of you loves to plan travel for the family, that person should be head of the adventure game.
For many of these life games, it's useful to define what it means to win. If your game is to carve out more time for volunteering, how much time would you need to set aside to consider it a win? If your game is generating wealth, how much money do you need to win? If your game is adventure, how many different countries do you need to visit each year to win?
As venture investor Nadal Rivikant observes, by defining a win in advance, you insulate yourself from a common trap: continually moving the goalpost of success further and further out each time you come closer to winning the game, so you never experience what it's like to win together.