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How to Work Together as a Team

Feeling like the other person has your back is key to feeling safe and close.

Key points

  • Teamwork is essential for a strong relationship, but its easy to feel like the other person is the problem.
  • The core of teamwork is feeling that the other person has your back, and that you tackle problems together.
  • Teamwork requires giving up some control, not having to be right, and creating win-win compromises.
Source: PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay
Source: PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

You undoubtedly have heard or read this many times: In a relationship, you need to work together as a team, as partners, as parents. But what does that mean? Here are some suggestions:

We've got each other’s back

This is the core of teamwork: Simply said, it’s “I want to help you be happy and live the life you want to live. And if you are struggling in any way, I want you to know that I am there to support and help you and am always reliable. And you will do the same for me.”

The problem is our joint focus

Teamwork recognizes that it’s you and me against the problem—navigating jobs or money, kids, parents, time pressures, emotional pressures, or financial pressures. Though we each have our own strengths and weaknesses, in the end, we work together equally to solve the problems that life throws at us.

We’re willing to negotiate and compromise

We won’t always agree about what’s important, the best strategy, or even about whose needs must come first. But because we have each other’s backs and want to focus on problems together, we can think outside the box, negotiate, and compromise. Compromise is not giving in, or forever diluting our goals and dreams, but looking for win-win agreements. We realize that if a person wants to have total control or always be right, they need to live alone.

Perhaps all is easier said than done, but usually what gets in the way of this teamwork is their opposites:

Everyone for themselves

You do you, I do me. I’m in charge of me; you’re in charge of you. The opposite of teamwork is existing in silos, parallel lives, each standing on their own two feet, no leaning allowed. Is there some connection? Sure—roommates with benefits, rallying around children or common work interests. But each person can feel lonely.

The other person is the problem

Instead of working together against a common problem, the problem (and sometimes the enemy) can become the other guy. In that case, there’s blame and accusations. The goal is no longer to tackle the problem together but to find out whose fault it is, get the other to admit it, and change to fix it. Power struggles and caustic arguments are a result.

One person is always in charge

When there is no negotiation or compromise, there’s an unbalanced relationship. One person is in charge, and the other accommodates. Or, one person is doing all the heavy lifting, and the other is slacking and passive. The accommodating person either periodically feels resentful over not having a voice and explodes, or eventually gets up and leaves. The heavy-lifting person gets tired of being the martyr and periodically explodes with resentment, collapses from burnout, or leaves.

Becoming a team

To overcome these obstacles to teamwork, change your attitude. The starting point is going to be with you. You need to change the old patterns and the emotional climate. It is time to step up and do what you haven’t been doing—control your temper, focus on solving problems rather than finding fault, pull back on the heavy lifting, be assertive, and be willing to compromise. Most importantly, see your partner as a partner, not someone above or below you. Lean into the notion that you are not alone and there is someone who can care and support you.

Be clear about what you need, and state your vision

You may need lifestyle changes—more free time, less responsibility. Or, you may need more safety and trust—to feel closer, to not have to walk on eggshells, and to have the connection you truly desire. Next, talk about your vision. How would you ideally like your relationship to look in the every day, over the longer haul, in terms of dreams and goals?

Realize you may lose some control

If you’ve been living a siloed life or have been in charge, transforming your partner into a teammate will mean losing some of the control you’ve been used to. While tackling problems together or compromising, you’ll have to make space for their ideas and priorities. It’s part of the cost of having a teammate. But it's worth it.

Allow for your individual styles

This is about matching strengths and weaknesses, not confusing means and ends. Experiment with letting go, trusting, and building on your partner’s strengths while advocating for yourself. Rather than falling into arguments about how to solve a problem, learn to focus first on the end, the goal you’re both trying to reach. Negotiate about the means as long as you both are clear about the goal.

They talk in sports about how teams made up of superstars with strong egos have to work hard to feel like and act like a team. It’s not easy if you grew up with different models, learned to distrust others, or managed life by having control. What may work in your larger life often doesn’t in intimate relationships; maintaining your ego is no longer the goal.

Ready to become a team?


Taibbi, R. (2017). Doing couple therapy, 2nd ed. New York: Guilford.

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