The worst part about my husband forcing me to watch football with him is that he wants me to actually care about the game, which is once again dominating our household.
So I asked him to explain the sport to me in terms with which I’m more familiar: How might the rules of football apply to our relationship? After all, who wouldn’t want to watch a divisional playoff between the New York Wives and the New England Husbands?
“Just like a relationship, the first thing you have to understand is that football is a complex, multifaceted, long-form event so it’s impossible to understand all at once,” Pat began. He went on to quote Vince Lombardi (“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”), compared himself to Joe Namath (“At the beginning of one of our fights, I’m all swagger, white cleats, guaranteeing victory for the underdog, and at the end of it, I’ve got busted-up knees and I’m throwing interceptions for the Rams”), and explained how he runs a precise offense, while I am reckless and punishing, steamrolling the ball straight into the line every play.
Then he got down to the basics.
No. 1: In football, the offense and defense switch roles throughout the game. During an argument, a couple takes turns making their points until they’re sick of each other’s voice.
“See, that’s where I bet we could probably learn from football,” I said. “I wouldn’t mind having a time limit on arguments. Four rounds, 15 minutes each, that sounds like heaven.”
Plus, there are time-outs in football, which every couple could probably use more of to cool off. “There’s a limit on time-outs, though,” my husband pointed out. “You get three per half. Of course, there are challenges if you think something was called incorrectly on the field. That would be a game changer for us.”
I suggested getting one of those in-home video monitoring systems. He took it down a notch and suggested we turn on the voice recorder on our phones so we could go back and refer to what we’re talking about — and to encourage accountability.
“Maybe,” I said. “We also do kind of have a referee already. That’s what a marriage counselor is for.”
No. 2: In football, certain games count more than others. Same for couples.
Just as an exhibition game doesn’t count toward statistics or season standings, our earliest spats allowed us to explore our boundaries, serving as a warm-up for the long glorious season of arguing at least once a week.
Our recurring fights are more like divisional games. These games are more important, both symbolically and practically. The terrain feels perversely familiar. “The divisional games happen six times a season,” he said. “Just like our divisional arguments.”
More important: Just like in those old familiar matchups, we both have to remember to shake hands (or kiss and make up) at the end, because sometimes it’s our greatest rivalries that make us better.
No. 3: Winning at football requires being good at multiple skills. So does winning an argument.
“Let’s take a typical argument,” he said. “You’re yelling at me; you’re on offense. I’m on defense. Special teams is when I pretend to agree with you even when I don’t, a.k.a. a punt. I have too long of a distance to gain, so I punt the ball to the opposing team while trying to maintain the best field position.”
“And if I sound too sarcastic when I do it, and you don’t accept, that’s a blocked punt.”
No. 4: Before every game, a coin toss determines which team will have the ball to start the game. Before every relationship fight, whoever’s the most unhinged begins arguing the loudest.
“I suppose football is more organized and dispassionate,” I observed.
“Listen,” he said, “I’m all for you pulling a coin toss the next time you start screaming at me because I cancel on a wedding reception I never wanted to go to in the first place.”
I felt immediately guilty.
I suppose this is what you might call a “touché-down.”
No. 5: Penalties in football are not dissimilar to penalties in relationship spats.
My husband enjoyed this part of the metaphor the most, I think. “Unnecessary roughness” he said, would be like me calling him an “asshole.” “Unsportsmanlike conduct”? That would be like me walking out and slamming the door when he’s mid-sentence.
And like in a game, penalties must be served — or at least acknowledged. Look at it as an opportunity to take one of those time-outs so you can remember the love of the game, or in this case, your relationship.
“Name calling, that would be a personal foul,” he said. “That’s 15 yards and an automatic first down.”
“Oh man,” I said. “I don’t even want to think about how many yards I’ve yielded.”
No. 6: It’s all about scoring.
The relationship equivalent of a touchdown, we decided, would be akin to someone having irrefutable proof that they were right. For instance: “You left the milk out: Here’s a notarized photo of the milk, here are two witnesses who can attest to the milk’s whereabouts, and here’s a character witness to testify to the milk’s expiration date.”
This led my husband to point out what might be the biggest flaw in my entire theory.
“You know,” he said. “Why do we have to see each other as being on opposing teams? Besides, I would never call my team the New England Husbands. What’s their mascot? Just a dickless guy shopping for roses?”
Good point. Which leads me to …
No. 7: Like football, a relationship is all about teamwork.
The offensive linemen are the equivalent of pawns in a game of chess, my husband explained. They are seldom well-known except among rabid fans, yet they are often the hardest-working players.
“You’re telling me that you think of yourself as the lineman on our team?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “in the way of not being appreciated sometimes, yeah.”
“So do you want me to get you a championship ring or something?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “But consider the story of Joe Montana. After he won MVP in 1990, he bought each of his offensive linemen a Rolex worth over $10,000 to show them he couldn’t have done it without them.”
I’m touched by his desire for recognition, which I forget all too often.
“You know what?” I said, “I am very grateful for you holding the line for me.”
“See, that’s all anyone ever wants to hear,” he said. “That’s what can turn a game.”