Calling Audibles: Adjusting your Marriage Strategies


One strategic adjustment could salvage a losing situation.

Approaching a crucial third down, Peyton Manning notices a weakness in the defense’s position, sprints up to his line, and shouts “O-maha, oma-HA!”

With an NBA championship on the line, Phil Jackson calls a timeout, leans towards his star, and asks, “Michael, who’s open?”

In the middle of an argument with your spouse, you stop mid-sentence, take a deep breath, and push out the words, “I’m sorry. I don’t want to have this same fight over and over. Let’s try something different.”

Most of us may have never sketched out the X’s and O’s on a whiteboard while sweaty athletes scrutinized our work, but each of us carries a playbook of marriage strategies. We use certain tactics to achieve our goals and solve problems: bringing home flowers as an apology for a fight; hiding the remote in our secret spot; carving out a weekly date night. We have go-to tactics to make our spouse smile, discipline our children, and avoid the monthly budget conversation.

Sometimes, though, our strategies don’t work. What then?

Marriage strategies that work

In Exodus 18, Moses had a strategy for dealing with the Israelites: He judged all their problems. (I’d watch that daytime talk show!) When his father-in-law, Jethro, tried to book some time in Moses’ calendar, he was shocked at the unsustainable pace. So Jethro called an audible (for non-sports fans, that’s a last-second change in the play).

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone …  look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.  And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. (Verses 17-22)

Moses, revealing his humility, agreed. He switched things up, delegated responsibility, and freed up his schedule.

Ready to call an audible yourself? Consider these five tactics to keep your marriage strategies fresh and effective.

1. Embrace the risk

The Philly Special. The Flying V. The Barking Dog Inbound. These now-famous adjustments catapulted their respective teams to greater success. Like all memorable trick plays, each carried the risk of failure and ensuing mockery. But when it worked, the result shifted momentum and carried the day.

We want to grow closer to our spouses and love more and better over time, which requires developing and adjusting previously successful marriage strategies. What worked yesterday may not work today. That’s not a reflection of us—it’s a reality for every marriage, every sport, every team. Strategies once deemed risky—pulling the goalie, going for it on fourth down—are now considered common to the sporting world.

As our marriages accumulate responsibilities, family members, and furniture, what worked on the honeymoon might not cut it. As our situations change, adjusting the ways we interact and engage with each other is crucial to thriving. Bold, surprising tactics keep your love life fresh: Go big or go home.

Could you imagine a haughty Moses rejecting Jethro’s advice? What do you know about leading people—have you parted a sea? Moses’ strategy had led the Israelites to success—an adjustment meant acknowledging his faults. It takes humility to change the plans we’ve made, especially when those plans previously led to success.

After all, we might think to ourselves, “I wooed my spouse, didn’t I? Why fix what isn’t broken?” Successful leaders embrace an openness to change, understanding that increasing success depends on shifting strategy. Ironically, humble adjustments pave the path to greater glory.

3. Call a timeout.

Wouldn’t it be nice if marriage fights had a built-in halftime? A ref blows the whistle and each side retreats for a 20-minute rest. Often, the problem with my marriage strategies become obvious after a moment of reflection. We need to provide the space and time needed to adjust.

In the middle of a fight with my wife, she’ll often try and press pause, asking for space. “No way!” I used to retort. “We’re finishing this now!” Chalk up another “L” in my column. After eight years, I’ve finally realized taking a minute to cool down helps me see clearly and adjust my volume strategy.

4. Run the option.

Successful quarterbacks read their options. Each pass play comes designed with multiple receivers running unique routes, and top QBs glance at each to find the open receiver. Imagine a pass play with only one option—it doesn’t stand a chance.

To love our spouses effectively, it’s crucial to create multiple paths to success. If date night falls through because my wife is sick, does that ruin our ability to connect? Resources for creative date nights and deep questions to ask each other abound on the internet. Don’t find yourself flat-footed if a situation changes. Spend time creating different routes to run, ways to pivot in case things don’t go as planned (because they never do anyway).

5. (Don’t) toss out the playbook.

Some of our marriage strategies stand the test of time. During our first year of marriage, my wife’s gall bladder caused her a ton of problems. We affectionately named her “Gabby” and joked about what a pain she was. Nearly a decade later, I can toss a Gabby reference out there and crack my wife up, even as everyone else in the room wrinkles their forehead in confusion.

We have certain ways to love and encourage our spouses that they would hate to see ripped out of the playbook. It’s worth checking in, though, to see if our efforts are making an impact. Questions soliciting feedback can let you know what’s a keeper and what could use a dust-up. Try something simple, like: “I was thinking of trying something new to connect this month, how does that sound?” Or “Are you satisfied with the way we handle conflict?”

Adjusting your marriage strategies

If you feel your marriage strategies could use an adjustment, here’s a simple acronym to help you get started:

ADJUST:

  • Ask if the current “play” is working. “Would you like me to shake things up a bit?”
  • Discover what else may be out there. Finally,
  • JUST try something new! What could go wrong?!

It might seem like cracking the lid on Pandora’s Box. Unlike the myth, though, there’s value hidden within—more intimacy, more joy. Being brave and humble enough to adjust our marriage strategies could make us first-ballot Hall of Famers in the eyes of our spouses. In the words of Peyton Manning, “Oma-HA!”


Copyright © 2021 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Andy Allan provides care and logistical support for Cru missionaries serving abroad and writes for FamilyLife and other Christian ministries. He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Sara, and two kids, Ellie and Bodie. You’ll find him biking Lincoln’s trails or watching the latest Fast and Furious movie. Connect with him at andrew.allan@cru.org or on Twitter at @KazBullet.



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