Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Four Secrets of Happily Married NFL Couples

Have you ever noticed that we don’t hear much in press about NFL marriages until something goes wrong? Happily married couples don’t make headlines.

When people learn that I study “love in the NFL,” they tend look surprised and ask questions like, Isn’t that an oxymoron? “NO!” I want to shout!  I’ve interviewed hundreds of NFL players and NFL wives about their relationships. I’ve watched NFL couples interact over years of marriage. I’ve been an NFL wife and I count other NFL wives among my closest friends. As a friend and a researcher I’ve talked with hundreds of fellow NFL wives about their most meaningful moments and their deepest secrets.  The truth is, most married NFL couples report being very happily married.

Life in the NFL comes with a unique set of challenges. Fans feel entitled to know everything about every aspect of players’ lives, which makes privacy hard to find. The hyper-visibility of NFL players can leave their wives in their shadows, feeling isolated and alone. Many NFL couples are also far away from their families and loved ones, so they do not have their families to lean on.

In addition to their loneliness, NFL wives live with the reality that even married NFL players can be targets for women who seek to date them for their high salaries and fame. So, what makes happily married NFL couples so happy and what makes NFL marriages last?

Despite the uniqueness of the profession, what makes NFL marriages last is not entirely different than what makes marriage work for the rest of us.  Here are four secrets of happily married couples that can help your NFL marriage stay healthy and strong:
Four Secrets of Happily Married NFL Couples

  1. They Protect the Team
Above all else, happily married NFL couples protect their marriages. Happily married NFL couples see themselves as a team. Just like football coaches teach the importance of protecting the football team, they know that protecting their marriage is important too. They have boundaries for themselves and for their marriages.

Importantly, they set the rules and boundaries for their marriages together. Making rules for someone else to follow makes one a parent, not a partner.

As you sit down to think through and write down the rules and boundaries for your relationship, here are a few questions to consider. There are no right or wrong answers, these should just get the conversation started:
  • How can I make you feel safe in this relationship?
  • How do you feel about me being alone with someone of the opposite sex?
  • Do you feel that you have full access to my social media accounts?
  • Do you have a shared bank account or separate accounts?
  • How do you feel about people hugging or kissing members of the opposite sex?
  • What’s the most appropriate way to react to inappropriate comments from someone of the opposite sex.
  1. They Support Each Other
The most happily married NFL couples serve as the most supportive person each other’s lives. NFL players receive praise from fans and criticism from their coaches. But, more than anything, NFL players report that their wives are the person they most want to think highly of them. They care most about praise from their wives

Remember, when you fell in love? You probably didn’t fall head over heels for someone because they were great at telling you about flaws and shortcomings! Build each other up. It’s great to think your spouse is amazing and to tell them so. The most happily married NFL couples also speak highly of each other to others. We believe what we most often hear. If you hear yourself say that your spouse is great, you’ll start to believe it!

  1. They Invest in Each Other
Time can be hard to find, particularly in the midst of an NFL season. But the most happily married NFL couples know that investing time in each other is important. They date each other, even beyond team functions. They schedule date nights on their calendars and book their babysitters months in advance. Regular date nights keep couples connected and marriages strong.
  1. They Communicate in a Healthy Way
Happily married NFL couples communicate with each other in a healthy way. Disagreements and arguments are bound to happen. But, according to relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, the couples whose marriages are most likely to stand the test of time have an average ratio of 5:1 - five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. For example, a wife ignoring her husband when he asks a question is a negative interaction. Holding hands, patting their back, winking, kissing, or even listening intently to what they are saying all count as positive interactions.

Happily married NFL couples know that communicating with each other in a healthy way can save their marriages. Some couples think that arguing may doom their marriage. That’s not true. It’s okay to argue, it’s how you argue that matters.

*This article was originally published on the NFL Player's Engagement website at

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Moment in Time

As the clock ticked down to "0" at Super Bowl XLIX and confetti shot from the cannons, I couldn't help but notice this player on his knees, alone in the endzone. I do not know him, but I could not help but notice how he separated himself from the crowd. Alone, he breathed in the surreal moment on the biggest stage in America.
Streamers fell, music played, fireworks lit up the sky. It was likely the very moment about which he spent his whole life dreaming. But tomorrow, he will wake up and see that the world is not as different as he thought it might be. Winning the biggest game in the world did not change him like he thought it would... Like he dreamed it could. Imagine, working your whole life for one moment... The moment where you believe that you will have it all. But in the chaos, emptiness. As the sun sets and rises, the moment is but a memory and the race begins again.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Time to Celebrate

This picture was taken after the Seahawks beat the Saints in the unlikely playoff victory (and night of the Beast Quake) in 2011, but I just saw it for the first time last night. I love everything that it communicates: trust, happiness, victory, a Seahawks win, that moment in our lives, love, our focus on marriage/each other while 60,000 fans cheer for the win, celebrating each other's victories... It doesn't have to be on a national stage - if we choose to be married, shouldn't we find a reason to celebrate our spouse every day?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Love Lessons: For Our Daughters

Craig and I have three daughters. It is easy to think of them as our little princesses - but the reality of how quickly they will grow into young ladies is ever present. 

Journey, our eldest, is just five years old.  Last Halloween, she came home from preschool and said, “Daddy, I think that you should choose my classmate, Oliver, for me to marry.”  “Why do you think that you should marry Oliver,” Craig asked her.  “He was a knight for Halloween and I was a princess,” she explained.  “He can protect me like you protect Mommy”, she said. 

I wanted to sit Journey down to explain that choosing a husband is more complex than finding someone who knows how to make himself look like a knight in shining armor.  Likewise, I imagine Oliver’s parents might want to sit him down to explain that choosing a wife is more complex than finding someone who dresses as a princess.  

Journey is always on the lookout for the boy she will marry.  Right now, the idea of marriage blends easily into the magic of a playful childhood.  Right now, she is also okay with her Daddy choosing her husband.  But as she gets older, both of those things are likely to change.  Our time is limited.  Soon, she will grow up and love will become more than magic.  

There are five things about love that I hope to teach her and her sisters before they get married:

  • Infatuation is not love. 

Love is not something that you fall into and it is not something that is beyond your control.  Believing in magic as a child is healthy.  Believing that love can be equated with magic as an adult is unhealthy. The uncontrollable feeling of helplessness (read: magic) in relationships is not true love -- it is a chemical reaction in your brain similar to that of OCD.  It will go away if you give it time (typically about six months).  Until it goes away, you have no way of assessing whether the person with whom you’re infatuated is a good fit for you or a terrible mistake.
  • Love is a choice. 

Love is a verb.  Thus, like just about any other verb, to love is a choice that we make. Everyday, I choose to love your Dad.  I choose to love him because he is the man of my dreams who I thank God for bringing into my life.  But even on days when I feel less loving or when he may seem less lovable, I choose to love him.  I choose to love him because I made a commitment to love him every day of my life.  I choose to love him because I hope that you will watch how I treat him and will someday expect the same commitment to love in your relationships. Everyday, he chooses to love me too -- even when I do not feel like I deserve his love. That is what makes a healthy marriage.  

  • You are complete. He should be too. 

Finding a perfect husband will not complete you, nor can you complete anyone else.  Love will not fix what you feel is broken.  Choose someone who you respect immensely, who respects you indefinitely.  Choose someone who has it together -- not someone who, with your help, might reach their full potential.  There are counselors, friends, pastors, and therapists to help fix people.  You are finding someone to love.  You are choosing someone with whom you will raise your children.  Choose wisely.

  • If your friends don’t like him, RUN.  
If you have chosen your friends well, trust them.  If your Dad and I don’t like him, trust us.  We want the best for you and we are seeing him (and your relationship) with eyes that are not clouded by hormones. Ask us if we see any red flags.  We will not steer you astray.  We may not be able to predict the future, but we will likely be able to tell you if you’re falling for a fool who will not love you well.

  • Marriage should be FUN.  

Your dad is my very best friend -- and nothing is better than being able to spend every day, living life and raising children, with your best friend.  So many relationships are tumultuous.  People call them passionate -- but passion does not have to be dark.  Passion can be laughter and smiles.  Don’t get me wrong, life is hard and it will challenge your relationship -- but your relationship, at its core, should not be difficult.  Choose someone with whom you love to laugh.  It will make life easier and every day a bit more fun.


When Journey asked Craig to choose Oliver for her to marry he asked her, “What if he dresses up as something else next Halloween and he is no longer a knight?”  She paused.  “He might not be able to protect me if he is not a knight,” she answered, worriedly.  “You have time,” Craig assured her.  “I will protect your heart until you find a man who is truly your knight,” he said.  She smiled and hugged him, as content as a five year old looking for love could be.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Faith in Football

Throughout the NFL, zealous fans approach NFL players, hands shaking and voices cracking in excitement to be near them.  For as long as sports have been around, fans have always worshipped athletes.  For me, growing up, it was The Minnesota Twins who were my heroes.  I remember the thrill I felt when my favorite players signed the baseball that I proudly displayed in my room.

When Craig and I started dating, I began to think about sports heroes in a new way.   I knew him as the cute boy from college with only a dream of playing in the NFL.  I knew that I liked him, but I wasn’t sure if I was up for spending time with a man who, if he made it to the NFL, might be worshipped by strangers.  I feared the hero worship might change him.  I worried that the boy I knew in college would grow into a man ruined by money, status, and fame.  

During the time when we dated, and eventually married, I worked on my Ph.D. studying Love in the NFL.  For the seven seasons that he played in the NFL, I studied not only my own relationship, but those of the couples on his team.  What I found in my studies astounded me.  

The money, status, and fame that NFL players experienced, often as young 20-somethings, indeed affected them.  That was no surprise.  They have everything that most people spend a lifetime working toward: bulging bank accounts, huge houses, and fans shouting their name.  But having it all did not lead to entitlement for most of the players who I studied.  Instead, most quickly realized that despite having it all-- there was still something missing.  

When they had it all and knew they needed something more, many NFL players turned to faith.  

My husband and I recently returned from a weekend at The Pro Athletes Outreach Conference (PAO), a Christian conference for professional athletes that began over forty years ago.  There, we spent three days with nearly 200 other NFL couples from around the league, learning about Jesus Christ and how following His teachings affect not only our faith, but everything in our lives from our marriages and parenting to our finances.  

Not every NFL player who turns to faith is a Christian.  There are a number of other religions represented in any given NFL locker room.  But at the PAO Conference, we watched as more than two hundred NFL couples voluntarily got on their knees, praying to God in thanks, in hope, and in repentance.  Cries were heard throughout the large banquet room from players who finally found what it was they felt was missing in their lives.  

There was no amount of money, no amount of fame, not a single Super Bowl ring or city parade that fulfilled their longing for something more.  Reminiscent of how fans chant their names on game days, players and their wives shouted “Jes-us!” in unison, giving all of the glory to Him.

Hands shook and voices cracked as dozens of NFL players waded into the hotel pool to be baptized as Christians.  As sports stars, along with actors and musicians in America, these players have more influence and a farther reach today than anyone ever has - at any point in history.  These are real men, realizing, perhaps for the first time, that they are not heroes to be worshipped.  They are instead on their knees, worshipping the only one who has been able to fill them with a lasting sense of purpose and belonging.  

Football is fleeting.  So is life.  But what these players have found in their faith has the promise to last forever. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII: Bring Home a Healthy Marriage

Super Bowl XLVIII is just around the corner.  It is sure to be a fabulous weekend where stars will walk red carpets past real and imaginary seas of adoring fans.  Cameras will click both to boost the egos of those in attendance and to give the media outlets a chance to score pictures of some of the hottest names in sports and entertainment.  Fans will pour in from all over the world to celebrate their favorite teams competing for the Lombardi trophy.  

Invite-only parties will commence all over the city.  Inside, those on corporate expense accounts mingled with recognizable sports faces and others who were lucky enough to slip in as a part of a star’s entourage.  Last year, my husband and I were in the latter category, his NFC championship ring holding no power to get our names on the invite-only lists to which his more high-profile friends were invited.  

Free-flowing drinks,  tray-passed foods, and fashionable young people filled the rooms.  But even among the the facade of fame, I couldn’t help but notice the number of married people who were there alone.  I also couldn’t help but notice the number of women, married and not, who circled the single-in-attendance athletes like piranhas ready to strike.  Despite my focus on them, it wasn’t just the athletes who attracted attention.  Men and women on corporate expense accounts flirted their way to and from parties, over cocktails in their nicest outfits for co-workers and strangers while their spouses presumably slept at home.  

Sure, some stars are paid to be there and think of it as work.  Others are just business men and women who have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the Super Bowl.  But as the wife of a retired athlete, after seeing what I saw, I couldn’t rest peacefully knowing my husband was in the shark tank, regardless of why he was there.  

I’m sure that Super Bowl parties are not the only corporate events that invite married people to forget their morals and their marriages.  But as a woman who champions monogamy, I implore you to protect your marriage regardless of how exciting a party might seem. Players and teams throughout the NFL work hard year round to put themselves in the position to be successful.  Many of those teams trip up through the long NFL season and end up with a losing record.  Only the teams that have the discipline and determination to succeed make it to the playoffs.  Marriage and relationships are no different.  As a marriage grows in years, so do the stakes.  No team would knowingly put themselves in a position to lose, so why put yourself or your spouse in a position to fail?  Don’t go out alone.  If you can’t be there together, don’t go.  There is nothing that can make the potential loss worth more than the experience.  Super Bowl events are spectacular.  If you have the chance, be there together and live the experience together.   Let the weekend propel your marriage with happy memories that you create together instead of a weekend that may ultimately drive you apart.  

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Establishing Home Field Advantage for the Holidays

It was our first Christmas morning together.  We were in Seattle, where my husband, Craig, was a rookie for the Seattle Seahawks, thousands of miles away from both of our families.  There had always been something magical for me about Christmas mornings.  The smells of bacon sizzling, and cinnamon rolls right out of the oven.  The bows and bright wrapping on the presents peaking out from under the Christmas tree.  So on our first Christmas morning together, he and I awoke early to the memories of our individual Christmas pasts.  As we held hands and headed to the living room of our rented apartment, the reality of our Christmas morning together seemed to hit us at the same time:  No breakfast was cooking.  No stockings were stuffed with surprises nor were presents peaking out from under the tree.  We didn’t even have a tree.  

We resorted to finding a 24-hour diner and ordered something akin to moons-over-my-Christmas-hammy for our first Christmas dinner together.

That day we learned that traditions are created and that there is a lot of work that goes into them.  For the first time we truly appreciated our parents and their hard work that created our holiday traditions.  We found ourselves lonely, despite being together, realizing that it is the tradition of sharing the holidays with loved ones that makes them memorable.

In the days that followed, we shared the story of our surprisingly low-key Christmas with some of Craig’s veteran teammates.  That’s when we began to hear their stories of spending time together with other teammates.  They asked why we didn’t reach out to them and spend the day with them.  Growing up, Christmas was a day when friends didn’t come over to play, it was all about family, so it had never even occurred to me that most of Craig’s Seahawks teammates were also thousands of miles away from their loved ones.

The following year, we spent Christmas with his teammates.  It was so much fun!  For the first time, we escaped our family roles and our individual traditions.  Craig was no longer the little brother and I was no longer the middle child.  We created a new holiday identity together, as a couple, sharing with friends who knew the loneliness of not having their families with them for Christmas.  Together, we created new traditions, games, and holiday meals to share.  

When football was over, we found ourselves once again displaced, trying to make sense of holidays without those who had become the loved ones in our new holiday traditions.  Craig’s teammates and their families scattered throughout the country on other teams or  as NFL retirees back in their home towns.  What became traditional (holidays with teammates) became another holiday memory.  

We now have two young daughters and we are creating new holiday traditions with them.  They are made up of what we learned when we were young and what we discovered during our holidays with teammates.  As parents, we hope our girls always stay close to home for the holidays.  But should they ever find themselves thousands of miles away on a future Christmas morning, we hope that the traditions and memories they grow with will keep them warm that Christmas day.