Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Benefits of Friendship for Healthy NFL Marriages

I was recently asked to write for the NFL Women's Resource Initiative.  This article will be my first monthly piece and I will also be answering write-in questions on the website about love and relationships.  Because of the audience of the NFL's website, this piece is  more NFL-centric than most of my blog entries.  I'll be posting each of them on this site for my readers before they go live on the NFL's site.  I would love to hear your feedback.

When my husband, Craig, was drafted to play for the Seattle Seahawks in 2004, we left our homes across the country to make a new home, together, on the West Coast.  We didn’t know anyone in Seattle and really, we were still learning to love each other.

While Craig practiced each day, I felt isolated alone, thousands of miles away from my close friends and family.

Despite my need for friends, I didn’t think I would fit in with other NFL wives.   I didn’t know what the NFL wives might be wearing, but I was pretty sure that their outfits wouldn’t look anything like the jeans and t-shirts that lined my closet.  I felt disgusted at myself for not paying more attention to fashion so that I’d be prepared for fitting in with fashionable women.  

I spent months alone in our apartment, sitting on our rented couch, feeling sorry for myself.  I began to resent Craig for taking me across the country far from the dreams of my own that I sacrificed for him.

Meanwhile, Craig struggled to focus on football while he was worried about me and our relationship at home.

I knew that things had to change, and I knew that I would have to change them.  He needed me to support him and he needed to know that I was happy at home.  Slowly, I started working up the courage to attend events.  First, only with Craig. Then, I started sitting with other players’ wives at games.  Finally, I attended women only events and we met at each other’s homes to watch away games.

My experience in Seattle wasn’t unique.  Years later, other NFL wives confided that it took them years before they felt like a part of the team.  Despite the name brands in their closets, many of them did not feel like they could measure up to the more seasoned multi-millionaires whose husbands they had only seen on TV.

As wives of professional athletes, we spend so much time in the shadows of our husbands that sometimes we forget to look out for others who are lost in their own darkness.  In the NFL, the average career lasts less than 3.5 years and most players will play for several teams within that time frame.  We don’t have the luxury of a couple of years to wait to get to know our fellow sports wives. Time is of the essence!

I realized that as a veteran NFL wife, it was my job to reach out to other new NFL wives sooner.  I needed to be persistent in my effort to include them in day-to-day living, to teach them how to thrive away from their families in the sorority of professional sports wives.  

As I got to know other Seahawks wives, we formed a very special friendship.  We attended games together, believed in the team, cheered for our husbands, and experienced being a part of victories and championships.  We laughed and cried together, shared Bible studies, threw baby showers, and even spent holidays together.   

Thousands of miles away from our friends and families, who else might understand the times that we were scared to be alone and longed for a husband who was home more, whose body didn’t hurt, who could participate in non-football activities with us?  There were times that we wanted to be seen by the outside world as more than NFL wives, or to be seen at all.

Now, Craig is retired from the NFL.  I have no doubt that our marriage is stronger because of the sisterhood of friendships that I shared with the wives of his teammates.  

Veteran NFL Wives, this is my call to you:  Find out if each player on your team has a wife, fiancĂ©, or a serious girlfriend.  Go out of your way to spend time with them.  Show them your team’s city.  Sit with them at games.  Invite them over for dinner.  Get to know their stories -- and tell them yours.  Let them know that the sorority of NFL wives has nothing to do with the clothes they’re wearing or the style of their hair. 

The friendships will inevitably make you happier and help you to be your best in your marriage.  Knowing that you’re happy will help your husband focus on being his best for the team.

When we got the call that Craig’s NFL career was over in 2011, we were devastated.  Despite seven seasons of great memories, the transition was hard.  While I tried to support him, I leaned on fellow NFL wives to support me.  I mourned for the friendships, the opportunities, and the identity that comes with being a part of a team and a part of the league. 

The end of our husbands’ football careers comes suddenly for most of us, without warning, and inevitably through no fault of our own. Neither a friend from home nor the general public feels sorry for you when your husband loses his job after years spent in the public eye with an NFL salary.  Only friends from the league understand that the profound loss goes deeper than the money.  

 Your husband will need you to be strong for him.  The NFL wives that you reached out to as they transitioned into the league will be your support system as you transition out.  The thousands of memorable moments that you experienced together as NFL wives will bond you in a sisterhood forever.  

I can’t imagine life without the NFL wives who I consider among my closest friends.  I continue to lean on them to help me keep my marriage strong as Craig and I move beyond our NFL identities and fall in love all over again.