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It's finally Super Bowl Sunday! Both hard-working teams hope to carry the trophy home to their city, and they'll do what they can to win the game.

As in any sport, there will be plays and penalties the other team thinks are unfair or just plain wrong. From holding and pass interference to offsides or encroachment, the teams can argue all they want, but a referee makes the final call.

How many times have you disagreed with your spouse and longed for a referee to make the call on who is right and who is wrong? When two people come together in marriage with their own ideas about the rules, it affects everything. It's how bills stack up on the counter and don't get paid, toilets stay dirty and laundry sits in the hamper — because each person assumes it is the other person's job. When things go wrong, penalty flags fly and tempers often flare because both parties believe they are right. After all, that's how it worked in their childhood home.

It's funny how nobody enters into marriage talking about being on opposing teams. In fact, if you ask engaged couples about potential areas of conflict, they typically respond, "We can't think of anything. But if we do encounter something, we are sure we can work through it."

Then it happens. He commits a personal foul when he leaves his socks on the floor and she commits an illegal procedure when she buys something expensive without discussing it first. In moments like these, partners see each other as adversaries instead of teammates.What happens now?

This is when a personal referee could be really helpful, but since that isn't reality, here are some tips for bringing home the big prize for your relationship:

* Even when you feel like an infraction has occurred, remember you are on the same team.

* Whether you are preparing for marriage or already married, using the same playbook can make all the difference. People often enter relationships with separate playbooks filled with many unspoken expectations and rules. When you have no idea what the rules are, penalty flags are thrown, but you have no clue what you did wrong. Topics that usually create issues in marriage include: How you think about money. Whether or not to have children. How to engage the in-laws. Career goals, sex, friendships and how to care for and build each other up — both individually and as a team.

* A winning team never forgets that learning and perfecting the fundamentals makes all the difference. In healthy relationships, the basics include healthy communication, effective conflict management and clear expectations from each person.

* Finally, a team whose eyes are set on winning will stop at nothing when it comes to preparing for the win. They don't hesitate to ask for help with weak areas because their goal is to take home the trophy. A winning marriage is no different.

Teams that make it to the Super Bowl don't get there by chance. They spend hours learning the plays, and they experience wins and painful losses together. The teams face challenges with other players, deal with personal injuries and more. Ultimately, they always remember they are on the same team and they have a shared vision to make it into the end zone. That's also the key to having a winning marriage.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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