She Said

How the Rules of Golf Apply to Marriage

If you’re a man who golfs and can’t understand why your wife gives you grief about it, it may be because you’re not playing by the rules. It might help if you think of your relationship like a round of golf—after all, many of the same rules apply.

1. Honesty is everything.

There’s an honor system in golf, and your word is your bond. You never move your ball, shave your score, or remove an impediment. Even people who aren’t completely truthful in other aspects of their lives are typically honest on the course. There’s no place for lying or cheating in either golf or marriage.

2. Manners matter.

In golf, etiquette is an essential part of the game. Golfers are notoriously polite and say please, thank you, excuse me, go ahead, you first, and even I’m sorry. In marriage, the same kind of courtesy goes a long way.

Golfers respect the course and each other. You don’t step in another player’s putting line, and you stay on the cart path. In marriage, you should show your wife the same respect and make sure she knows you value her. On the course, you rake the bunker and replace your divots. Do the same at home: clean up after yourself and you’ll find your wife sees you in a whole new light.

3. Play it where it lies.

In golf, you have to play the ball where it lies. No matter what obstacles impede your swing or the ball path, you work with what you’ve been given.

Your marriage is the same — there are fast greens, water hazards, bunkers, and holes in one. For better or worse, your marriage is your course, and the challenge is to play it as is. Of course, courses change with the weather and the seasons, as will your marriage over time. Your challenge and your commitment are to learn from the course, adjust as necessary, and read the lie.

4. Every round is a blank scorecard.

When you make a tee time, you have a brand-new opportunity to succeed. You start over with a clean slate. The mistakes you made yesterday won’t show up on today’s scorecard, but if you’re smart, you’ll learn from them, and that will show up. You know you will probably never be the best guy in the PGA, but you can be better than you were yesterday. The thing that drives you to come back to the course day after day is the longing to be better.

That’s how you should view marriage. You get a new score card every day. Don’t keep a record of wrongs but do learn from your past mistakes. Did you shank it last week? Make an adjustment this week. You may be a duffer now, but keep striving to be a pro in your own marriage.

5. The goal isn’t to win; it’s to learn.

Golf is one of those skills you’ll likely never master, but you’ll spend a lifetime seeking new information that will help you get better. You read books, watch the pros, take lessons, and buy all the latest equipment because you’re open and willing to learn. Many golfers carry a yardage book in their back pocket to understand nuances of each hole—where to put the ball, what to avoid, what club hit, where to position the ball.

Your marriage deserves the same devotion. It may never be perfect, but if you put in the same effort to understanding your wife and your relationship as you do learning about golf, you’ll be amazed at how much richer, stronger, and more intimate it will be.

6. Practice your short game.

Too many golfers spend way too much time on their long game, because it’s fun and it’s flashy. There’s an old saying in golf: Drive for show, putt for dough. But those who neglect their putting practice never get better. If you focus on the fundamentals of your short game, your score gets better every round.

In marriage, don’t rely so much on the big gestures, instead, do the small everyday things that matter, take out the trash without being asked, help with the kids, do a load of laundry, or stop for a hug in the kitchen. This is your marriage short game—this is the green. Make it count.

7. Everyone needs a mulligan.

Mulligans aren’t officially part of golf, but every golfer has needed one, given one, and taken one somewhere along the line. Whether you hooked it, sliced it, or chunked it, there have been times in your golfing career when you simply needed a do-over. Sometimes you need a mulligan in your marriage. Sometimes your wife needs one. This is the concept of grace and forgiveness. Don’t let your mistakes define you or her. Be willing to forgive and always give a second chance.

8. Know the clubs in your bag.

It’s important to know what you can and can’t do with the clubs in your bag. You need to know your minimum and maximum yardage with each one, and it differs for every golfer. Your buddy might be able to hit a seven iron 190 yards, but you can only hit it 150. So many golfers let ego get the better of them and they end up missing short. Are you missing short in your marriage? If you know the course and you know your strengths and limitations, you’ll be able to hit the target more often than not. What are you good at? What does your wife need from you? How can you help? What makes her laugh? These are your clubs—know how to use them.

9. Yell fore!

When you hit a ball into the group ahead of you, or the group beside you, or into the clubhouse, you yell fore! This alerts everyone that a ball may be headed toward their head. But it also says something more—it says I made an error. It’s embarrassing and humbling to admit, especially in public, but it’s the right thing to do. If you’ve blown it in your marriage, yell fore! Let your wife know you’ve made a mistake and you recognize it. Don’t try to hide it or deny it. Your wife doesn’t expect perfection from you, but she does deserve honesty and respect. A little humility and a “heads up” go a long way.

10. Finish well.

You can shoot a horrible front nine and make it up on the back nine in golf. You can bogie on one hole, then eagle the next. Success and failure in golf comes and goes, but it’s the final score that counts. In marriage, your goal is the same—finish well. That doesn’t mean that the little stuff doesn’t matter, it just means that you both need to keep striving for improvement, offering forgiveness, learning to read the course, and focusing on the final outcome. If you have the right goal in mind, you’ll sink it more often than not.