"I love you."

"Please forgive me."

"I was wrong."

These are all important phrases. When used rightly, and regularly, they can change the culture of a marriage relationship.

They're phrases that, by God's grace, have worked their way into the vernacular of my own home (especially the last two and specifically for me). But there's another phrase that, in recent years, has become incredibly important in our marriage.

It's a phrase that my wife, Jana, and I say to each other when we're having a difficult evening with the kids, when we're financially strapped, when things are frustrating for me at work, and even when we've wronged each other: "We're on the same team."

It's a simple phrase, but one that can make a world of difference. When Jana and I say it to each other, we remind ourselves that no matter what happens in life, work, or parenting, we're of the same mind, the same heart, and the same flesh. "We're on the same team."

On the Same Side

When one of the kids asks Jana a question, gets an answer he or she doesn't like, and then asks me the same question, we exasperate them with this phrase — we've used it often enough that they can even repeat it to us through clenched teeth — "Did you ask Mommy?"

Child: "Yes."

Me: "And what did she say?"

Then comes the answer.

Me: "What do you think I'm going to say?"

Child: "The same thing."

Me: "Why?"

Exasperated child: "Because you're on the same team."

That's right, kids. We're on the same team. And you can either get on our team or stay opposed to us.

But we aren't budging. And in a way, we say the same thing to the world. When we're frustrated with each other, when we desire to selfishly pursue our own ends, when we're tempted to criticize or perhaps even stray from our vows, we remember that we're on the same team. We have the same objectives. We aren't working alone, but together. And it helps to know that the other is always on our side.

Toward the Same Goal

Here's why that phrase is important: It's because all of us have the tendency to become so focused on ourselves — our personal needs, our individual desires, our tough days — that we can trick ourselves into thinking that the rest of our family members are conspiring against us.

You may convince yourself that your spouse and children have secretly met together to draft a list of words and actions that will somehow rob you of your rest and frustrate you to the end of yourself. However, when you remember you and your spouse are on the same team, you know that there's no grand conspiracy. In the end, you're in it for the same goal.

And you're in it together.

It takes only a moment to come to your senses. It takes a mere second to pause and reflect. When you do, you can look into each other's eyes and remind each other that you're fighting together rather than against each other, and the battle changes. It always helps to know that someone is your cheerleader. It helps to know that even when the world piles up stuff against you, you're not alone.

It seems to me that conflict in marriage turns into bitterness when you forget that. You get your own agendas in mind and forget that you're not only working for yourself but for the good of another. But when you remember, you're forced to put the team ahead of yourself. So why not give it a try?

The next time you're tempted to use harsh words, repeat that phrase to yourself. When you want to be selfish, repeat it to yourself. When you desire to shirk responsibility to the other party, repeat it to yourself.

"We're on the same team."

Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, Tenn., with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua, Andi, and Christian. A gifted communicator, Michael speaks across the country at churches, conferences, and retreats, and is the author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God; Transformational Discipleship; and The Whole Story for the Whole Family: A Year of Jesus-Centered Family Devotions.