Relationships don't always come easily or flow naturally, nor do they feel 100 percent equal all of the time. Sometimes in a partnership, one person takes the lead in helping to move the relationship along and to strengthen the connection. Therapists and relationship experts call this person a relationship champion.
To learn more about the role of relationship champions—and when a champion is needed the most—we turn to Corrin Voeller, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and owner of Prosper Therapy in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
"A relationship champion is a stance someone can take in the relationship when the couple is experiencing troubles. The champion is someone who fights for the relationship. The champion is someone who has hope even when things seem dark and difficult. The champion is someone who lifts the other person up and says, 'We’ve got this, let’s keep going!'" she says. "The relationship champion helps the couple keep working to reach their goals. He or she acts as if working on the relationship is totally doable, especially in the face of obstacles like triggers, arguments, and setbacks."
To further explain what a relationship champion is, Voeller uses the analogy of a couple climbing a mountain. "When it gets steep and difficult and someone wants to give up, the champion is the one who says 'climb on my back, I’ll carry you some of the ways, I know we can do this,'" she says. "They are the strength that both people can lean on when it gets tough to continue to do the hard work of improving and repairing the relationship."
Here is how to understand if your relationship needs a champion—and the different ways you and your partner can each be one.
Meet the Expert
Corrin Voeller is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She is the owner of Prosper Therapy.
When Do You Need a Relationship Champion?
Relationships don't need champions all the time; in fact, sometimes a couple works together seamlessly and dynamics feel easy most of the time. But every couple inevitably enters a rough patch, and according to Voeller, that is when a relationship champion is needed the most.
"I think every relationship needs a champion and most likely has one at different times, even if it isn’t overtly stated," she says. "I like to think that taking that stance and having it be known within the couple so that person can receive acknowledgment and appreciation would make it easier to be the champion."
She explains that moments when one or both people in a relationship feel discouraged particularly call for a champion. "You would know if your relationship needs a champion if it seems like [you are] losing hope," she says. "If you can take on that role and cheerlead the relationship, it can go a long way to giving that burst of motivation to continue to work."
It's usual for the person who is the most optimistic to take on the role of a champion because it may just come more naturally to an optimist. But it's actually healthier for both partners to trade off playing the role of a champion when the partnership needs work.
"If the more optimistic one is struggling to be the champion, the other partner needs to pick up the reigns," says Voeller. "Anyone can be the relationship champion. You don’t need to have a type of personality to do this work." In fact, when the less optimistic partner takes on the role it can be even more momentous for the couple because it really gives both people encouragement that they are committed to the relationship's success.
How to be a Relationship Champion
There are different ways to show up as a champion in your relationship. Here are a few ways you might rise to the challenge.
Ease Tensions After an Argument
"After an argument or difficult moment, once there has been some time and distance from the event, and both people are calm, the champion can come back to the partner and talk about what the couple learned from that argument and share their hope that things will improve," says Voeller.
A relationship champion can also make things easier after an argument by easing the tension. "A relationship champion makes appropriate light of a couple's struggles," she says. "Maybe the couple got into an argument over ice cream? The champion could make innocent and helpful jokes about ice cream." By being the bigger person the champion helps the relationship move on from a tough moment.
Try to See Things from a Different Perspective
Couples can get stuck in a rut when neither partner can see things from an alternate perspective. A relationship champion can get the couple out of that mindset by encouraging their partner to think about things differently. "The champion encourages the couple to do things differently," says Voeller. An easy way to do this is to try to see an issue from the other point of view and show that you are willing to be open-minded; your partner just might follow, and you will come together.
It's also up to the champion to point out when the couple is making improvements. "For example, if the couple is attempting to communicate in a different way the champion will suggest they do that and take a positive stance every time they do, even if it doesn't go well," she says. In other words, the champion looks at the bright side and points out progress and reasons for optimism. That way no one becomes disillusioned.
Keeps Communication Open and Flowing
To keep a relationship thriving, both partners will need love and appreciation. The partner championing the relationship expresses to his or her partner that he or she is valued and cherished. "The relationship champion sends texts or emails while apart telling their partner they love them, showing appreciation for them, and thanking them for continuing to put in work," says Voeller.
Set Goals Together
Voeller explains that a relationship champion tries to keep the couple on track when it comes to reaching goals in the partnership. Take the time to sit down and discuss what you've each learned from an argument or setback—then use those learnings to inform goals that you can work on together, as partners.
Plan Fun Activities
The relationship champion also keeps in mind that every couple needs stimulation in the form of activities that both partners will enjoy and look forward to. "We know we experience joy from anticipating a pleasurable experience, so putting things on the calendar to look forward to can give the couple extra positivity while they are working on improving things," says Voeller.