Congratulations to Chuck and Mayra Heeman, owners of the Western Nebraska Pioneers baseball team and recipients on the 2019 Community Volunteer Buddy Award. Although they’ve only been in our area a short time, their influence has been impactful.

America’s favorite pastime of baseball is well on its way across the nation. Major League Baseball started last month, WNCC’s softball team is favored to win the Region IX tournament this weekend, and the local 23 Club’s season starts later this month. Everywhere you look baseball is in the air!

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, there’s a great lesson in the sport that can help each of us have a happier couple relationship. And it’s a lesson from an experience we’ve all had, even if we’ve never played a game of baseball in our life.

Baseball team’s include a pitcher and a catcher. In an average game about 150 pitches are thrown. In a season, across our nation, literally millions of pitches, and catches, are made. And even if you’ve never played a baseball game, certainly we’ve all played catch, even if it was just with a snowball in the yard or throwing the salt down the dinner table to Aunt Mable at Thanksgiving.

When couples communicate, there’s also a pitcher and a catcher. And how they pitch and catch, much like a baseball team, will largely determine their outcome. This skill of pitching and catching is especially important when couples are trying to resolve their differences

The person speaking (the “pitcher”) must communicate in an appropriate, non-damaging way. When you’re mad this is obviously hard to do, so a person may be wise to take a break before even bringing up the subject.

How a conversation starts often predicts how it will go from there. If it is brought up in an attacking, harsh way the “catcher” may respond in a similar way.

Or the catcher may feel overwhelmed by the attack and simply stay silent and shut down. Either way, a productive conversation is much less likely to happen if it starts off on the wrong foot.

Since most issues do not need to be discussed and resolved right away, the thrower can take some time to think about how to bring up a sticky marital issue in a softer, less damaging way. This is a great start to a successful conversation.

Let’s say Marty is upset because Mary never brings home receipts from the store and this makes it difficult for him to balance the checkbook. If Mary walks in the house with a load of groceries and Marty instantly comments “Once again, I bet you forgot the receipt didn’t you?” he has just thrown a harsh start.

Instead, let’s say Marty keeps his mouth shut, thinks about it, and instead later says to Mary “I’m trying to keep the checkbook balanced and it really helps to have all the receipts. Is there something I can do to help you remember to bring those home?”. This “soft pitch” is more likely to lead to a productive conversation than if he attacks her.

While a good pitch is important, the person on the catching end must be ready to hear the concern and respond in an appropriate way. To be defensive and guarded is like trying to catch a ball with your arms folded. No matter how good the start-up of the thrower, if the receiver is defensive the conversation will quickly go off track.

Despite Marty’s good throw, if Mary is defensive and responds, “Would you quit worrying about all the receipts? I swear you need a new hobby. Leave me alone” she has just dropped the ball in an otherwise effective conversation.

Because emotions often run high in baseball games and conversations alike, practice is necessary during the calm times. Then during the heat of the moment a successful pitch-catch combination is more likely to happen.

So whether you’re a baseball team preparing for this upcoming season or a couple on the journey of keepin’ love alive, having someone who can throw and someone who can catch is crucial to the success of the team.

And just like any team, including our WNCC softball team, it’s the practice and perfection of the art of pitching and catching that can take us to the championship. Even if we have to come back from a losing streak to find such success.

Good luck this weekend Cougars, thanks Chuck and Mayra, and best of luck to all us couples as we perfect the art of playing catch. It’s a championship game we can’t afford to lose.

Remember, couple relationships are easier than you think, but harder than you act.

For more tips on keepin’ love alive, visit www.panhandlecouples.com.

Mark Anderson is a mental health therapist specializing in couples therapy. He is in private practice at Oregon Trail Mental Health in Scottsbluff. To contact him call 635-2800 or visit online at www.panhandlecouples.com.