Spousal Abuse



Should you play sports with your spouse? Only if you believe in marriage, although not necessarily with the person to whom you are currently married.

The combination of sweat, shorts, tan legs, competition, road trips and alcoholic beverages is a recipe for something, and it isn't marital harmony.

There used to be a tennis club in Memphis with a large membership of couples and single men and women and an active league schedule that filled every indoor court on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The club was a local legend of sorts. The tennis was high level, and so was the shopping.

Over the course of a decade or so, members changed partners on and off the court more often than Brett Favre. I have a picture of my men's 4.5 team, circa 1986. Four of us are still married to the same woman we were married to then. The rest changed partners.

It's easier to "bond" with a partner who is not your spouse. In the heat of competition, the average man will say things to his wife he would never dare say to another woman. My wife once hit me in the nose with a ball, hard, just for some body language that for some reason struck her as insensitive. And some muttered words. Well, maybe some spoken words too. Anyway, we got over it. But there was many a night when we drove home from Club Swing in absolute silence after one or the other of us blamed one or the other of us for blowing a shot, game, or match. Eventually we stopped playing together, and on the rare occasions when we have fallen off the wagon we always swear we won't do it again.

On the other hand, it's nice to have a spouse who is a good player. You don't have to try very hard to get a game on short notice. It gives you something to do on vacation. I wish I had kept a journal of all the places I've played tennis in the last 30 years — crummy courts in hick towns with weeds in the cracks and wrinkled asphalt overlay, red clay courts in Lucerne, courts with bears in the woods in Lake Tahoe, primo courts in Atlanta, private courts from Michigan to Mexico, and 100 or so public parks. You gotta collect something.

The only other sport, loosely speaking, that I have played with my spouse is bridge. That isn't a great idea either, but not because people are lusting after other players. Bridge simply brings out the absolute worst in people — their impatience, bad memory, closet pedant, or latent dominatrix. I have been in two-couple games where the cruelty was eye-popping and I marveled that they did not end in a bath of blood or hail of bullets.

The only safe sport for couples is one in which both partners are terrible. Sailing might work. Golf probably would not. Running sounds about right. But beware the shorts.

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