Being Married is Like Playing Poker


I’m not much of a gambler. Never have been. It’s not that I have some moral stance against gambling. I’ve just never felt the need to unnecessarily risk money I already have on the slight possibility I might win more.

But, one day I found myself watching a professional poker tournament on TV. It seemed like a very boring thing to watch, so I didn’t watch it long. But I watch it long enough to think, “Being married is like playing poker!”


Here are some ways being married is like playing poker:

The stakes are high.

In professional poker, you can lose a lot of money in an instant.

Likewise, the stakes in marriage are unbelievably high. Here’s just a taste of what you stand to lose:

  • Your dream of happily ever after.
  • Your best friend of years.
  • Time and loyalty with your children.
  • Financial stability.
  • Friendships you made while married.
  • Your reputation with your spouse, your kids, and others.
  • Your hopes and optimism.

That’s not to say those who go through a divorce are personally losers, or that they can never recover. Like surviving a hurricane, you will rebuild, but it’s never the same.

You have to know when to hold em’ and when to fold em’.

To be clear…I’m not talking about knowing when to keep your marriage and when to end it. I’m talking about knowing when to hold on to a hurt and deal with it, and when to forgive it and let it go. Too many marriages end over an accumulation of things that were never dealt with or never forgiven.

Not knowing when to work through hurts or when to forgiving them is a sure way to lose in marriage. Learn when to hold them and when to fold them. Learn to deal with the things you need to and forgive the rest.

You probably won’t get the exact hand you want.

In poker, you don’t always get the hand you think you need. But poker players win, despite not getting the hand they want. How? By making the most of the cards they have and playing the hand they get well.

You won’t get everything you want in a marriage, but you can learn to make the best of what you have by:

  • Making the most of the “good cards” in your hand and playing up the positives.
  • Learning to negotiate the lesser cards between you and your spouse.

But let me be clear about one thing. If you’re dealing with abuse, adultery, or abandonment in your marriage, those are cards that are never right and should never be accepted. It doesn’t mean you must fold and end your marriage at that point, but it does mean that this behavior must stop and be dealt with before the marriage can move forward. If the abusive, abandoning, or adulterous behavior does not change, then you may have to fold the hand and concede the marriage.

Sometimes you have to bluff your way through.

A good poker player knows how to act like they’ve got a winning hand…even when they don’t. Acting like they’ve got a winning hand may actually bring about a win.

Some people call this “fake it till you make it.” I dislike this phrase because it sounds deceptive. I prefer the phrase “Acting like you want things to be.” For instance…

  • If you want a spouse you can have fun with, start having fun with them…even if they don’t look like they’re having fun.
  • If you want a spouse who helps you around the house, start asking for their help…even if you know they don’t want to.
  • If you want a spouse who’s appreciative…start showing appreciation to your spouse.

In other words, act like you’ve got the hand you want. Things won’t change overnight, but if you’re patient and consistent, things will begin to change.

You don’t always know what cards the other person is holding.

In poker, you don’t know what cards the other person is holding.

In marriage, your spouse may be holding thoughts or feelings they’re not sharing with you. You can guess, but you’re not a mind reader and will often guess wrongly. You might get to know your spouse so well you can come pretty close to reading their mind, but making that assumption can still get you in trouble.

So what can you do?

Fortunately, marriage differs from poker in that the more you share what you’re holding, the better things can become. So, show your cards. Share what you’re thinking and feeling. Ask your spouse what they’re thinking and feeling. If your spouse is not good at showing their cards, be patient. Try different approaches. Figure out ways to make it easier for them. Just don’t give up.

When you think you have It figured out, someone shuffles the deck.

There are multiple hands to a poker game. And even if you’ve got a good hand going, it eventually comes to an end and they shuffle the deck.

The same is true of marriage. About the time you’ve figured out what’s going on, something shuffles the deck.

  • You have children.
  • You have another child.
  • Your first child becomes a teenager.
  • There’s a job change, or a move, or an illness, or a financial reversal.
  • There are new stressors.
  • There are changes related to age.

It’s frustrating when something shuffles the deck of marriage, but that’s the nature of marriage. It keeps changing, so we have to keep learning and growing. Learn to be flexible and accept each new shuffle with grace and inventiveness. Some shuffles may throw you for a bit, but make the most of it. And if you don’t like the shuffle, hang on. There will be another shuffle along shortly.


This post is not meant to trivialize marriage by comparing it to a game. It’s meant to encourage you to approach the surprises and uncertainties of marriage with some skill, some strategy, and most of all…some flexibility.

Now, go find your spouse, give them a kiss, and say “DEAL ME IN!” 

2 thoughts on “Being Married is Like Playing Poker”

    • And if you use that phrase and don’t explain what it means, it will keep them guessing for a while…which can be fun too.


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