Competition may bring a fair amount of excitement and drive to your life and your relationship. Although playfully keeping track of who does the dishes each night or who can fold the laundry the fastest can be healthy fun, allowing it to overshadow every aspect of your life can be detrimental.
Listen to this week’s episode of rich & REGULAR on Competitiveness in Relationships and read the tips below to find out how to work with your significant other instead of against them.
Competition is in your biology.
Stemming from the desire to pass our genes down to the next generation, competition can be seen throughout the animal kingdom and can help explain all kinds of weird behavior.
Our culture reinforces competitive beliefs through business, sports and even in our families, where we may feel like we have to compete with a sibling to earn a parent’s praise or attention. As we become adults, competitiveness becomes ingrained, and we can start to see everything as a zero-sum game, where if someone else wins, you automatically lose.
When we’re in a relationship, we’re supposed to be two adults interacting as adults, but that is not usually the case when we’re angry or scared. Events that happened in our childhood influence the way we see things now. When we’re upset, we are often reacting to current situations with a childhood fear.
More often than not in those stressful situations, our inner child takes over and can see only what they want, rather than holding space for a rational discussion that takes another person’s perspective into account.
Determine your motivation: It can be hard to see the motivation behind what drives us and much easier to focus our attention on someone else’s actions. Looking within ourselves can give us insight into why we feel competitive.
Before you “name and blame” your partner’s behavior, make sure that you also give an honest look into your intentions and remember all the things your significant other does so you don’t have to.
Identify your patterns.
Stop and consider all the times in your life that you’ve been told you’re too competitive, take some time to reflect, and then:
Write them down. Stop and ask yourself whom you’re competing against, and try to notice when those feelings come up organically in your life. It’s hard to change a pattern when you can’t see it or know what caused it.
Face them. We often think that if we just avoid the things that cause us pain or make us feel less than other people, we’ll be happier. But it’s when we actually stop, think and face the things that cause us pain that actual growth happens.
Talk to a neutral person. Seeing our patterns can be challenging to do by ourselves, so consider talking to a therapist, close friend or mentor about the competitive habits you identify.
Have regular check-ins with your partner.
Talk with your partner about anything bothering you and the patterns you see. It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day life, but remember that relationships don’t work unless you do. Keep checking in with your spouse about what they are experiencing and share your experiences too.
Tap into vulnerability. It’s hard to ask for help, especially if we’ve always been the family’s breadwinner. Sharing the load may not make your actual situation better, but it does help to talk about problems, especially with someone you love. Bonus: your spouse definitely has their own worries, and finding a solution for your fears together can bring your relationship closer.
Express gratitude. Gratitude lists have become a bit cliche, but counting your blessings can help you gain perspective on your world. Often, the things we take for granted are things that someone else wished they had.
- Use a list or journal to track the things you’re thankful for and share them with your partner.
- Ask them to make their own list and compare notes.
- Are there similarities on your lists? Can you appreciate the things that he or she has gratitude for?
Express envy. As with naming our gratitude, naming our envy can also give you some insight. If you watch other people and are envious of their house or relationship, it can help you determine your goals and what you want to work toward.
- Like above, make a list of the things you envy in other people—material, emotional or spiritual.
- Compare it to your partner’s envy list.
- Use those lists as a jumping-off point to discuss your values and create a list of goals that you want to work on together.
Competitiveness does have its uses, but make sure that you are the one in control of your behavior. It can be hard to change our patterns and consciously turn towards a new way of existing. But by working with your significant other instead of competing against them, you strengthen your bond and increase your likelihood of success.