Relationships: When Competition Is Not A Good Thing

silhouette of man and woman under yellow sky

Every day as I work with couples to assist them in their quest to build and/or repair meaningful and sustainable relationships, in 85% – 90% of cases, a silent creeper called ‘competitiveness’ can slither in, causing hurt, unhelpful difference, and division.

This ‘competitiveness’ can be feisty or silent, even secretive, and when left without accountability or genuine regard for each other, can result in some bad and sad eventualities.

The use of point scoring is a prime example, where one or both people will hang on to an incident or a bad memory, only to bring it up at another time where the matter is added in for extra effect resulting in a ‘slam dunk’ of the other.

The content of the matter may have nothing at all to do with the current discussion. It resembles something more in keeping with a game of tennis where ‘winning’ becomes paramount and any initial attempt to communicate in harmony or to be open and fair with each other, is lost.

If this approach is left unaddressed, the benefit in conversations will begin to diminish along with trust and transparency – two of the five core components in working to have ‘safe and enduring’ relationships.

Another aspect of ‘competitiveness’ happens where heated words between couples stray from the initial context of a conversation into an exchange of who has been experiencing the worst treatment.

It’s almost like owning a silo in a paddock with each person dipping into their own silo to extract examples that prove they have been affected the most. Such discussions rarely meet with successful outcomes and just harbour more ill feeling.

A more common way of ‘competitiveness’ is to either out-speak or over-speak the other, until that person just gives in. Conversely, the ‘competitiveness’ becomes a game of sustained silence, waiting for one or the other to become so frustrated, that one eventually speaks.

In the process, somehow the person who speaks first identifies themselves as as the loser whilst the other believes the mantle is theirs, because they feel the person who speaks is proclaiming to be of greater worth!

Put simply, there are other examples, but enough already to simply say, none of these competitive means has a WIN for either person, and at a simple level, it just widens the chasm between relationships.

There is a way forward. A way that sees the destructiveness we cause in the games we play. A place in our lives where the bat and ball, as well as the rackets and trophies are removed and replaced with effective listening and genuine regard for each other.

Hurts and habits take time to heal but with real speak, real listening, respect for ourselves and for each other, we can stop competing and start connecting for a purposeful way forward.

Pam Mitchell
Counsellor in Relationships and Adults in Life Issues

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