Relationship Help: Is your relationship really a competition?

Relationships are often competitions in disguise.

When you really step back and look at them, perhaps with a little relationship help, the main event of the relationship is the constant battle for supremacy, control, and maybe even a little domination. Not healthy. Doesn’t feel good, but folks do it all the same.

Competition. It’s tension-producing, fear-inducing, and trust-reducing, but you do it…or someone you know and love does.  It’s destructive and exhausting, yet it persists. 

How do you stop competing in a relationship you say is based on loving each other?  That requires self-reflection. Not just a little, a lot.

When couples come to work with me, they often have very visible bubbles above their heads. Each bubble says, “If my partner would only change, we wouldn’t have any relationship issues!”  Unfortunately, although you may laugh at that, it’s the way it is.  We want it to be the other person’s failings, flaws and frustrations that are the issues.  They might be, but that is not where the inquiry begins. It begins within. (P.S. Many folks need help with this, so, you’re in good company. Let’s talk soon)

Here’s the good news and the bad news: It starts with you, not your partner.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is there something in my words, actions, demeanor or stance that is inviting competition?
  • Is everything a debate?
  • Am I primarily a fault-finder?
  • Do I need to be right?
  • Am I only happy when I am winning?
  • Do I look for ways to prove my partner is wrong?
  • Do I have a glass half full or half empty outlook?
  • Am I focused on what I appreciate about my partner?
  • Do I have something to prove that keeps me concerned, vigilant, and on edge?

All important points to seriously consider. That means, freely translated, sit with that list and think deeply about it.

There are few people who would immediately and willingly put their hands up and say, “Yep, that’s me!!!”  Yet, if you can recognize these in yourself, one or all of them, you are on the path to understanding where the perpetuation of the competition may be seated.

Now, what if you say, “Ooh! That’s my partner?”  That’s the moment you still look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are fueling it, meeting it, enjoying it, or running from it.  That list above is a good place to start to honestly know yourself. We come by our traits, behaviors and patterns from the people who raised us and in other ways influenced us, usually before we were twenty or so. We were shaped. That’s why we begin by looking at the various cookie cutters we met in life that left us in the shape we’re in. No, not deep psychoanalysis, but an insight or two that can help us realize we can choose to do life differently. We do not have to stay in the shape we were stamped with. It’s like not “what we are cut out for” really…lol.

If we focus on our partner, nothing will change. We may defer the blame, but it doesn’t stop the pain. Only looking within makes a difference.

If your relationship is a courtroom, boxing ring, or jousting tournament, you will never be happy. Where there is a focus on winning or losing, you cannot find love, safety, honest and respect, the cornerstones of a healthy relationship. One-up(w0)manship is destined to leave you single, lonely, or at least. will lots of space around you. People feel unsafe with you.  Constant debate leaves you exhausted, worn down, and wounded. The need to be right means that no one around you can also be right, and that is a losing strategy. The need for control leaves others wanting to cut the strings and stay far away from the puppeteer you want to be.

If your relationship is a competition, boundaries need to be discussed, set and maintained. Otherwise, no one will be happy, especially in the long run.  The self-reflection required to set and establish your personal boundaries is imperative. There is no quick fix or easy solution to that. (More on boundaries in the next post.)

For now, be aware. Is your relationship a competition? If so, is it what you want?  If the answer is no, get the relationship help you need to put an end to the tournament. Breaking those patterns usually require outside insights and new skills and solutions. You’re worth it…and so is your relationship!


Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, is the Relationship Help Doctor. If you’d like her help, it’s available through private sessions and classes, available in person in Escondido, CA and online via Zoom video, from wherever you are. Take advantage of her help.

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