Sometimes couples begin to look more like squabbling siblings rather than loving partners when they compete with another. Although healthy competition can be a good thing in other areas of your life, ideally in the marriage, it is best if you can work together as a team without competing against each other.
Competition in marriage comes in many forms. Sometimes parents compete to see who can be a better parent. A husband may dislike that his wife stays at home with the children all day and has more time with them. Or a wife may feel slighted when the kids are excited to see him come from work and they aren’t interested in spending time with her when he’s home. When parents compete about parenting issues it can become unhealthy as they work on trying to win a child’s affection rather than parenting together.
At other times, competition may come into play about money. It may be about who earns the most or who has the most prestigious job. Sometimes competition is about “I have it harder than you do at work.”
In social situations competition may rear its head when one spouse has more friends. When one spouse is getting more attention from a group of friends for an accomplishment it can also lead to competition. There are many other things that can lead to competition and if it isn’t addressed it can be hazardous to a relationship.
Trying to Outshine One Another
When one person has to outdo the other it usually involves trying to put the other person to shame. For example, if a husband says to friends, “I earned a great bonus this year,” and his wife says, “Mine was twice as big,” it’s clear she wants to upstage her husband’s accomplishments.
Sometimes people feel the need to upstage their spouse because they feel inadequate about their lack of accomplishments. A husband may feel bitter that his wife is climbing the corporate ladder faster or makes more money. And a wife may feel bad that her husband has more friends or gets more compliments from others. There are lots of reasons people may feel jealous or insecure.
It’s important to allow your spouse to take the limelight sometimes. This means biting your tongue sometimes or praising your spouse for his accomplishments. Instead of saying, “oh yeah and guess what I did,” let him have his moment.
Keeping score can be very damaging to marriage. When people keep score they keep a running tally of who did what and it’s used as a weapon. Instead of working together, they play to win which means one spouse will lose.
A big problem with keeping score is that people aren’t usually good score keepers. When people keep score they tend to notice all the positive things they do and all of the negative things their spouse did. For example, a wife recalls that she spent an hour at the bank trying to resolve a financial issue when her husband wrote a check for more money than they had in the account. However, she doesn’t figure into her score keeping that she forgot to pay the light bill on time last month and they had to pay a late fee.
When couples begin keeping score they often blame their situation on their spouse. The message is often, “I’m doing more than you are to help us and you keep messing things up.” Instead of helping their partner, they are using they are more concerned with trying to make their contributions known.
Keeping score also means bringing up past hurts. For example, when arguing about the current financial situation, husband says, “Well at least I didn’t get four years of debt by going to college so I could be a stay-at-home parent!” Bringing up past is often a way to divert attention from the current situation.
What to Do If you Notice Some Marital Competition
It’s important to take notice if there is some competition going on in the marriage. Try to understand some of the underlying reasons for it. Are you insecure about something? Are you jealous? Or are you just competitive by nature and sometimes lose track that you should be working as a team?
If you notice your spouse is competitive, it’s also important to spend some time reflecting on this. Do you suspect your spouse is feeling insecure? Are you giving your spouse enough praise and credit?
Talk to your spouse about what you are noticing and try to find ways to work together as a team rather than trying to step on one another to get ahead. If you aren’t able to work together, seek professional help. A marriage counselor can help you identify ways in which you can work together and help one another instead of harming the relationship.