A couple looking like they're about to arm wrestle

Relationship or Rivalry: Are you in Constant Competition?

by Eharmony Editorial Team - June 3, 2008

Competition keeps us on our toes and puts us in check when we need it. But too much of it can destroy relationships. If you and your partner act more like brother and sister than lovers, you could be headed for disaster. Work together and you can achieve anything.

You really like each other. You enjoy being together. You two are compatible in tons of ways. But every so often, it feels like you’re not quite playing on the same team. Or, rather, you’re playing on the same team, but you’re also battling it out to see which one of you is going to be the star and which one will act as more of a supporting player.

In your relationship, the competition may center on who makes more money or achieves more career success. Or it may be about who’s smarter or quicker with a joke. Or you may be vying for attention and control of the conversation when you go out with friends. But regardless of exactly what causes it, too much competition can wear on a relationship and begin to break down many of the good things you two have built together.

So if you’re sensing that the rivalry between you is beginning to undermine the positive aspects of your connection, then it’s probably time that you two sat down to discuss the matter. Put the issue on the table, and be specific about what’s concerning you. That way, you can both be aware of the issue, and you can watch for it and begin to address it in a healthy manner.

Here are some suggestions to help you get started talking, so you can begin to concentrate on making sure that you’re both happy with the way you work together as a team and that you both feel good about your interactions.

Be Honest with yourselves as Individuals

Before you actually begin your discussion, get by yourselves and ask yourselves, each of you, what drives you to compete with one another. Is it that you want the other person to think well of you? That you don’t quite trust the other person to accept you as you are or to see your true talents? Is some sort of fundamental insecurity at work here, or even a certain amount of arrogance? Be willing to ask yourselves the hard questions, because awareness brings choice. In other words, once you become aware of what’s driving the rivalry, you can make choices that emphasize the partnership instead of the competition.

Affirm your Commitment to Each Other

When you sit down for your discussion, make it absolutely explicit that your relationship is more important than whatever issues you two are competing about. This won’t necessarily erase the rivalry, but it will emphasize what’s important to both of you. And it can make you stronger as a couple and allow you to grow the relationship in deeper ways. Then, the next time you feel yourselves competing, you’ll at least have in the back of your mind this discussion and your commitment to prioritizing the relationship over the rivalry.


Celebrate Each Other’s Good Points

The more you sincerely affirm each other, recognizing and enjoying one another’s talents, the less inclined you’ll be to deal with one-upmanship in your relationship. So talk about specific ways you can listen to each other better and celebrate one another’s talents, gifts, and successes. After all, when one of you is affirmed, the other is affirmed as well, simply for being with a person who is talented and capable. So recognize the extent to which your individual gifts shine positively on each other.

Take on Projects that Require Teamwork

During your discussion, talk about ways you can join your talents to accomplish something. This will accentuate the team aspect of your relationship and give you the opportunity to collaborate. Of course, you could still compete even while you’re working together, but when you have a common purpose, you’ll be more likely to congratulate each other for jobs well done.

Commit to Helping Each Other

If you’ll make this promise to each other, and mean it, that will immediately decrease the level of competition in the relationship. After all, it’s hard to help another person be all he or she can be when you’re constantly working to be better than that person is. So instead of watching for ways to outperform one another or to take each other down a peg, work hard to encourage each other to continually become a better and better person.

Be Patient as you Work on this Issue

Remember that as with any other relational issue, this one may require some time before you bring yourselves to a point you feel good about. So keep in mind that it’s a process you’re undergoing, and don’t expect immediate results. Try to take baby steps together, and watch for times you can praise each other for the growth and improvement you demonstrate as you try to be more like partners than rivals. It’s going to take time, but if you’ll remain patient with each other and work hard to prioritize the partnership, you can move more and more toward the kind of relationship that’s based on teamwork instead of rivalry.

And whatever you do, as you try to deemphasize the rivalry in your relationship, don’t compete over who’s being less competitive.