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Is your partner a teammate or a rival?

It’s a common area of marital discord when couples begin competing against each other rather than working together as a team. It begins subtly; sometimes with something as simple as the kids saying one parent is the best or comparing parents to each other. Or maybe you’ve been working on getting fit and, rather than offering each other support, you begin reminding your spouse that you eat healthier or look better than they do. Before long, you find yourself feeling angry and critical of your partner without fully understanding the cause. This turns into feelings of resentment and isolation. Your partner, who use to be your best friend and confidant, is suddenly a rival.

Competition is normal, and most of us experience it to a small degree with coworkers, family members, and sometimes our friends. However, we don’t expect to compete with our partner. When it happens, it can damage intimacy and cause discipline issues with our children. Here are signs that suggest competition is crowding out teamwork:

  1. You or your partner needs to “win” an argument for it to be over. When you’re competing, you no longer negotiate a solution or compromise; your focus is on winning the argument.

  2. You don’t feel safe being honest or vulnerable anymore. There’s more criticism.

  3. You’re not as happy for each other when one of you experiences success. When one of you succeeds, if feels like they are “winning,” and the “losing” partner sees nothing positive in the situation for themselves or their marriage.

  4. You purposely try to make each other jealous. This is coming from a deep sense of resentment or anger at feeling neglected.

Competition usually stems from feeling envious about your partner. The strength of marriage comes from couples complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. However, when couples get busy and stop expressing gratitude for each other, they begin feeling more envious of each other’s gifts. When you feel less successful or important than your partner, you may begin feeling resentful for things you do that get no mention or praise. Envy grows from these held in feelings.

Restoring teamwork and minimizing competition begins with each partner understanding what’s happened and wanting to reconnect. Below are suggestions on how to get started:

  1. Talk about how you feel with your partner. Taking the first step and making your feelings transparent may feel scary at first, especially when you’ve been competing. However, this step is integral to ending competition and reinstituting teamwork. If you sense your partner is resentful of your success, ask them openly how they feel about it and don’t judge their response. Strive to understand their perspective.

  2. Couples who are close and well-connected appreciate each other. When you get busy, you sometimes forget to notice things and thank your partner. This can compound feelings of being worthless or unnecessary to your partner. Make sure you tell them you’re grateful for at least one thing they do each day.

  3. Watch your tone. Competitors talk louder and more boastful; this shuts your partner down, and they may begin passively competing against you. Well-connected couples work to soothe each other – not rip each other apart with their tone or words.

  4. Reassure your partner. When your partner feels envious or resentful about something, they compare themselves to you because you’re the closest one to them. For example, if they’ve gained weight with childbirth or an illness and you’ve lost weight, reassure them that you love them the way they are and brainstorm things you can do together. Keeping the focus on strengthening your marriage, will give additional support to your partner.

  5. Focus on each other’s gifts. Not everyone shines in the same area, but that doesn’t mean they don’t shine. Couples who praise each other’s strengths create an atmosphere of growth and teamwork. A marriage is constantly changing. Encourage each other to use innate strengths to accomplish individual and marital goals. Rather than compete, learn and nurture the teacher in each other.

When couples don’t talk about feelings of envy and resentment regarding their partner’s success, they begin acting out their anger. It’s normal to be jealous or envious sometimes; instead of acting it out, talk it out. Tell your partner how you feel and take the opportunity to reassure and appreciate each other.


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