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Handling Competition

Chapter 9: Handling Competition

Tools for Relationships

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What is competition in a relationship?
  • Competition, a stress producing element, is also the:
  • Struggle for control between the parties in a relationship.
  • Face-off between two partners on how to resolve a conflict or a disagreement.
  • State in which two parties become adamant, determined, or stubborn in defending their opposite points of view
  • Challenging of one partner by another to defend a position taken in discussion, argument, or disagreement.
  • Holding of a self-righteous, better than thou, I never make a mistake, I am never wrong, point of view.
  • Holding of blame, you never listen to me, you don't understand me, you never do what I ask, you ignore me, you don't care about me, point of view.
  • Attempt by one or both partners to showing the other up, out-do the other, or win.
  • Attitude that there must always be a winner and a loser.
  • Attempt by one partner to show greater strength, knowledge, skill, talents, and abilities than the other.
  • Attitude that only I know how or what to do to complete and correctly manage this joint project.
  • Inability to share the workload, responsibility, and consequences of a jointly held project (such as the children, the house, a job, finances, sexuality, etc.)
What forms does competition take in a relationship?
Competition is a power struggle for control of all aspects of the relationship. It can be present in any of the following forms:


Competition of knowledge: Who is smarter, wiser, more intelligent, has more facts, has more information, has the better memory.


Competition of emotional life: Whose feelings are more important, more authentic or real, whose feelings must be considered first.


Competition for recognition: Who is more deserving of recognition, who works harder, who sacrifices more, who is more generous and giving, who is the higher achiever, who brings in more money.


Competition for respect: Who is more deserving of respect, who is the bigger saint, who is the hero, who is more self-giving, who is holier, who is the more mature.


Competition for sympathy and pity: Who is sicker, who has been more victimized, who has sacrificed and given up more, who has been abused and neglected more, who has been hurt and has suffered more, who is more wretched, pitiable, and pathetic.


Competition for time and attention: Who has more jobs and work to complete, who has less time to get things done, who needs more time and attention from the other, who is neglecting or ignoring.


Competition in problem solving: Who has better answers, who has a better approach to the problem, who has a better attitude, who is more open to solve the problem, who is more willing to change after the problem is solved.


Competition in planning the future: Who has a better vision for the future, who is better organized, who is more visionary, who is more creative and imaginative, who has a better pulse on trends for the future.


Competition in communicating: Who is a better listener, who tunes in to the other better, who is more open and receptive to the other, who is more feelings oriented, whose feelings go uncared for.


Competition in managing joint projects: Who is a better financial wizard, a better housekeeper, a better driver, who is a better disciplinarian, who is a better parent.

How can negative consequences of competition affect a relationship?

When there is competition between partners in a relationship, some of the following negative consequences can occur:
  • breakdown in communication
  • lack of trust
  • anger, animosity, hostility, and resentment
  • chronic conflict, disagreement, and disharmony
  • poor problem solving, planning, and structuring
  • chronic blaming, accusing, condemning, and attacking of partners
  • breakdown of a sense of acceptance, approval, and recognition
  • inability to forgive and forget
  • chronic stress and anxiety
  • chronic guardedness, defensiveness; hiding feelings, thoughts, and ideas
  • emotional problems for one or both partners
  • chronic need to escape either by physical removal or involvement in addictive behaviors
  • using the children (if they are present) as weapons, pawns, or victims in a war
  • lack of fun, amusement, sense of humor or ability to play
  • overintensity, overseriousness and overreaction


How can competition in your relationship be recognized?
You know there is competition in your relationship when:
  • You think you and your partner have agreed to do something, but when the time comes to get it done you both ignore it, forget it, disagree about the previous solution, and nothing gets done.
  • You find that you dread having to have a discussion or dialog with your partner.
  • Your partner can't maintain eye contact when discussing a mistake or misdeed for which your partner is responsible.
  • You find yourself unwilling to bend or alter your opinion concerning an issue confronting you both.
  • You both are unable to bring fights or arguments to a final, successful, win-win conclusion.
  • You find yourself thinking of winning or losing before you enter a conversation with your partner.
  • You are feel like you are on the witness stand and your partner is the lawyer (or vice versa.)
  • You both appear to the world as being together, supportive and mutually caring; yet in your heart you feel distant, and neglect, and ignored.
  • You begin to have problems with joint projects (children, house, job, car, etc.) for no apparent reason. Deep inside you feel like you have always been ignored, overlooked, disagreed with, and challenged whenever a previous decision concerning the project has been made. You know you are not a united, consistent team in dealing with common projects, yet your requests to change go unheeded by your partner.
  • You both have agreed to establish a healing environment, yet there is chronic reliving the past, belaboring the way things were, and griping about how they should have been.
What irrational beliefs can lead to competition in a relationship?
  • My partner is overemotional and always overreacts.
  • There is only one way to think or feel about this matter.
  • Why should we waste time talking about this?
  • OK, I've done what you asked me to do these last three months, so let's get on leading a normal life again.
  • Your mind is never open to anything.
  • You are the reason why our relationship is failing.
  • Unless you intend to communicate openly with me, there is no sense in going on.
  • No one ever has time for me.
  • I can never do anything right.
  • You are always right, and I am always wrong.
  • If you say it, then it must be so.
  • You should know. You are the expert on such matters.
  • I'm so sorry that I am so dumb and incompetent. I guess since I am, I won't be able to do that for you.
  • Well, if you want it that way then have it that way.
  • I don't know why you ever ask me. My opinion or input doesn't count anyway.
  • You make all the decisions around here. I just pay for everything.
  • I get no respect around here. You always ignore me.
  • Every time I am sick you resent it; but when you get sick, you demand all my attention.
  • I never get any time to myself.
  • No matter how hard I try, it is never “good enough” for you.


What new behavior can partners adopt in order to reduce competition in a relationship?
In order to reduce the sense of competition in a relationship, partners could:
  • Listen to one another with respect, openness, and acceptance
  • Respond to one another with understanding, caring, and empathy
  • Let go of past hurts and pains
  • Develop trust in one another
  • Be vulnerable to growth and change
  • Forgive and forget
  • Be supportive of one another
  • Give and receive reinforcement, acknowledgement, and recognition
  • Use their sense of humor and laugh at each other's follies, idiosyncracies, and habits
  • Let go of anger, hostility, resentment, and aggression
  • Be assertive with one another
  • Develop emotional independence
  • Refrain from being dependent on one another for approval, a sense of identity, or meaning in their life
  • Share the power and control in the relationship
  • Problem solve conflicts creatively with a win-win resolution
  • Let go of the fantasies, which are barriers in the relationship
  • Openly admit the barrier behavior that causes problems in the relationship
  • Openly discuss the need for outside professional help; mutually seek such help
  • Recognize when changes are needed and take the steps to make such changes in the relationship
  • Recognize when irrational thinking is blocking relationship growth; replace such thinking with a realistic perspective
  • Recognize when one or both parties needs to increase self-affirmative behavior and take the steps to accomplish this

What can be done to reduce or eliminate competition in a relationship?

Step 1: Answer the following questions in your journal:

  • Are you aware of any competition in your relationship with a significant other in your life? If yes, in what relationship and with whom? If no, have you ever been in a competitive relationship? In what relationship and with whom?
Now that you have identified a relationship, past or present, in which you felt competition, answer these questions in your journal:
  • How did the competition in your relationship fit the definition of competition in the first section of this chapter?
  • What forms did the competition in your relationship take?
  • What negative consequences resulted from the competition in this relationship?
  • What beliefs held by you and your partner led to competition in the relationship?
  • How did you recognize competition in your relationship?
  • What new behavior skills did you and your partner develop to eliminate or reduce competition in your relationship?


Step 2: Once you have completed the needs assessment in Step 1, you have a better picture of competition in your relationship. You may have a good idea of what changes need to be made.
Complete the following activity:

The Competition Trivia Game

Preparation Steps:

Material needed: pair of dice, a timer, two sets of thirty question cards, two sets of thirty answer cards.
Instructions: This is a game of trivia skill mastered only by partners in a competitive relationship. Competitive partners have the long-term memory skills capable of winning at this game.
Before you can play this game, you and your partner need to prepare thirty 3" x 5" file cards. On each card you are to write a different competition trivia question.
A competition trivia question is worded as follows:
Do you remember when ... (relate in ten words or less an episode of competition between you and your partner)OK, for ten points tell me:
  • the date or dates it occurred: (1 point)
  • what issues were involved: (1 point)
  • how you and I acted during this time: (1 point)
  • what you and I were feeling during this time: (1 point)
  • what the final outcome of this episode was: (1 point)
  • what would have been a better way to handle this problem: (5 points)
On a separate card (total of thirty) you must put in the correct answer for each competition trivia question. Be exact and complete in your answers. Remember, your partner may present alternative responses just as valid as the single response you might come up with. So, you need to outsmart and outthink your opponent; on the answer card put in a response that would reflect your partner's thinking and feeling on the issue.
You and your partner need to complete the thirty question cards with thirty answer cards each before you can play your first round of competition trivia. Be sure to number each group of thirty question-and-answer cards with corresponding numbers.
Once your question-and-answer cards are completed you are ready to play Competition Trivia!


Rules for Playing
You need a pair of dice.
Place each partner's set of thirty question cards in separate piles on the table. Shuffle the decks so that they are not in numeric order.
You need a score sheet and one partner to be the score keeper.
Roll dice to see who goes first. The one with the lowest number goes first.
When it is your turn, roll the dice. Deal out the corresponding card from the deck your partner wrote. For example, if you roll a 4, take out the fourth card from the top. Place the three cards above it at the bottom of the deck. This way the stack gets continuously shuffled; there is no way you or your partner can stack the deck.
When it is your turn, hand the question card to your partner to read. You have only five minutes to answer the question. Your partner uses the timer to time you. When five minutes is up, you must stop your response. Your partner then scores your response and your score is recorded by the score keeper. Your question card is then placed somewhere where it won't be picked up again.
When your turn is up, it becomes your partner's turn. Your partner rolls the dice and is dealt the corresponding card from the deck you wrote. The cards above it are moved to the bottom of the deck. Read the question to your partner. Your partner has five minutes to respond to the question, your partner's response is scored, and the score recorded.
Continue to take turns until one of you reaches a score of 300. The one who reaches 300 first is the winner.
You cannot win at competition trivia unless you can reach a score of 300.
If you can come close to 300, that is good; but 300 alone is the winning score.


Tip: If you want to get to a score of 300, you will need your partner's help in answering the thirty question cards the partner wrote. You are allowed to agree at the beginning of the game to help each other. This is designed to create a win-win situation.


Step 3: If after completing both sets of thirty question-and-answer cards, and after playing competition trivia with your partner, you still a sense of competition in your relationship, identify the tools in the Tools-for-Coping Series that will help you resolve this competition. Develop an action plan with the tools to work on this problem.


Step 4: If you are still have problems with competition after completing your Tools for Coping Series action plan, return to Step 1 and begin again.