Marriage as a Competitive Sport

Posted on May 31st, 2013

You have probably never thought of marriage as a competitive sport, but this is how many married people live. I don’t mean the competition which goes on between couples, although there’s plenty of that too—who has the biggest house in the best neighborhood, whose kids are the highest achievers. No, what I’m talking about is the competition which goes in inside of marriages, between spouses.

This competition is usually not formalized, the rules can change without notice, and sometimes there isn’t even a clear winner and loser. But it’s competition nonetheless.

This is how it works. One of you decides that some issue is important, paying the bills, being available to your children, keeping the house neat, listening to each other. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. What matters is that you focus on this item as something you are doing well and your partner isn’t.

When only one of you does this, you’re playing an emotional game I’d call doghouse, as in your partner is always in the doghouse. It’s when both of you are doing it that the game becomes real competition. For competitive couples there are usually many of these competitive issues going on at any one time. As the two of you rebound from one competitive topic to another, your relationship can become a generally contentious competition.

Competitiveness happens in many relationships, but why do people choose to relate this way? The reason is a lack of experience with and fear of ongoing emotional intimacy. Competitiveness is a way of staying in some connection with your partner, while minimizing the risk of too much closeness.

Fortunately, emotional intimacy is a skill that can be learned. When you have learned together how to be comfortable with more closeness, competitiveness loses its pull.

Posted in Marriage and Couples

Please remember, this is a blog. It is not psychotherapy or treatment of any kind and is not a substitute for the individual treatment you can get from going to see a good therapist.