Conflicts — 28 October 2003
The noncompetitive edge will win love

It is the rare relationship that is spared the competition that arises
between partners. It is a common _yet disturbing feeling. How can you
best deal with the dis-ease of this emotion?

If you ever felt the need to correct your partner’s statement, to prove
your point as the superior one, to highlight her errors, to make a bet
about factual differences, to discount his part of an accomplishment, or to take credit for a successful act not fully yours, then you have
experienced the competitive drive.

So why would partners who love each other and share their lives, need to
be “right”, the “good one”, or” better than” the other?

It stems from the need for self worth. Self -esteem is imperative for
survival. Being “right” makes us feel worthy and therefore deserving of
attention, and safety. Feeling worthless is associated with unjustified
existence and fear of being isolated, rejected and lost.

Though most people do not actively think about the connection between
worth and survival, they may be aware of the frequent need for
recognition by others for self-assurance. You must matter to others or
else your existence feels at stake.

Self- esteem is not a commodity, that once owned- is kept steady. It is
a fluctuating perception that requires continuous evidence for its
stability. We search for data proving our worthiness. We must not only
convince ourselves that we matter; we need to have others affirm our
value on a regular basis. Attempting to keep a sagging image afloat and
solid – is a taxing chore.

The more unstable our sense of worth is, the more likely we are to
strive for evidence of merit at any cost. The loving partnership
connection fractures when each individual is in pursuit of his or her
proof of value, at the expense of the partner. Competition feeds the
esteem match and is destructive to the relationship.

Competition between partners often entails the zero sum game- where one
individual wins all the other loses all. If I am “right” then you are
“wrong” and I won at this self esteem battle. If you are “smart,
correct, capable, etc., then I am stupid, incorrect, inept, etc.” Each
partner is anxious to outdo the other in the pursuit of value, while
inadvertently discounting his lover.

Obviously, none of these assumptions are accurate. Relationships do not
involve absolutes, only relative terms. You may be correct in knowing
where to turn while driving, but that does not endow you with greater
value than your partner at the next turn. Information enhances the
couple; it is not a distinction of worth for the individual with the
specific facts.

Couples create three entities. There is an “I” and another “I” and then
a “we” is formed, which I call the Unit- Bond. That is the unit that
includes both partners and their interactions. It is the team, in which
each partner feels stronger, supported, fully accepted, loved and
empowered. In a healthy Unit- Bond, the lovers are able to see each
other’s views, ideas, assets and needs and use them for strengthening
each other and their team. They develop strategies to maximize their
assets as a unit by capitalizing on each individual’s strengths.
Competition between them is minimal to non-existent.
The strength and invincibility felt by lovers when they are united, is
an intoxicating bliss.

The stronger the Unit- Bond is, the healthier the relationship feels and
the more likely it is to thrive. Competition breaks the bond and gets
the partners to retreat to the “I” and “I” positions which are
self-serving and even adversarial.

When you feel competitive with your partner:

Be aware that “winning” is at the expense of your partner. The gain you
desire is a reflection of your low self- esteem.
Through competition, the Unit- Bond is damaged, and intimacy is
weakened. True self worth does not require qualitative comparisons. It
comes from valuing oneself. Both you and your partner possess equal
merit. (Both are smart, while one may have more accurate information at
a given time).

Love means never needing to feel superior.

Improving your sense of worth will reduce the need for competition.

  • Engage in positive self-talk _ stroke yourself for being special and acting honorably.
  • Do things for others that will help you view yourself more positively.
  • Value your partner’s positive attributes. Stroke him/her often. It
    will improve your self- esteem, your mate’s comfort and the relationship
  • Block your urge to compete _ it is an adversarial move, contrary to
  • Use the win-win approach where both partners are enhanced by
    supporting each other.
  • Gracefully grant your partner’s opinions the validation they merit.
  • Be ready to praise early, so that your partner will not need to
    compete for validation.
  • Rejoice in your partner’s accomplishments, they enhance both of you.

Many people are unaware that “winning” the competition for superiority,
is actually losing in the art of love.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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