The Competitive Couple: How to Avoid this Toxic Dynamic

Whether it’s about who does more or who makes more, or maybe it’s who works the hardest or who is in better shape. The bottom line is that while couples yearn to come together as one, the human ego has a pesky way of allowing competition to invade the safe haven needed for love to deepen and grow. Here are some common competitive scenarios I hear about:


Scenario 1: Comparing Who Gives More (work, kids, household)
When our kids were little, my husband and I used to call this tendency the "chalkboard in the sky." (Laughing about it often helped!) Whether one spouse works inside the home parenting, both work or some combination, partners often agree that they feel under appreciated and over worked. We are good at the accounting of I'm giving more, not receiving enough. In some cases an imbalance of giving is a viable issue that needs to be addressed, but most of the time the problem is our own egos that blind us from the big picture. Housed in separate bodies, and in two totally different worlds throughout our day, it’s easy to miss what the other is dealing with. Our vessels are expanding when it comes to taking on more responsibility in life. This growth can feel overwhelming. Our egos naturally want to seek an external culprit to blame, one who might relieve our growing pains.

Scenario 2: Spouses Who Are Colleagues
Working in the same field can create a tremendous bond. But if one starts to feel less respected or successful — either by the profession itself, or their partner — what was once a safe couple bubble becomes the opposite, an inescapable mirror of not feeling respected or good enough.  To cope, a protective wall often arises, the enemy to intimacy. Couples typically need greater sensitivity and often coaching to make sure they are keeping the professional relationship as separate and balanced as possible and that both partners feelings and vulnerabilities are approached with greatest of care.

Scenario 3: She Out Earns Him
Rarely openly talked about, men can struggle to find their place when their earnings do not make up the main source of providing, even if partners are in different fields. I’ve seen this suck the wind out of many classic alpha males, causing them to look elsewhere to affirm they have something to give that is needed and valued.

Scenario 4: One Is Closer to the Kids
“Why do they come to you and not me?” “Clearly you’re better with parenting and I’m fine with that (not).” “I feel like it’s you and the kids, and then I’m over here on the side.”  We tend to navigate towards that which makes us feel successful, valued, respected. The more we feel inadequate and left out, the more likely we are to withdraw and resent.

So what should we do if we find ourselves caught up in a competitive dynamic?  The first and most important change we need to make is a shift in consciousness. As kabbalist Rav Berg said, “…our mind is really all that exists.”

1. Transform Competitiveness into Oneness
Most of us need to unlearn what growing up in a society of competitiveness has taught us—that is, every man for himself, I’ve gotta get ahead, be the best, prove my worth externally. This mindset can infect and divide any relationship.  It’s so important that we grow our understanding that we are one, not separate; that choosing someone as our partner means investing in our togetherness; that when one of us goes up or down, the other does too.

There is a tale repeated in the ancient text called the Zohar that I love. It’s about a man in a boat drilling a hole under his feet. A boat mate says, “You fool, you’re going to drown us all.” The man replies, “But I’m only drilling a hole under my seat.”  Ultimately we all want a true partnership, not a battle of the egos. We seek and yearn for oneness. But this starts in our mind, with “seeing” that we are connected, equal... co-captains on one common boat.

Remove Competitive Thoughts and Habits
To create a greater sense of oneness, these are the dangerous mindsets to look for within yourself and your love dynamic ... and AVOID at all costs:

  • Comparing
  • Accounting (tit for tat)
  • Seeking Fairness
  • Right vs Wrong
  • Expectations
  • Entitlement
  • I'm not good enough

(Note: All of these share one word in common E G O)

Invest in Unity Building Thoughts and Habits
And here are the thought patterns and habits that make up the secret sauce for unity:

  • Appreciation
  • Appreciation
  • Appreciation
  • Appreciation
  • Appreciation 

(Okay, feel free to add acceptance, empathy, respect, care and equality)

2. Some Other Practical Tips:

Talk Openly About Your Feelings. Most of us are not proud to share feelings of jealousy, envy, and insecurity. When couples begin to openly address these sensitive topics, this protects the relationship from any further division. 

Address the Underlying Issues.If we are not praised for our successes growing up, or led to feel we can never be good enough, we are more prone to feeling the need to prove our value through competition. Insecurity is a most common human challenge but the lack we feel can be healed.

Don't Be Afraid to Shine. Be careful of holding yourself back and at the same time, it's important to be sensitive to your partner

Seize the Growth Opportunit. riction and confusion within one’s couple dynamic, role and value in the family, professional life, self worth can feel painful and overwhelming, but please don't give weight to thoughts that lead you to believe you're stuck, trapped or unimportant.  These are all signs that you, and your relationship, are ready for growth. And you likely need some help to navigate your challenges and use them as leverage to your next level of happiness. When dealing with scenarios like those shared above, and many others that can arise in relationships, nothing can make a difference like a willingness to grow and change. Sometimes we need assistance to see the bigger picture, to heal what might be coming up, and experiment with new and proactive solutions.  Overall, when we approach any challenging couple dynamic with the intention of bettering ourselves personally, and growing our oneness, a different and better universe opens.