6 signs you're competing with your partner (and why you need to stop)
I don’t know about y’all, but even though I don’t see myself as the competitive type, I’ve come to realize that when it comes to romance, so many of my usual identities and standards seem to go by the wayside—for better or worse. Every single pair of people under the sun has their own unique dynamic, some of which bring out the winner wannabe within at the cost of the luxuriant lover. It happens.
Take, for example, the fact that I used to engage—unaware at first—in eating contests with my (now ex) boyfriend. See, he was an extraordinarily fast eater. And when I would sit down to eat with him, even though no one was holding a gun to my head telling me I had to keep up, I felt like I had to keep up. He was the highly efficient type, and around him, I always felt rushed, even if this was not his intention. It felt unnatural to sit there trying to eat at a slow, healthy pace while he shoveled it in.
In this relationship, irrational competitions like these were the spice of life, and ultimately quite destructive. He would name drop and concept drop in a showy way, and I would feel insecure, at times even pretending I knew what the hell he was talking about just to save face.
I try to cut these dynamics off at the root these days. Because life is too short. If you’re constantly trying to keep up, save face, or stave off insecurity in your relationship...or if you find yourself looking down on your partner in some kind of competitive, mean spirit, or any other type of weird cutthroat dynamic has manifested between you...it might be time to assess the situation and work at changing it—or else move on.
Consider the following 6 signs you're competing with your partner (keep in mind, you can be at either end of the dynamic in any of the following scenarios):
1. You are not fully happy for your SO when something good happens to them
Or you just resent them when they’re happy, more generally. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all know what it’s like to have felt this way, even if not about a romantic/sexual partner, and even if we squashed the thoughts down immediately. They lay under the surface. Let’s face it: it’s hard to live in the world as we know it, with its endless stigma around lack of ambition, drive, or talent, without feeling we’re not doing enough. Many of us live daily with self-applied pressure. Although at the worst of times it can become difficult to feel anything but envy or irritation at someone else’s success, being in a relationship means doing a little adulting and finding ways to become aware of this and then move past it.
2. There is tension around who earns more
Maybe your partner is a man who happens to be stuck to the deeply gendered, antiquated notion that men should earn more than women. Maybe you’d rather your partner not be such a go-getter so you can stop feeling like an underachiever who sleeps too late, eats too many carbs, and lives from pay cheque to pay cheque. Thing is, it’s not your job (or your partner’s) to earn less or more than someone else just so they don’t feel bad.
3. There is tension around who accomplishes more
Ever been with someone who seems never to have doubted their purpose in life, while you flail about in confusion about what your next step might be? It can leave you feeling dysfunctional. Don’t let it. It’s not in anyone’s job description as a human to hold back one’s awesomeness—given that what the world needs now is more of that shit. It can be a real challenge to separate out what you actually want to accomplish for yourself from what you feel you should accomplish because you’re measuring yourself against an impossible standard: another person. But try.
4. You get pissed when your partner is better at a something that you’re supposed to be better at
If you’re a writer and your partner is a barista who suddenly decides to write and publish a book while you’re still working on the novel you started when you were 15, you may feel panicky about your own talents. Not gonna lie, it’s hard. But guess what? We all come into this world with different set-ups. Different parents, siblings, upbringings, experiences, traumas, setbacks—the whole deal. We are all, every one of us, highly specific. And guess what else? You are, without a doubt, better than your partner at a bunch of shit. It just might not be the shit you’re thinking of right now.
5. You put each other down
In my experience, relationships can easily become a battle of the wits. At best, this can be a real positive, feeding intellectual and creative fire and encouraging both of you to be the best versions of yourselves. At worst, however, it can become downright abusive. No one is well-positioned to legitimately put down another person, be it subtly or explicitly. If you find yourself starting to insult your partner in response to the fact that they’re insulting you, it’s time for a big, real, vulnerable talk, I say, or be gone with you.
6. You feel the need to make it abundantly clear when someone finds you attractive
Or your partner does. I once had a man who made sure I was very well aware of any attractive woman he spoke to, any flirtation he felt had occurred, anyone he thought was checking him out, and indeed, even anyone he found attractive. For someone with my insecurity issues, it was a pretty toxic dynamic. In retrospect, I understand that anyone who behaves this way is insecure themselves, but at the time, I just countered it by responding in kind. Turns fake and passive aggressive pretty fast. #sonotworthit
Bottom line: if you see someone who is supposed to be your “partner” as more of a rival than a devious collaborator, it might not be worth your trouble, I say, and/or you may need to do some lavish self-reflecting and self-loving to get to the root of your own feelings—especially if this is a dynamic that repeats itself from relationship to relationship.
Otherwise, if you’re in the type of partnership where there exists a mutual motivation to try, then get it done: celebrate each other’s best qualities, do things together, commit to one other, and be patient with yourself.