When Someone becomes competitive
Marriage is seldom a meeting of equals. One is more intellectual than the other; the other has greater emotional intelligence than the one. One is more giving; the other more taking. Great marriages are hammered out on a hard anvil, with much give and minimal take. For all that, there will still be times when the even tenor of the ways of one party become unbalanced. Sparks may fly; if they don’t embers may smoulder. Every couple knows this.
Competition is a very specific source of anxiety. It can lead to divorce. Before you dismiss this as irrelevant to your marriage pause and think for a minute. Competition doesn’t mean being able to run faster, walk further or climb a higher mountain. These are obvious competitive spheres – they provide stimulus and a frisson of excitement to a couple. The sort of competition I am thinking of is when the other partner is getting more attention, consistently receiving greater praise, perhaps having media coverage the less-feted partner thinks is unjustified.
We have seen many examples of how much damage such imbalances – real or imagined – can cause. Jealousy is not only about sexual fidelity. It is about who, in the end, is seen to be the winner, and it can occur between two people even when not sexually connected. Rival department heads in a business, researchers in a laboratory working on the same project, CEO and his or her No 2, all these can be competitive in a way which becomes unhealthy for the stability of the relationship. How the aggrieved party handles such problems often determines the future of a marriage, a career. Occasionally, frighteningly, a life.
A good but tragic example of this is the marriage between Prince Charles and Princess Diana. A beautiful young girl with overwhelming emotional intelligence, accustomed to dealing with children and young people, left the somewhat older and occasionally stuffier Prince at the starting gate when it came to public relations. Poor man, his other relationship was the subject of media gossip and his ways were those of an ageing monarch-in-waiting. He stood no chance in the competition with Diana. And yet he battled on, anxious to get the attention he thought was due.
If only he had stood back with the crowd, applauded Princess Di, talked to the people around him about how wonderful she was. If only. He would have been praised for his support, loved for his recognition of her talents and seen as the ideal person to become King when the time came. Our patronage of others often designates us as the more significant in a relationship. An act of recognition praises the person who makes it more than the person who receives it.
Competition is good. It sharpens the skills of both or all parties involved. Like everything else it can be damaging when excessive. Just now commercial competition is out of control and threatening the legal and moral norms of life we have been accustomed to. When it gets out of control between two people the modern equivalent of battle ensues with the aim of winner takes all.
I worked in a company where two senior people were competing way beyond what is rational in business life. It didn’t help that they came from two parts of the UK which have been at daggers drawn – and sometimes plunged – for centuries. The CEO allowed the competition to rage until one got destroyed by the other. Not just his job but his personality and more. That was tragic. If I had been CEO I would have stopped it. There is a time to intervene, too.
What should the losing member of a competition dual do today?
The most profitable business is one where the competitors get together and fix the price, That is, rightly, illegal now. However, collusion between rival factions within a business is perfectly legal. It, too, is a most successful way to capitalise the best of both interests. Getting people to cooperate is a CEO’s job – in spite of the example set by Presidents and Prime Ministers. Cooperation is a rich source of rewards. ‘The company that plays together, stays together.’
So, if your spouse is trying to win, let him or her. Congratulate them on their success. Flatter their egos. Admire them.
It costs you nothing.
It may even make them think.