FOR TOO MANY COUPLES, WHEN THE BLUSH AND EXCITEMENT OF THE HONEYMOON IS OVER, THE CONTEST BEGINS.
Marriage becomes a contest…a constant battle to determine who is right and who is wrong. Every decision becomes a game of one-up-man-ship. Small household tasks become a reason to criticize. Money matters cause all-out war. Even sex can become a tool for manipulation and control.
Why does this happen and what can be done about it?
Old Habits Die Hard
If you grew up in a competitive family, you may unwittingly bring that competitiveness into your marriage. Perhaps you were one of several siblings who competed for your parents’ attention. You might have competed with a brother or sister at play. Or maybe competitiveness was modeled by your parents as you grew up watching them bicker.
Perhaps you are naturally competitive. You’ve always enjoyed sports or competing scholastically. As far as you’re concerned, competing and winning is fun. It’s what life is all about.
Unfortunately, competition isn’t the healthiest trait to bring into a marriage. When you compete with your spouse, there must be a winner and a loser and who wants to be married to a loser? You and your spouse are on the same team! If you are competing with your spouse by always insisting on being right or by criticizing him or her, you are undermining your own team.
Preparation is Key
Many couples enter marriage without the preparation needed for what is a complicated and dynamic relationship. (See our article: Marriage Planning)
If you haven’t discussed issues such as finances, sex, careers, child-rearing, faith, even expectations about who does the housework, you have set yourself up for arguments about whose ways of doing things are right and whose are wrong.
Being in a marriage relationship without mutual goals is a recipe for conflict and competition. Instead of working together toward a common goal, you will find yourselves climbing over each other as you try to reach your individual goals.
Learn to Work Together
If you haven’t yet done so, sit down together and decide on your over-arching goals as a couple. Talk about issues such as money management, career, child-rearing and so forth. Decide how you can work as a team to reach your goals. You might even create a time line for things such as savings, home-ownership and planning for your kids’ educations.
How do you decide who is best at what? Learn to work within your individual strengths. Talk about what you enjoy. If you love to cook, then it makes sense that you be the person most responsible for that task. If you love to tinker with cars, it makes sense that you be responsible for their maintenance. Chances are you’ll be the best at what you enjoy the most.
Also, don’t be afraid to take turns being responsible for certain every-day jobs. Taking turns can remove a lot of the drudgery involved in things like housework and child care.
Break the Criticism Habit
Criticism is nothing more than a form of competition. When you criticize, you are saying, “You did that wrong, and I can do it better.”
If your hubby doesn’t change the baby’s diaper just the way you do, don’t criticize. We all have our own ways of doing things. Criticism will only come between you. Let the little things go. Your marriage is more important than the minutia of life, so choose your battles.
Be gentle with suggestions. Belittling your wife over a financial decision will only push her away from you. Loving suggestions are more likely to be accepted. If your spouse is struggling in a particular area, offer to help rather than placing blame. Blame creates barriers to change while offering to help can build bridges to a closer relationship.
Be Open to Change
Marriage is a dynamic relationship. In fact, it is like an entity unto itself. Any marriage grows and changes as circumstances change. Someone gets a new job, a baby comes along, you move into a new home or there is an illness. Things are always changing and with those changes, responsibilities within the marriage may need to change. Being relaxed and open to those changes will reduce the tendency to be competitive.
Remember, marriage is not a game or a competition. It’s a partnership. The two of you are on the same team. If you need to win, then always work toward winning together. You and your spouse will be happier if you do.